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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Motives and consequences

Arnold Kling (of EconLog) explains Type C and Type M arguments:
[S]uppose I were to say, "We should abolish the minimum wage. That would increase employment and enable more people to climb out of poverty."

There are two types of arguments you might make in response. I call these Type C and Type M.

A hypothetical example of a Type C argument would be, "Well, Arnold, studies actually show that the minimum wage does not cost jobs. If you read the work of Krueger and Card, you would see that the minimum wage probably reduces poverty."

A hypothetical example of a Type M argument would be, "People who want to get rid of the minimum wage are just trying to help the corporate plutocrats."


Do you see any differences between those two types of arguments?

I see differences, and to me they are important. Type C arguments are about the consequences of policies. Type M arguments are about the alleged motives of individuals who advocate policies.

In this example, the type C argument says that the consequences of eliminating the minimum wage would not be those that I expect and desire. We can have a constructive discussion of the Type C argument -- I can cite theory and evidence that contradicts Krueger and Card -- and eventually one of us could change his mind, based on the facts.

Type M arguments deny the legitimacy of one's opponents to even state their case. Type M arguments do not give rise to constructive discussion. They are almost impossible to test empirically. [Emphasis in the original.]
This is in the course of an open letter to Paul Krugman in which Kling points out, correctly, that Krugman favours Type M arguments over Type C. It is a pity, in fact, how so much of our public discourse, from both sides of the spectrum, focusses on Type M arguments. They lead nowhere and polarise us further.

(Link via Prashant Kothari in the comments of this post.)
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