Ad hominem ad nauseam

The comments thread lately has been full of what might be called the “”ad hominem fallacy” fallacy”. This is the fallacy that, because a logical syllogism is equally valid or invalid no matter who propounds it, evidence in favour of a judgement about a matter of fact should be treated the same no matter who puts it forward. But classical syllogistic logic has essentially nothing to say in relation to reasoning about the plausibilty of judgements based on evidence.

No one sensible takes this idea seriously when, for example, money is at stake. A member of a board of directors who has a financial interest in a proposal is expected to declare it and withdraw from the discussion for example. By contrast, believers in the “ad hominem fallacy” fallacy would suggest that the director’s arguments were just as valid as anyone else’s, and they do not need to declare their interest before taking part in the discussion (though they should not vote).

The problems with conflict of interest are twofold. First, it is usually impossible to check every factual claim made by someone putting an argument. Second, even if all the facts asserted in support of some position are verifiable, they may have been selected (cherry-picked) to favour a case, while facts pointing the other way have been ignored. If you’re willing to go to the trouble of fully informing yourself about the topic using independent sources evidence from interested sources is redundant, and if not, it’s unreliable.

I had a lengthy go at this here, and for convenience I’ve reposted it over the fold.

There’s more from Don Arthur , Tim Lambert and Cathy Young

A question that’s often raised in relation to public policy issues involving science is whether conflicts of interest matter. For example, does it matter if scientists who publish reports suggesting that the dangers of smoking are overstated turn out to be funded by tobacco companies? Common sense suggests that it matters, but a lot of commentators, often with a vague recollection of classes in elementary logic, suggest that this is an ad hominem criticism and that the only thing that is relevant is the argument, not who makes it. You can see a defence of this position from Elizabeth Whelan at Spiked here[1] (hat tip, Jennifer Marohasy in the comments to this interesitng Catallaxy post on values and science.

I’ll argue that common sense is right here.

As an illustration, suppose you are considering buying a new car, and you come across an “independent non-profit” site called “Car Buyers Guide”, which gives advice on models A and B. Here are some possible reasons the site might advance for buying A rather than B. Assume that you can confirm that all factual claims made are correct, but you don’t know anything about cars yourself.

1. The fuel required for model B is not available in Australia, so it cannot be driven here, unlike A. Therefore you should choose A

2. We consulted ten leading experts. All recommended A

3. We looked at ten different criteria and A was superior on each of them

If you rely exclusively on syllogistic logic you ought to find argument 1 convincing (with the auxiliary premise that a car that can be driven is always better than one that cannot). On the other had, reason 2 is a standard fallacy: an argument from authority. Reason three is also logically invalid; the fact that A is superior on some grounds does not mean that it is superior on most or all grounds.

In practice, though, syllogistic logic is not very helpful. Very few decisions can be supported by watertight logical arguments like 1. In practice, we ought to find reasons like 2 and 3 pretty convincing. Assuming that the 10 experts are selected at random from a suitable population, the probability that most experts actually favour B is less than 1 in 1000. And if the 10 criteria are selected sensibly, it’s highly unlikely that consideration of omitted criteria will change the balance.

You can either accept this kind of reasoning or become an expert on the subject yourself. Since the latter course is feasible in only a few cases, inevitably you have to rely on the former most of the time.

Now suppose you find that the “Car Buyers Guide” is actually funded by the makers of Model A. Reason 1 is still logically valid and compelling. But reasons 2 and 3 now have very little force. Unless experts unanimously favour B, it shouldn’t be hard to line up 10 who favor A (or even to induce some who are neutral to endorse A). And similarly, it’s nearly always possible to find some criteria on which one option is better.

Exactly the same issues arise in relation to the dangers (or safety) of smoking. The evidence here is statistical, so if you’re looking for logical certainty you won’t find it. And it’s always possible to find some benefits from smoking and some qualified people willing to give a low estimate of risks. But if you rely on the general judgement of independent experts, you’ll reach the conclusion that smoking (direct or passive) is likely to shorten your life and damage your health.

The counterargument, from Whelan and others is that “All scientists have personal ideologies”, and therefore that scientific work should be evaluated on its merits, without regard to source. This sounds appealing until we ask the question “evaluated by whom?” The only people who can usefully do the evaluation are qualified scientists and the only way we can rely on their evaluation is if we believe them to be free of conflicts of interests.

If you accept Whelan’s argument, you end up in a position of complete agnosticism about anything you can’t know from direct experience. She denies this, saying that “If the Tobacco Institute had been funded by the Easter Bunny, its pronouncements would still have been scientifically outrageous, because the controversy had long since ended over whether cigarettes are the primary cause of premature, preventable death ” but, by definition, controversy only ends when one side gives up. (The exposure of the fact that most of the defenders of the safety of smoking were recipients of tobacco money was one of the things that helped induce them to give up.)

As far as the relevant scientific communities are concerned the controversy over evolution has ended and the controversy about climate change has resolved most of the key issues (for example, that warming is taking place and that human activity is a contributor), as has the controversy about the safety of consuming GM foods, but that doesn’t stop people claiming otherwise. And the tobacco lobby only retreated from the glaringly false claim that smoking is harmless to the claim (absurd if you accept that direct smoking causes cancer, but harder to disprove) that passive smoking is harmless. Unless you want to become an expert in biology, geology, climate science, clinical medicine and statisics, among other disciplines, you’ll never be able to resolve these disputes without relying, at some point, on expert judgement.

Obviously, there’s an element of circularity here. We not only have to trust scientists to give us the best advice, but we also have to trust them to tell us who the relevant scientists are. The big argument for accepting this is the undeniable success of the scientific enterprise as a whole, and its demonstrated capacity for correcting error. This can be contrasted with the demonstrated capacity of interest groups to maintain propositions that suit their interests in the face of strong, indeed overwhelming, evidence to the contrary.

fn1. For the fascinating history of Spiked see this Jason Soon post. For Whelan’s own background see Sourcewatch.

109 thoughts on “Ad hominem ad nauseam

  1. With all the fury expended against “creationists” I would think that at least one commonly recognized person could be identified as being part of this evil cabal. I can’t say that I’m surprised though.

  2. One isn’t needed when you school boards are so important in the US. Avroo you are aware of

    Court case may determine how evolution is taught in US
    http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8042

    Case closed…. Sort of
    http://www.thehumanist.org/humanistnews/index.php?mode=viewid&post_id=31#trackback

    (Terje notice the judge didn’t think much of the waste of resources which results from your open door policy?)

    Also within the judgement he doesn’t buy the line that ID & CS are separate.

    You want to have a name how about:

    Brendan Nelson suggests ‘intelligent design’ could be taught in school

    http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2005/s1447202.htm

  3. If you click through the Intel. Desig. link above you get Pat Buchanan, Bill Frist, John McCain.

    … Must not feed troll …

  4. I’d like to know from those who are beating up the ad homs claims on the pro-business lobbyists whether they think that a minister or judge should step aside from a situation where they have a financial conflict of interest or whether from their reasoning they have as much right to sit in as financial interest has no bearing on such matters?

    There is a differnce between being one of many voices in a debate and being the final arbiter of a judgement or policy decision. I think teachers should be part of the class size debate but if they made the final policy decision I would be most worried. Likewise if a judge had a financial interest in the outcome of a case over which he/she had final judgement then that would be a serious concern.

  5. Terje good point but even in situations of many voices they can still have a strong impact on the final judgment even if it isn’t their decision. (Remember I not banning anyone from a debate)

    Even so others could claim you have no grounds for your concern, there is no proof of any wrong doing and you should take what the judge or polly has to say on their merits.

    The principle is the same, the open door policy to judge it on its merits may sound good in theory but human nature being what it is isn’t it better to be a bit sceptical when a side has it’s bottom line to protect with no oversight with a side that is independent and is reviewed?

    (BTW do you think the tobacco scientists who said there was no link between tobacco and cancer did so because of the evidence or because that is what their bosses wanted?)

    Why have independent studies medical or otherwise if studies should be judged on their merit Terje? Is this a waste of time?

  6. “One isn’t needed”

    I’d still like one though. Just one example. Someone the average person would have heard of. Don’t know who Brendan Nelson is. If he were influential, I would guess that I would have heard of him.

  7. Disclosure is essential — but insufficient.
    See the full text of the article
    “The Talking Cure” by James Surowiecki, New Yorker 2002-12-09

    He describes the academic research supporting his conclusion, which I quote below:

    The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town
    http://www.newyorker.com/talk/content/?021209ta_talk_surowiecki (2 of 4) [12/6/2002

    “It has become a truism on Wall Street that conflicts of
    interest are unavoidable. In fact, most of them only seem so,
    because avoiding them makes it harder to get rich. That’s
    why full disclosure is suddenly so popular: it requires no
    substantive change. “People are grasping at the straw of
    disclosure because it allows them to have their cake and eat
    it, too,” Loewenstein says. Transparency is well and good,
    but accuracy and objectivity are even better. Wall Street
    doesn’t have to keep confessing its sins. It just has to stop
    committing them.” — James Surowiecki

  8. isn’t it better to be a bit sceptical when a side has it’s bottom line to protect

    I have no problem with sceptical. I simple don’t think it is much of a debating point to say that someone has a vested interest therefore their arguments can be ignored. If during a debate you won’t listen to those with different interests to your own then what really is the point of debate?

    The reason debates such as global warming are topical is precisely because people do have an interest in the outcome of the debate. If they didn’t then they would not participate.

  9. You seem to be missing my point. Brendan Nelson is not a well known person. What I’m asking for is the name of a well known creationist. With all the republican politicians around, surely you can come up with ONE name.

  10. Aren’t these people, creationists, supposed to be so awfully dangerous? Especially in the US, where they are allegedly so influential, if one is to take seriously much of what’s said about them, WHO are they? Name one whose name would be immediately and widely recognizable.

  11. Well if you walked down the street with a picture of Brendon Nelson I imagine that most people would on seeing the picture recognise who it was. Brendan Nelson is pretty high profile. He has been touted in the media several times as a possible future prime minister.

  12. Terje, I think you missed my point. I’ll try again, but this is the last time.

    As I’ve said a couple of times now, I often hear about how the creationists are on the verge of taking over in the US. How very dangerous they are and how they must be stopped. Yet no one can name a single person who would be widely and immediately recognizable to make this happen. Brendan Nelson, if he is a candidate for prime minister anywhere, probably isn’t going to be forcing creationism down any American throats.

  13. Is Frist, Pat Bucahnon, McCain, or George W. Bush acceptable names? All of them endorse ‘teaching the controversy’, which are a way to force creationism (or it’s clone, Intelligent Design) down the throats of Americans.

  14. “Is Frist, Pat Bucahnon, McCain, or George W. Bush acceptable names?”

    Yes, they are all acceptable names. But I asked for names of people who are allegedly “creationists”. If we look at only Bill Frist, you’d have a terrible time convincing anyone with even a lick of sense that a scientist, a medical doctor is against science in any way. How is this not obvious?

    “All of them endorse ‘teaching the controversy’,”

    oh my goodness! What kind of people believe in such freedom. How heinous!

    “which are a way to force creationism (or it’s clone, Intelligent Design) down the throats of Americans. ”

    How so? I can’t see teaching controvery as forcing anything down anyone’s throat. Explain how this can be.

  15. Avaroo, does your definition of creationism include creationism dressed up to look like science? If so, you can throw Senator’s Brownback and Santorum on the list of creationists and you have some fairly notable Republicans (to say nothing of dubya and the myriad others that have lent vague support). Alternatively, it may be a coincidence that Intelligent Design was designed subsequent to creationism’s being laughed out of the Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard. And if you believe that, then your potential for critical thought is very much in keeping with your average card carrying republican.

  16. jquiggin:

    …arguing for smaller classes is against the interest of current teachers. This is obvious when you think about it, and I’ve spelt it out above.

    Only an economist would make that statement. What is obvious is that teachers arguing for smaller class sizes will also argue that their wages should not be reduced, or equivalently that the education budget should be increased to pay for the smaller classes. The politics are simple: persuade “A Current Affair” or similar shock news forum to run some “big class sizes are destroying our education system” stories, get the public to put pressure on the govt, and presto: smaller class sizes with a larger education budget.

    But I have to agree with Quiggin’s main point: always look to the funding source. It explains why academics are almost universally left-wing in this country, why Quiggin himself is a proponent of higher taxes, government intervention in the market, etc. Although with their mouths so firmly clamped on the public tit it is remarkable the academics have time enough away from their suckling to speak at all.

  17. One slight problem with your argument Dogz, is that I have no trouble selling my policy arguments to the capitalist press, who presumably think their readers will pay to read them.
    Only a small part of my publicly-funded academic work is devoted to arguments of this kind (see here.

    A further problem, as you’ve implicitly conceded, is that your argument is one only a non-economist would make, assuming as it does that there is no budget constraint. Obviously this isn’t a concern for you but I suggest that, given that you’re commenting on an economic issue, it should be.

  18. At least you are consistent JQ: if Richard Lindzen’s receipt of a few thousand consulting dollars makes him a mouthpiece of the carbon lobby (as you have previously implied on several occasions), then I suppose you could claim that your receipt of a few thousand dollars from the capitalist press makes you a rabid free-marketeer.

    But in reality JQ, we both know that’s a load of old cods. When have you ever taken a financial risk? If you lived off your capitalist press earnings that would be one thing, but your CV suggests that you have spent your whole life collecting taxpayer largesse.

    And a further problem for you is that my argument does not assume no budget constraint. It just assumes that teachers are not going to argue for class size reductions without also arguing for an increase in the education budget or some other such measure that will ensure their wage level. A pretty realistic assumption wouldn’t you agree?

  19. John,

    I know that you said you will address this is a future post. However you keep making points here so I will keep on responding here.

    By assuming a budget constraint (and suggesting that only a non-economist would assume otherwise) I think you produce an unrealistic policy scenerio. In short I think you are doing a single interation economic analysis with a reckless disregard for reality.

    Assuming a static education budget and a policy of smaller classes (and hence a need for more teachers) you then seem to conclude that those teachers will be paid less (ie static salary budget divided by more teachers). However given the likely supply dynamics of teaching labour this just means policy failure. There will be no extra teachers if wages decline, hence no smaller classes, hence no successful policy of smaller classes, hence no meaningful wage outcome to model.

    Holding the budget steady is not in my view the correct analytical approach. You should be looking at the quantity of teachers required to achieve the policy objective and quantifying how this will subsequently interact with the supply curve. In other words you should start by assuming policy success, from that you should derive the increased quantity of teachers demanded and then by looking at the supply curve you should derive the budget and wage implications of the policy success. Otherwise you are basically ignoring the existence of a labour market and the manner in which the price is ultimately set (long term).

    A comparable analogy would be if the government introduced a policy of three drivers on every train (for safety lets say). Your analysis would lead us to conclude that if the policy was successful then the salary of train drivers would fall by 66%.

    Another comparable analogy would be if the government introduced a policy of one police officer per household. Your analysis would lead us to conclude that if the policy was successful then the salary of police officers would plummet towards zero.

    You are a smart guy and I think you can do a lot better than this hand waving about how we should start our analysis by assume a static education budget.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  20. “There will be no extra teachers if wages decline, hence no smaller classes, hence no successful policy of smaller classes, hence no meaningful wage outcome to model.”

    But for this to be true, the wage for teachers must already be at the market-clearing level, which implies no monopoly power for teacher unions. In this case, I think the argument works OK, but the analogy is more with advertising than with the standard wage bargaining model.

    Anyway, this needs a proper post, as you say. RSN.

    Dogz, please cease personal attacks like this. Given that you’re hiding behind anonymity, they’re not very impressive. And since I can only reply by being immodest about my potential private-sector earnings, I’d rather not.

  21. jquiggin, you were the one who made it personal. I raised a general point that the taxpayer funds 95% of the academic activity in this country, and therefore – in complete agreement with your thesis – one should not be surprised that the vast majority of academics are left-leaning interventionists.

    You responded that because you publish in the capitalist press, you are a counter-example to my argument, which I pointed out is a pretty weak counter-example given your overall funding picture. Then you get stroppy because I am supposedly being personal. If you don’t want it to be personal don’t use yourself as an example.

  22. Dogz, what is the point of making claims whose falsehood can be seen by anyone who reads the page? In your comment at 9:52 am you say

    “But I have to agree with Quiggin’s main point: always look to the funding source. It explains why academics are almost universally left-wing in this country, why Quiggin himself is a proponent of higher taxes, government intervention in the market, etc.”

    Now you assert that this was a general point with no personal reference.

  23. Ok, I’ll rephrase it:

    “But I have to agree with Quiggin’s main point: always look to the funding source. It explains why academics are almost universally left-wing in this country, why Quiggin himself is why academics such as Quiggin are proponents of higher taxes, government intervention in the market, etc.�

    I dare say had I worded it originally thus, you would have responded exactly the same way. It only got specifically personal when you tried to argue that you’re somehow different from the rest of the taxpayer-funded academics because you generate a portion of your income from the capitalist press and because you publish on topics other than increased taxation/intervention.

    I’ve already addressed the first point and the second is irrelevant: most of your left-wing colleagues publish nothing on taxation/intervention, but that doesn’t mean they don’t directly benefit from higher taxes and a more interventionist government.

  24. Dogz, I haven’t got time to deal with trolls. Either apologise for the personal attacks and silly attempt to cover them up, or go elsewhere.

  25. I am not trolling. The majority of academics are left-wing. Left-wing policies directly benefit academics in Australia. So applying your thesis, we should be suspicious of the motives of left-wing academics. I certainly am.

    You are a proponent of higher taxes/intervention. That’s a matter of public record. You are a recipient of large sums of taxpayer funding. That’s also a matter of public record. Ergo, I am suspicious that your views are at least partly motivated by self-interest.

    But I am not singling you out: as I already said, I am suspicious of any public “servant” that advocates a larger role for government. You’re the one that thinks you are immune from such suspicion because you get paid for the odd publication in the capitalist press.

    What do you want me to apologize for? Applying your thesis to yourself?

  26. Dogz, as I said, I’m too busy to deal with trolls, and I’ve had a string of them lately. You’re on automatic moderation from now on.

  27. But for this to be true, the wage for teachers must already be at the market-clearing level, which implies no monopoly power for teacher unions. In this case, I think the argument works OK, but the analogy is more with advertising than with the standard wage bargaining model.

    What you seem to be saying is that monopoly union power gives the supply curve for teaching labour an unusual shape. So we would then want to see what kind of shape you propose and also perhaps how more teachers would change the dynamics of the monopoly. It would seem that you have jumped from a model that seems to simple to one that seems quite complex.

    However I’ll go back into wait mode and look for the full post where you intend laying out your case more broadly.

  28. What you seem to be saying is that monopoly union power gives the supply curve for teaching labour an unusual shape. So we would then want to see what kind of shape you propose

    The is no supply curve for a monopoly market.

  29. ‘What you seem to be saying is that monopoly union power gives the supply curve for teaching labour an unusual shape.’

    As I mentioned earlier, there is no supply curve when there is a monopoly. You can talk about reservation prices, and the affect of market conditions on the monopolist’s market power, but the supply curve itself only has a place in the pure competition model.

    Suppose for the sake of argument that was no union, that teachers’ labour is on its supply curve. Then it would be trivially true that you couldn’t hire more without raising wages. But if teachers are exercising monopoly power, the implication is that the wage is above the free market supply price. There would be more teachers willing and able to sell their services at that lower price. If the government offers a deal whereby employment goes up but wages fall (relative to what they would otherwise have been), it’s up to the union whether they accept it. If they do, they are acting against their interests.

    This seems pretty straightforward. The only way around it is to argue that the teacher’s union has enough clout to persuade governments to increase the school education budget sufficiently to allow both more teachers and higher pay (again, relative to the base-line scenario.) This seems implausible to me, but you may choose to speculate otherwise: it’s not something we can resolve by armchair reasoning.

    As a final substantive point, I’m not sure why you keep saying that this analysis assumes a static budget, as in your train driver example. To deploy your favourite concept: it only assumes that elasticity of the salary budget with respect to salary levels is less than unity. That is, it assumes that the train drivers’ wages will fall, but not to 67% of their current level.

    Just one comment on rhetorical style. It’s not conducive to constructive debate to make comments like ‘You’re a smart guy, you can do better’ or to accuse people of ‘arm waving’ (whatever that means). The implication is that your arguments are self-evidently correct and that your antagonist is just trying to dodge them. When someone adopts this attitude, it seems unlikely that the dialogue will produce any convergence. The more serious parties to the discussion will drop out, leaving the field to those who specialise in hollow slogans and cheap point-scoring.

  30. Before the topic dies I’ll add a perspective where I’m the sceptic from the minority doubting the mainstream ‘academic’ view. We can tie this in with Wiki also.

    At the moment over at Wiki there is a debate going on about the Jesus article and whether there is evidence that there was a historical Jesus figure. A lone sceptic is saying that no there isn’t any independent evidence that a historical Jesus figure ever existed-in the discussion tab- and that the mainstream Biblical scholarship-who think there is- is culturally biased because of various reasons, some to do with the centrality of a historical Jesus to their personal and cultural identity.

    The atheist sceptic is basically being treated like the AGW sceptics here that he isn’t an expert, he goes against the mainstream that are, he ignores the evidence and is biased by his ‘militant’ views.

    For the record I’m a strong atheist who is generally agnostic on the historical Jesus but do tend to think he didn’t really exist for various reasons. Now do I and this other atheist think this because of some confirmation bias? (to me I’m happy with either as even if he was historical he was still just a man)

    Comparing both the evolutionist vs creationist, AGW supporter vs AGW sceptic the historical Jesus supporter vs Historical Jesus sceptic on the surface the arguments can seem very similar with lay people outside a disciple making judgements on limited information often calling into question the objectivity of those with the mainstream view.

    It would seem to be that the best bet is you go with the mainstream but as I’ve pointed various times the mainstream can be wrong as happened in the past with race and sexuality. I bet it would have been very hard to be a contrarian back in those days and that you would be a extremist to boot.

    So how do you know that you are objective or intelligent enough to know from outside a discipline what the evidence is saying or whether the mainstream view is under institutional/social bias?

  31. That’s a reasonable point, Simonjm. It depends a bit on what you mean by ‘in the past with race and sexuality’. If you’re referring to a debate that occurred mostly in the social sciences, it’s a bit different because there’s likely to be a wider range of respectable opinion. If it’s in biological science, I wonder how far back is ‘in the past’. There the theoretical development and the accumulation of related experimental evidence have been phenomenal in the last two decades alone; prenouncements prior to that would have been more speculative, and a range of opinion more permissable.

    What’s a nice atheist like you doing in the Jesus department anyway?

  32. James I was talking about masturbation and female sexuality in the Victorian era and race and eugenics in the 1920’s.

    Are we free of sexual hang-ups?

    We have wing nuts like Doctor Phil who is qualified in “clinical psychology and behavioral medicine has a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from North Texas State University with a dual area of emphasis in clinical and behavioral medicine� who have jumped on the Opra anti-sexuality bandwagon and is being criticized by many working sex therapists for many of his stances including any form of pornography as not only morally wrong but any regular use especially from within a marriage is a symptom of mental problems.

    (BTW I caught that Race doco that was on recently that says there is NO biological basis for race. I always though a better position -given that there is definitely a higher frequency of certain genes for physiological traits related to migratory and geographical history – to say that only a small fraction of our conception of race is due to biology and the overwhelming majority is social construction. )

    I think there was a case on Catalyst last year about a lone child psychiatrist who thinks that the mainstream is over diagnosing and over proscribing medication for things like child tantrums and attention problems that could be corrected in most cases by better parenting skills. As a lay person on the surface he appears to have a case but yet again if true he is in the extreme minority going against what appears to be the mainstream view with that discipline.

    There are also claims that mush of the obesity epidemic is a beat-up and is nowhere near as harmful esp for the elderly as has been made out.

    Have the ‘soft’ sciences come far enough to escape social or institutional bias? I’m not so sure. Personally I think there is still a long way to go before any such claim can be made if indeed it ever can be.

    BTW why? just checking out the fiction section 😉

  33. Dogz,

    You write:

    The majority of academics are left-wing. Left-wing policies directly benefit academics in Australia. So applying your thesis, we should be suspicious of the motives of left-wing academics. I certainly am.

    You are a proponent of higher taxes/intervention. That’s a matter of public record. You are a recipient of large sums of taxpayer funding. That’s also a matter of public record. Ergo, I am suspicious that your views are at least partly motivated by self-interest.

    To which I would write:

    The majority of business owners are right-wing. Right-wing policies directly benefit business owners in Australia. So applying JQ’s thesis, we should e suspicious of the motives of right-wing business owners. I certainly am.

    You are a proponent of lower taxes/laissez faire. That’s a matter of public record. You are a beneficiary of large tax breaks. That’s also a matter of public record. Ergo, I am suspicious that your views are at least partially motivated by self-interest.

    Of course I don’t know these things about you (your profession or income), however, I do know that the argument is perfunctory and totally impossible to abstract from. You confuse credibility with objectivity when the point of ad hominem ad nauseam is that credibility is meaningful (which, for social and practical reasons, it is). Certainly you aren’t arguing that JQ has lost credibility, correct? If so, the preponderance of evidence suggests you are a troll.

  34. “There will be no extra teachers if wages decline, hence no smaller classes, hence no successful policy of smaller classes, hence no meaningful wage outcome to model.�

    But for this to be true, the wage for teachers must already be at the market-clearing level, which implies no monopoly power for teacher unions. In this case, I think the argument works OK, but the analogy is more with advertising than with the standard wage bargaining model.

    Anyway, this needs a proper post, as you say. RSN.

    John,

    Nine months has gone by and I have not seen “a proper post” addressing the issue of class sizes and whether teachers have a conflict of interest in the debate. I might have missed it but I trawl your site most days and I don’t think you ever did address it. I presume RSN means “Really Soon Now”.

    I did do a search to see if maybe you did one when I wasn’t looking but that did not indicate that you had: http://tinyurl.com/yn7qr4

    To reiterate my argument was:-

    Let me summarise my position:-

    1. I claim that a policy of smaller classes will due to market forces (supply and demand) necessitate higher teachers wages. Without higher wages the policy would fail. You have not refuted the logic of this claim.

    2. I claim that in practice it is unlikely that the higher wages would be paid only to new teachers.

    3. I claim that these higher wages give rise to a conflict of interest for existing teachers that participate in debates about class sizes.

    4. I claim that in practice teachers do not evisage a government implementing a policy of smaller class sizes and paying for it out of the existing budget allocation. They argue for a bigger education budget to fund smaller classes.

    5. I do not claim that smaller classes is a bad thing.

    6. I do not claim that teachers should be excluded from any discussion about class sizes.

    7. I do not claim that teachers are bad people or any less genereous than other members of the general population.

    Now if I am “obviously� wrong I would appreciate if you could help me find the flaw in my logic.

  35. Absent any recognisable conclusion, I for one am hard pressed to assess your logic. I reallise I may have missed it somewhere back in the history of this thread, but would you care to re-state it?

  36. If you have the same number of students with smaller classes then you need more classes and hence you need more teachers. That much is basic arithmatic. With a larger demand for teachers you would expect a higher price assuming that the supply of teachers is not 100% elastic.

    Even if the price for teachers is above the market clearing rate (due to union power and political influence) then teachers still have a vested interest in lifting the market clearing rate as a form of insurance against any future loss of union power.

    John Quiggin does not appear to have ever effectively explained why there is no conflict of interest. He could have said the conflict is negligible but he does not seem to want to even concede that much.

  37. If you don’t like the free icecream, Terje, you can have your money back. I’ll post on this when I get around to it, which is what Real Soon Now means. If you ask nicely, it might be sooner rather than later. If you ask rudely, you won’t get an answer at all.

  38. John,

    Your link includes the remark “don’t hold your breath” along side the initials RSN. “Don’t hold your breath” in this sort of context would typically means that you never intend to deal with the question. The fact that you offered the link seemed to me to be an inference that RSN had always meant you had no intention of responding. “Don’t hold your breath” seemed to me to be a rude response on your part. Having been led to believe that you had the intention of responding I felt quite shocked to find you suggesting that you had never intented responding at all.

    Your latest comment on me being rude seems to be somewhat precious. I merely noted that “don’t hold your breath” implies that you never intended to deal with the question and that this left me feeling that you had shown bad faith. I was not trying to insult you so much as interpret what seemed like rudeness on your part. Perhaps I misinterpreted your link in which case I will be happy to retract the assertion, however I am currently lost as to what your link was really trying to say.

    As for free ice cream it takes two or more people to form a dialogue and whilst you no doubt put a lot into running this site and many people enjoy it (me included) you are not the only one that contributes for free. Of course you don’t ever need to respond, that is a given, however like all of us you look a lot better if you deal with disagreements by explaining your position.

    If you do actually intend responding and RSN does not mean “don’t hold your breath”, but rather some time soon, then I will be pleased to nicely ask that you address this point about class sizes and teachers conflicts of interest. However before then I think you really need to clear up the intent behind your “Really Soon Now” link. To me it seemed like a real fob off. To me it seemed like you were being rude.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  39. Terje

    Where is the money to come from for the extra teachers at a higher rate of pay if not from a bigger education budget?

  40. Sdfc,

    My working assumption was that if you have extra teachers at higher pay then the money would need to come from a bigger education budget. I hope that clears up your question.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  41. Terje, sorry for being snappy. To clarify, I hope to do a post on this sometime, but I won’t have time for a while. Remind me next year.

  42. John,

    sorry for being snappy

    Apology accepted.

    To clarify, I hope to do a post on this sometime

    Thankyou for clarifying. From this clarification it seems that you clearly did intend to respond which was my original interpretation. I apologise for misinterpreting your RSN link (which seems to be what I have done).

    I understand that good intentions get subverted by the daily grind and other interests. I would appreciate you giving your considered response when time permits.

    Remind me next year.

    I will endeavour to ask again in the new year.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  43. “There will be no extra teachers if wages decline, hence no smaller classes, hence no successful policy of smaller classes, hence no meaningful wage outcome to model.�

    But for this to be true, the wage for teachers must already be at the market-clearing level, which implies no monopoly power for teacher unions. In this case, I think the argument works OK, but the analogy is more with advertising than with the standard wage bargaining model.

    Anyway, this needs a proper post, as you say. RSN.

    John,

    Regarding your comment quoted above. You suggested that I should raise the issue again in the new year. So it is the new year now and I am raising this issue again. I’d be pleased if you could explain your position.

    The summary of my stated position:-

    1. I claim that a policy of smaller classes will due to market forces (supply and demand) necessitate higher teachers wages. Without higher wages the policy would fail. You have not refuted the logic of this claim.

    2. I claim that in practice it is unlikely that the higher wages would be paid only to new teachers.

    3. I claim that these higher wages give rise to a conflict of interest for existing teachers that participate in debates about class sizes.

    4. I claim that in practice teachers do not evisage a government implementing a policy of smaller class sizes and paying for it out of the existing budget allocation. They argue for a bigger education budget to fund smaller classes.

    5. I do not claim that smaller classes is a bad thing.

    6. I do not claim that teachers should be excluded from any discussion about class sizes.

    7. I do not claim that teachers are bad people or any less genereous than other members of the general population.

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