Notes From Babel

The problem with substituting empiricism for principle

with 2 comments

Remember before Obamacare passed and folks like Ezra Klein were saying that if the bill didn’t pass, tens of thousands of people would die each year as a result?  Tim Carney recounts the interesting journey this argument has taken, from adamant insistence on its rightness, to the recent proclamation that “Health care doesn’t keep people healthy — even in Canada.”

One of the so-called advantages of liberalism is its emphasis on “empirical” analysis of social problems.  If nothing else, it does indeed have strategic political advantages.  Observe:  Once the model is adopted, the approach proceeds by identifying some kind of social “epidemic”—e.g., “tens of thousands will die without health insurance,” or “the middle class will collapse without unions,” that sort of thing.  Establish the question as a moral one.  Next, make vociferous arguments insisting that “the data is in” and that practical results based on rigorous empirical analysis should be favored, and that conservative, piecemeal approaches that insist on constitutional/legal consistency should be eschewed.  Remember, people will die.  And the Constitution is over a hundred years old, after all.  By this time, if you’re doing it right, you can accuse your objectors as both morally and intellectually insolvent.  Then, only later when the empirical analysis is finally demonstrated to have been full of beans, the playbook prescribes a casual acknowledgment that maybe some mistakes were made on both sides, but that we oughtn’t throw the gears of the bureaucratic regulatory machine in reverse now.  Throw in some familiar terminology like market predictability and stare decisis.  Finally, before awaiting further protestation, promptly identify yet another social epidemic calling for further empirical assessment and immediate constitutional policy overhaul.

You can’t stop progress.


Written by Tim Kowal

February 28, 2011 at 11:46 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] Kowal provides a useful way of understanding the Left’s rhetorical approach. You should read […]

  2. article, very usefull for me…thank you|nice share, good article, very usefull for me…thanks|great share, great article, very usefull for me…thank


    October 29, 2011 at 11:27 am

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