ED VS. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 14: NON CAUSA PRO CAUSA

I usually prefer to space these out a bit but sometimes fate intervenes. In this case, by "fate" I mean Newt Gingrich. When you recover from the shock of the idea that Newt Gingrich could be the source of a logical fallacy, continue.

Non Causa fallacies are straightforward; they involve attributing causality where none exists. As Fallacy Files notes, however, not all such arguments are fallacies. It can be a simple mistake or something that turns out to be incorrect even when based on the best available evidence. A doctor in the 1500s who concluded that too much blood in the body caused illness was not using a Non Causa argument – he was simply making the wrong causal inference because he had limited knowledge and information. A true NC argument ignores or neglects evidence of the real causal relationship while asserting one for which no evidence exists. While the most popular Non Causa is the "correlation = causation" variety, that topic deserves to be covered separately and I'll focus on more straightforward matters here.

Causality is a tricky issue anywhere outside of the hard sciences. In the social sciences or economics, such arguments are inherently inductive and, to some degree, subjective. What really causes poverty? Crime? Unemployment? Voter turnout? Of course we cannot say with certainty. However, we can say with certainty what does not cause those things. The record of a city's football team does not cause poverty. Low voter turnout is not caused by the number of White Castle restaurants in one's area. Crime is not caused by solar flares. So while several things can be argued to cause those phenomena, thousands of other things can be ruled out.

I'm going to let Newt take it away at this point, from his appearance on ABC's This Week pimping his new book of fresh, radical solutions, Real Change.**

Michigan was in a recession when the rest of the country was growing. Other than the states hit by Katrina, Michigan which had been hit by a Democratic governor, Democratic legislature, raised taxes. Yet none of the candidates are willing to be radical enough. Real Change focuses a long section on Detroit. Detroit has gone from a 1,800,000 people in 1950 and highest per capita income in the United States to 950,000 people and it ranks today 62nd in per capita income. And yet nobody want to get up and say…tell the truth. The truth is large bureaucracies are destructive . High taxes are destructive. The system we built discourages any businesses from opening up in Detroit. The schools don't deliver. They uh they do deliver paychecks. They do take care of the union, but they don't deliver for the kids (…) So I think we need dramatically deeper and more fundamental change.

Got that? The decline of the Rust Belt (and the utter devastation of places like Cleveland and Detroit, for whom "decline" is far too prosaic a term) is the fault of electing Democrats, "high taxes" and "bureaucracy." This completely disregards the fact that Detroit has no more "bureaucracy" than any other large urban area, many of which are not declining, and that high-tax states like Illinois, New York, and California are the economic engines of America. And let's also ignore the number of Democrat-electing areas that aren't experiencing these problems. If we put our heads together and really thought about it, might we come up with some better causal explanations?

Maybe. Perhaps we could look at the the fact that Detroit has been hemmoraging high-paying manufacturing jobs for 40 years thanks to free trade agreements. We could note that Michigan's largest employers by far, the Big Three auto manufacturers, have been run into the ground by mismanagement, corner-cutting, and horseshit products. We could point out that the "failing" schools have been defunded to a degree that might make Trent Lott blush. You could question all of these explanations, but do you think they might be a little stronger or explain more of the problem than electing Democrats and having bureaucracy?

The sad thing about Gingrich is he can't even aspire to make a decent illogical causal inference in the form of a correlation = causation fallacy. The conditions he blames are so vague and all-encompassing ("bureaucracy," "high" taxes, and voting for Democrats) that to say they correlate with anything is an incomprehensible stretch. Spike Milligan said that money can't buy friends, but it can buy a higher class of enemy. Sadly, in Newt's case education, money, and experience have bought him neither a clue nor a higher class of bad argument.

**(In case you were wondering, his new, fresh, radical solution is to reduce spending and cut taxes)

One thought on “ED VS. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 14: NON CAUSA PRO CAUSA”

  • verrrry nice…I hate newt gingrich!

    btw Detroit has had the most corrupt and mismanaging mayor ever in Kwame Kirkpatrick, and the executives at the big three deserve to be publicly ridiculed for the tripe product they keep putting out. And still, STILL, they fight vehicle emissions standards. How can you blame them, though, when Mitt Romney is telling Michiganders that all their troubles will go away if federal regulators would just get off the auto industry's back.

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