Examples of Modern Partisan Arguments and the Fallacies of Logic that Make the Arguments Irrational

Examples of Modern Partisan Arguments and the Fallacies of Logic that Make the Arguments Irrational

By Jerry Wyant for Economics Online Tutor December 11, 2013

Here is a list of political arguments that you likely have seen recently. Perhaps you have seen many of them on several occasions. All of them are invalid because they rely on logical

The ones within quotation marks use typical wording of arguments; the ones without quotation marks describe the arguments. Each example includes an explanation of the fallacies
involved. The names of the relevant fallacies are given in parentheses.

For a list of fallacies of logic, see Fallacies of Logic Commonly Used in Today’s Political Arguments.

The examples start here:

“Capitalism is all about the private sector. It works because of the ‘invisible hand’. Therefore, any government involvement is socialism.”


This argument incorporates a number of different fallacies of logic. It mischaracterizes the role and nature of the government in both capitalism and socialism by ignoring the facts that government creates the
circumstances that make a system of capitalism possible; no system of pure capitalism, one with no government involvement, has ever existed or ever could exist, so every existing or proposed economic
system is a form of a mixed economy; and socialism by definition requires government ownership of some factors of production, not just some kind of role in the economy. By using a false definition of socialism,
and implying a false role for government in capitalism, a generic argument against government involvement is a straw man argument. By ignoring the reality of various types of mixed economies and
substituting arguments for capitalism over socialism, it is oversimplifying and creating a false dilemma. The wording of the argument by itself doesn’t necessarily claim a support for capitalism over socialism, but it
doesn’t have to. This common argument is associated with implicit ad nauseam comments that make it clear that the arguer considers capitalism to be unquestionably good and socialism to be so evil as to be
avoided. (False dilemma; Playing on emotions; Oversimplifying; Argumentum ad nauseam; Straw man; Judgmental language)

“Rich people pay the majority of taxes, and poor people receive handouts from the government that are paid for with rich people’s taxes. Therefore, this problem is caused by the rich people’s taxes being too high.”

This is only one example of a number of different arguments relating to inequality. It ignores the fact that inequality has grown at the same time that effective tax rates on the rich have decreased. Both the
increase in inequality and the decrease in tax rates for the rich have been historically large in recent decades. This means that, mathematically, the consequences of rich people paying a higher share of the
taxes while more government handouts are going to poor people can only be caused by rich people receiving a higher share of taxable income while the poor receive a smaller share of taxable income. In
fact, this is verified by the historical record. But this argument is making the opposite claim, that rich people should pay fewer taxes; in effect advocating for more of the policies that created the inequality,
while leaving the impression that rich people’s tax rates have increased, which is false. However, many people have heard the claim so often that they assume it to be true. See “Job Creators, Taxes, and
Inequality.” (Circular cause and consequence; Argumentum ad nauseam; Lying with statistics)

“Corporate executives earn all of the money that they are paid, because they are paid according to the free market.”

This argument is used to justify corporate executives receiving a much larger share of national income than in the past while the workers under them receive a much smaller share. It ignores the fact that no
market forces can be identified to explain it. There is no market for corporate executives which works according to the principles of classic economics that are behind such claims; the pay scale is not based on
relative productivity or efficiency; and the market does not act in accordance with the theories of perfect competition that are implied in the claim. Claiming that it is earned according to the market is the same
thing as saying: “Corporate executives earn all of the money that they are paid.” “How do you know that they earn it”? “Because that is what they get paid.” (Circular Argument)

Stating the dangers of a completely disarmed population when the opposition is not arguing for disarming the population but rather arguing for a few gun control laws designed to improve safety.

I can’t think of any issue that is more emotionally-charged than the issue of gun control. For many people, this is a partisan issue. For others, it is a highly personal issue unrelated to other political issues. The
nature of the issue means that many different kinds of arguments involving logical fallacies are involved. Here, I’m only focusing on a current trend whereby many arguments against any kind of gun law are
factually just arguments against a total gun ban, which is not the argument that the opposition is making. (Straw Man)

“Trickle-down economics works because the economy grew and government revenue increased after Reagan lowered taxes.”

This statement cherry-picks “economy grew”, “government revenue increased” and “lowered taxes” from the following evidence, the totality of which would lead to a different conclusion: Ronald Reagan took
office in January of 1981. The economy went into a recession in July of 1981 and stayed in recession until November of 1982. This followed a shorter recession from January 1980 to July 1980. The annual
unemployment rate peaked at 9.7% in 1982, the highest on record. The economy grew following the recession, as it always does following a recession; it continued to grow until a new recession began in July
1990. The economic growth following the recession of 1981-1982 was accomplished using the classical Keynesian policies of massive government debt and large increases in government spending. Several
changes occurred in the tax code throughout these years, most notably the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Some taxes decreased, some increased. Some loopholes were closed. Government deficits and debt grew far
out of proportion to anything seen before, due to a much larger increase in government expenditures over revenue. In dollar terms, revenue for the most part increased, due to an increase in the size of the
economy as well as population growth. In terms of percentage of the economy and percentage of expenditures, revenue decreased. What was non-Keynesian about this method of escape from recession
is the long term nature of fixes for a short term problem. Deficits continued to skyrocket even after the goal of economic growth was reached; a “no new tax” and deregulatory mentality developed that
negatively affected future decades. Without going into detail here, it can be argued using historical data that the long term problems far outpaced the short term economic gains. The conclusion that “trickle-down
economics works” agrees with the cherry-picked aspects but not with the totality of the scenario. See “U.S. Economic History from 1913: Performance and Politics in One Simplified Table.” (Stacked Evidence;

“The Republican Party is the party of Lincoln.”

This argument is used to imply that the modern Republican Party shares the values of Abraham Lincoln, or that Lincoln would approve of the modern-day party positions. Similar arguments are made regarding the
Republican Party and the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. The argument ignores the fact that the makeup and direction of the party has shifted and evolved into something completely different from what it
used to be. For details, see the historical record of party registration changes from Southern Democrats opposed to civil rights, and the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy. (Etymological fallacy; Presentism)

Referencing or linking a source from a blog or other post from somebody who is paid to agree with a particular position, instead of being an unbiased expert on the subject, and then using that source as the basis for an
(False attribution)

Journalists often assume that they are being unbiased if they give equal time to each side of an issue, and report each position as equal, regardless of the relative merits of each position. (False compromise)

The idea that the meaning of the Constitution cannot be changed, and must be strictly adhered to and applied to modern situations, regardless of any subsequent human advancements or changes in global conditions. (Historian’s fallacy)

“Households and businesses must live within their budgets, so the government should never run a deficit.”

This argument implicitly defines a deficit as “paying bills on time” for households and businesses, while at the same time it defines a deficit as “not having any bills to pay” for the government; two different
definitions that together make the case. In reality, most households, businesses, and governments routinely use credit, and all presumably are expected to pay their bills on time. In fact, the U.S. Government
is considered the safest investment in the world, and the U.S. dollar is a global currency, due to the government’s stellar credit record. See “You Heard it Here First: The US Government Does Not Run a
Budget Deficit, Ever.” (Inconsistent comparison)

“I oppose welfare because I don’t want my hard-earned money going to lazy people who choose to live off of handouts. I don’t want money from ‘makers’ going to ‘takers’.” Or, finding a specific example of welfare fraud and using it to argue that welfare should be abolished or greatly curtailed.

Welfare fraud is already illegal, and the laws making it illegal can always be reviewed and tightened if necessary. This is not a valid argument for eliminating or greatly curtailing the welfare system outside of
the specific fraud aspect, but it does play on people’s emotions by getting them to think that their tax money is going to benefit somebody who is not worthy. (Sweeping generalization; Overwhelming
exception; Playing on emotions; Argumentum ad nauseam)

“I oppose legalizing gay marriage because…”

I left this one as a fill-in-the-blank sentence because what is in the rest of the sentence most likely does not matter. I have followed the issue extensively and I have seen many arguments on both sides. All of the
arguments that I have seen in opposition to legalizing gay marriage are examples of one or more of the following fallacies of logic, which are explained at “Fallacies of Logic Commonly Used in Today's Political
Arguments”. (Non sequitur; Blind loyalty; Argumentum ad numerum; Slippery slope; Argumentum ad antiquitatem; Appeal to nature; Contextomy; Nunc pro tunc; Wishful thinking; Judgmental language; Reductionism)

“Taxing corporations kills jobs.”
“Minimum wage jobs are only temporary jobs for teenagers or entry-level positions.”
“More and more regulations are hurting business.”
“Obama is raising our taxes to pay for out of control government spending.”
“Obama is bankrupting America with record high deficits.”
“All inflation is caused by an increase in the money supply.”

These are examples of beliefs that are commonly held, yet all of them can either be proven false, or the available evidence does not support. (Argumentum ad nauseam)

A version of this essay is included as a chapter in the book Common Misconceptions of Economic Policy by Jerry Wyant. You can purchase this book in paperback form from Amazon and other online book distributors. The list price is $12.99 (only $9.99 using discount code TA9GTK7E when ordering, depending on the distribution channel). Or if you prefer, you can download a digital version on your device (Kindle, Nook, etc.) for $4.99.

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Jerry Wyant