9 More Infuriatingly Bad Political Arguments

Back in March, I wrote about 10 infuriating political arguments. You can read it here. These were political arguments you hear someone say that are so amazingly wrong that your internal gears grind. We all hear them a lot. They grind my gears a lot. Since there are a lot more than 10 of them, here are 9 more infuriating bad political arguments.

1. Cutting taxes doesn’t increase the deficit

I’m all for cutting taxes, but we shouldn’t pretend like it’s obvious effects aren’t real. Deficits are functions of revenues and expenditures. Deficits rise because expenditures rise or revenues fall. When we cut taxes, revenues fall and thereby increase the deficit. That doesn’t mean cutting taxes are bad.

Related: A list of countries communism has worked in

2. Slavery made America rich

Implicit in this argument is kidnapping people and forcing them into labor is somehow more economically efficient than coming into voluntary arrangements with workers. That’s obviously false. The truth is slavery hurt the US economy. As black economist Karl Smith wrote “The economics of slavery were probably detrimental to the rise of U.S. manufacturing and almost certainly toxic to the economy of the South. In short: The U.S. succeeded in spite of slavery, not because of it.”

Instead of investing in industry and infrastructure, the south spent money on slaves to work fertile cotton land until it was no longer fertile. Then, plantation farms would either move to new land or just sell their slaves. This economic model benefited plantation owners but left everyone else in poverty. At independence, southern GDP per capita was 170% of New England. 60 years later, southern GDP per capita fell while New England saw its GDP per capita nearly triple. The ramifications of this poor economic policy are still present today. One study looking across US states and counties found “a strong significant negative relationship between past slave use and current income.”

3. Protectionism made America rich

America became an economic superpower during the 1800s. This time was characterized by strong population growth– including through open borders for most of the period–, capital acclimation and investment, rising productivity, technological improvement, a small federal government, and protectionist tariffs. But that does not mean all those characteristics share equal responsibility for the boom in US wealth. In fact, economist Douglas Irwin has shown tariffs possibly discouraged capital accumulation which would have hampered the US economy and productivity growth was weakest in industries most exposed to trade. If anything, it is likely tariffs made the US poorer than it could have been otherwise.

4. Australia shows assault rifle bans stop mass shootings

In science, questions are investigated by having two similar groups with a difference in the treatment provided to each. The difference in the outcomes of the two groups can then be inferred to have been caused by the differences in treatment. While this is not always possible in the social sciences, there are ways to achieve a similar outcome. One way is natural experiments. Have two similar groups with a significant change to one but not the other. Any differences can be inferred to be from the change.

Australia and New Zealand are great for natural experiments– two island nations that are largely similar. In 1997, Australia passed significant gun control measures in response to a mass shooting. Since then, they have not had another mass shooting until 2019. This is often cited as proof gun control stops mass shootings. The problem is New Zealand itself has only had one mass shooting in the same time period while not having similar gun laws.

Related: Ranking modern Presidents

5. School vouchers don’t make students better off

There have been 16 studies using random assignment methodologies to investigate the effect of school choice programs. 11 of the 16 find positive results for all students or some subgroup. Only 2 of the 16 find negative results.

6. Free trade kills American jobs

No. Absolutely not. Just think about the logic here: if restricting trade over international borders is good for jobs then why wouldn’t restricting trade over state borders be even better? What’s the limiting principle? Then again, I guess making everyone so poor they can’t retire early, take vacations, or have weekends off would be good for jerbs [sic].
The evidence on this point is pretty clear: free trade not only makes people richer but increases employment. Yes, employment in manufacturing is declining but that is because of rising productivity. As Scott Sumner has pointed out, the trade deficit was 3.19% of GDP in the first quarter of 1987. In the third quarter of 2016, it was 2.26% of GDP. The trade deficit actually shrunk relative to the rest of the economy. In the same time period, real manufacturing output rose 85%! Yet, manufacturing employment lost over 5 million jobs. Here’s a chart from economist Dan Mitchell illustrating this phenomenon.

The jobs America is losing in manufacturing aren’t being lost because of trade but because automation is making American workers more productive. The empirical literature supports this. One recent paper found robust evidence trade with China increased local employment and real wages. Similarly, a review of the economic literature by the OECD found, on balance, the literature supports the idea trade creates jobs and betters wages.

On offshoring specifically, while specific people will lose their jobs there will still be a net increase in employment. A review of the economic literature by Greg Mankiw found “increased employment in the overseas affiliates of U.S. multinationals is associated with more employment in the U.S. parent rather than less.” 

Related: Debunking progressive cliches, Entry 6: “The New Deal saved the economy”

7. Socialism just means being more like Denmark

Let’s back up a minute. When people refer to a socialist country there are three potential sets of countries they are referring to. First, there are the traditional socialist countries like the USSR and Cuba but progressives claim they don’t want that type of socialism nor does their standard policy agenda match this set of countries.

Second, there are the Nordic countries– like Denmark. These are the countries progressives claim they want to be more like but their policy proposals don’t match. Progressives want to highly regulate the economy, have an expansive social safety net, and highly progressive tax system. But that isn’t what the Nordic countries are. Nordic countries have very free economies and a regressive tax system. While they have an expansive social safety net, it’s nowhere near as expensive as the Nordic countries have.

The third set of countries is the set of countries which policies match the progressive policy agenda. It’s southern European economics like France, Spain, and Greece. These countries are known for high unemployment– especially youth unemployment– and stagnant economies. Socialism doesn’t mean Denmark. At best, it means France.

8. Free markets aren’t that good

Free markets are actually really great. There have been 198 studies that have used an Economic Freedom of the World Index produced by the Fraser Institute as an independent variable. More than two-thirds of these studies found it was related to “good” outcomes like faster economic growth and rising living standards. Less than 4% found it related to “bad” outcomes.

9. “Socialism is a good idea but bad in practice”

Actually, socialism is bad both in practice and in theory. Socialism– distilled down– is the idea the government should control the economy in order to liberate the working class. The simple reality is when the government controls the economy it takes away freedom from the individual to control their own life.

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