I frequently get into arguments with Leftists (and people on the right too, but we’ll focus on the Lefties today) on social media because A. I love a good debate. B. They often post things that are factually inaccurate and need to be corrected. C. Once in awhile, I get someone to actually think a little bit about their own beliefs and we should all re-think our own positions from time to time.
Last night I got into it with a few “progressives” who provided a textbook example of how the Left argues. We’ll call these two people John and Kate. John starts off in typical fashion with a completely inaccurate meme:
When asked the source for this meme/these statistics John didn’t know, which I assume means it was randomly found on the Internet and, as we all know, random things on the Internet are ALWAYS FACTUALLY ACCURATE. So, we have Step 1 in the Left’s argument process: Throw out random facts, which you haven’t bothered to fact check, as if they are true.
I kick off the conversation with a quick debunking of the “facts” in this meme:
“LOL. We grew at NEGATIVE 3% last quarter. The Dow is up because the Fed is pumping money into the market (quantitative easing), which is A. Unsustainable B. Increasing the debt. C. Benefitting mainly the uber rich. The real unemployment rate is in the double digits: Your number only includes people who are still looking for jobs, not the many people who have stopped looking and dropped out of the workforce. We have the lowest labor force participation rate in many decades. Deficit has gone down mainly because of the sequester (which Obama decried and which is no longer in place so it will go back up again). The debt is still exploding.”
John’s response: “And who started the deficit? Democrat Bill Clinton had a surplus, Republican Bush did not.”
I find that starting off with simple questions can quickly give you an indicator of the extent of the person’s knowledge, so I simply ask: “Do you understand the difference between the debt and the deficit?” To which John replies: “Yeah. The only way to lower the debt is to get the deficit down, no? Clinton had a surplus, Bush a deficit. That’s where it started.” (As you can see, we’ve already begun Step 2: Blame Bush.)
Ok, so now I know that John doesn’t really understand what the deficit is and how it factors into the debt. If he did he would have said, “If you want to decrease the debt, you can’t just decrease the deficit, you have to eliminate the deficit and not just for a year or two.” The surplus has to last for awhile. Third grade math example: If I get in $1,000 (my ‘deficit’) of credit card debt a year for four years and the fifth year I lower my ‘deficit’ and only get in $800 of credit card debt, have I lowered my overall debt or am I still in a $4,800 hole? “Surpluses” like the Clinton-Gingrich “surplus” are always destined to be very temporary and don’t decrease the debt, mainly because entitlement spending continually escalates. So I explain to John:
“The deficit is the yearly difference between how much you take in and how much you spend. Obama’s deficits have been, on average, over a trillion dollars every year he’s been in office. Bush’s last deficit was $458 billion. Obama’s deficit is lower now than his first few years in office (only because he TRIPLED the deficit when he got in office and Republicans took over the House in 2010 and have slowed spending a bit). When you are spending more than you take in in any given year that adds to the debt. You can’t lower the debt if you have a deficit. You can only lower the debt if you spend less than you take in in a series of years. It’s like your credit card bill. All we’re doing now is paying interest on the debt (a debt which Obama will have doubled by the time he leaves office; it was a little over $10 trillion the day he took the oath, it’s over $17 trillion now and rapidly going up). The reason we had a “surplus” for a time under Clinton was that the Republican House balanced the budget (the House holds the purse strings). Clinton did not submit a balanced budget. He submitted a deficit. To his credit, he let the Republican House negotiate him into signing a balanced budget, something this President would never do.”
“This, however, does not answer the question: why did Bush run a deficit. The answers are obvious. He gives them himself. Tax cuts, and the war in Iraq. I’ve no intention on discussing that, only to point out that the fact on the ground is that the Democrat had a surplus, the Republican a deficit.”
Step 3: Ignore everything I just said and reiterate that it’s Bush’s fault.
Notice that at no point yet has John acknowledged that Obama has anything to do with the exploding national debt/enormous yearly deficits. The fact that there is a national debt at all is apparently “Bush’s fault!” because he had budget deficits (like every other modern President). So, I try explaining again to John:
“As usual, the only argument you guys have is ‘BUSH’S FAULT! BUSH’S FAULT!’ Yes, Clinton left office with a balanced budget, but he, like all recent presidents, increased the national debt while in office, leaving the country more than a trillion dollars deeper in debt. Bush left office with a deficit and more debt. None of that has anything to do with the fact that Obama has vastly outspent his predecessors. Clinton’s debt record is “best,” Bush’s is bad but Obama’s is by far the worst.”
Now I get radio silence from John, but now Kate has joined the conversation. She starts off by responding to someone else on the thread who is asking John what he thinks about the terrible economic indicators under Obama (median household wealth is down, median income is down, unemployment is up, part time jobs are becoming the norm for a lot of people instead of full time, etc.) John doesn’t respond to that person either, but Kate says:
“As for median household wealth being down, that is support for the progressive view that the decline in unions has resulted in corporations and some small businesses keeping the money at the top for the sole use of CEO’s, bonuses, and (if appropriate) stockholders rather than investing in the economic health of the US through appropriate wages. Likewise, it is not the POTUS who determines whether companies are going to hire mainly part time employees in order (once again) to keep the money at the top. Corporate profits are at an all-time high. Under those conditions, if employees aren’t hired full time or aren’t paid livable wages, the blame lies squarely on the business sector. I’m curious as to what excuse the “persons” disguised as corporations have when making record-breaking profits for NOT paying livable wages and contributing to the healthcare of the employees who help make them their profits?”
Someone else responds to her on that (noting that Obamacare has a lot to do with companies now hiring more part-time, etc.), but I’m showing you that so you understand how/why we eventually get on the topic of wages, etc.
Kate then starts replying to my conversation with John:
“I love how those opposed to Obama absolutely REFUSE to admit any impact Bush has had on this administration. Just as an example, the current administration inherited wars that OF COURSE caused tremendous debt – which those blinded with hate of Obama do not take into account when discussing rising debt. It isn’t that liberals blame everything on Bush, they just refuse to take his impact out of the equation when looking at the current situation. They refuse to forget that Bush left the country in a severe recession and on the brink of depression. How dare they!!!! The irony of the is that it is the conservatives who are in the blind ‘blame game’!”
Ok, there’s Step 4: Establish a straw man.
No one “refused to admit” Bush’s role in growing the debt. I actually just blamed him (scroll up) for making it worse. Note, neither John nor Kate have yet to lay any blame on the man sitting in the Oval Office for the last six years who has almost doubled the total national debt. We keep repeating Steps 2 and 3. I reply:
“I acknowledge Bush had a big hand in increasing the debt and I intensely dislike him for it. Obama will have more than doubled it by the time he leaves office. Simple truth that you guys refuse to acknowledge. Nearly halfway through Obama’s second term and you guys are still screaming “BUSH’S FAULT” over everything. It’s pathetic. At some point, the guy who has been sitting in the Oval Office for the past six years has to be held responsible for something.”
“Once again, there is a difference between screaming “BUSH’S FAULT” and giving credit to Bush where credit is due. The topic is mainly raised to counteract accusations where “you guys” are screaming “OBAMA’S FAULT” for EVERYTHING negative in the universe – whether he had anything to do with it or not. On the whole, “you guys” want to pretend that this POTUS came into a clean slate. That kind of blindness is really sad.”
More straw men, so I simply reply: “No one on this thread has said everything in the universe is Obama’s fault or that he came in with a clean slate. I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
Kate then replies to the person who is owning her on the Obamacare argument by saying the evidence showing increased premiums and deductibles is wrong and that most people are actually experiencing lower premiums and deductibles (she doesn’t provide any evidence of that, which, to be fair, she can’t because it doesn’t exist. She’s wrong). She then makes a bizarre claim: “The ACA, as compromised for Republican votes, surely has short comings.”
At this point John has found another pointless meme (from a site called “Conservatives Are Destroying Our Future” – sounds like a bunch of reasonable policy experts who should be taken seriously!) so he returns to the conversation just to post this and then leaves:
So, now we’re back to a version of Step 3: Ignore all the facts that were just laid out and go back to tacitly blaming Bush. We’ve also moved on to Step 5: Post memes and/or links to random studies and/or Salon, Think Progress, Daily Kos, etc. articles in lieu of making an argument.
Anyway, I’m still in conversation with Kate, who i have called out for implying in one of her above posts that running a business is as simple and straightforward as just lavishing high wages and benefits on employees because it’s a nice thing to do; as if that doesn’t effect prices, profits, etc. I also weigh in on her bizarre claim that the “ACA was compromised for Republican votes.” At this point I’m thinking, surely she knows that not a single Republican voted for it, or ever planned to, nor did any of them have a hand in drafting it. I must have misunderstood what she was saying.
“You seem to be suggesting that if a company makes a profit they can just up everyone’s wages and benefits and it’s that simple, as if paying people more than what their labor is worth doesn’t effect anything. That’s not how it works. What is your suggestion? For the government to set wages, prices, profit levels, stock dividends for all companies coast to coast? Not sure what you mean by “the ACA as compromised for Republican votes.” No Republicans voted for it, nor were they ever planning to. No Republicans were involved in the drafting of the law. There were many kickbacks thrown in to get Democrat votes, but not Republicans.”
I then reply to John and his meme, to which I get no response:
“I don’t understand what your argument is at this point. Are you trying to make the case that Obama is some kind of deficit hawk? As I explained above, Obama lowered his own deficit for one year (each of his deficits have been higher than any of Bush’s, even Obama’s lowest one). Obama has the five highest budget deficits the U.S. Government has ever run and he has almost doubled the overall debt. Clinton’s lowered deficit and eventual balanced budget was, once again, lowered from Clinton’s OWN previous deficits. Clinton still added over a trillion to the national debt overall during his presidency. When he took office the total outstanding public debt was $4.1 trillion. When he left office it was $5.7 trillion. So, the point is, even if Clinton and Obama lowered the deficit for a year or two from their previous high deficits, it doesn’t lower the overall national debt. If you are consistently running budget deficits at all, it increases the debt. Smaller deficits just mean you’re growing the debt a bit more slowly than you were growing it the year before. It’s still making the problem worse, not better, and the interest keeps accumulating (which ultimately increases the debt more).”
Now Kate’s reply to me (by the way, she never responds to me on Republicans and the ACA, which I take to mean that she didn’t realize it was passed on a party line vote, which is amazing):
“This statement says everything about your position: ‘as if paying people more than what their labor is worth doesn’t effect anything.’ There are people who CANNOT survive on their wages without getting government assistance, and yet you automatically assume that a raise would pay more than what their labor is worth. You immediately devalue their contribution to the company and to society. It is that mindset that devalues the wage earners in this country that is destroying our economy and the very fiber of our country. I view it as a complete lack of empathy as to what is happening to our citizens.”
So, we’ve arrived at Step 6: Reduce your argument to some form of “Oh yeah, well you’re a big meanie who lacks empathy.”
“First of all, you didn’t respond to my question about whether your solution would be to have the government set all wages and prices, etc. Here’s another question: should we pay burger flippers at McDonald’s $50 an hour just to be nice? You realize that means prices will go up, right? That means they end up in the same position, with the same buying power, as they were in before. The market decides what someone’s labor is worth. It’s called supply and demand. Welders make more money than fast food workers because their labor is worth more because their skills are in higher demand. Empathy has nothing to do with it. It’s basic economics. The answer is not to arbitrarily fix wages, but to help people acquire skills so they can grow and compete. McDonald’s cashier is not supposed to be a career. It’s supposed to be an entry-level job for a teenager. If you force McDonald’s to pay a cashier more than their labor is worth, McDonald’s will just replace them with a robot.”
“I don’t need to answer whether I accept your made up solution, since I have given you absolutely no reason to ask me whether I think the government should set all wages and prices. Nor did I ever suggest that McDonald’s “flippers” should make $50 an hour. And I object to your constant insinuation that other people don’t understand simple ideas such as that increases in wages could make prices go up (unless, of course, executive bonuses go down, but how dare anyone suggest such a thing!). Is it your premise, that “we” should pay CEO’s hundreds of millions of dollars a year because they are “worth it”? You discredit me the same way you do the value of workers. I will counter, however, that the concept that the “market” decides what someone’s labor is worth is no longer automatically accepted as a truism. Now that the majority of the “market” is controlled by a very small number of corporations (antitrust laws be damned), the market model is too skewed, That is what you don’t seem to understand. I’m afraid you are too busy having all those conversations with yourself, which is why I think you can’t understand what I and others have said about any of these issues.”
Step 7: Repeatedly refuse to answer the question. I asked a simple yes or no question. Her resistance to answering is telling. Kate has given me reason to ask whether she thinks the government should set wage and price controls, especially with this last answer. She “objects” to my insinuation that “people don’t understand simple ideas such as that increases in wages could make prices go up.” Therein lies the fallacy in her (and the Left’s) raise the wage! argument. If you understand (as she says she does) that increased wages mean increased prices (if you now have to pay the burger flipper $15 an hour, you now have to increase the wages of your shift manager – who was probably making $15 an hour – to $30 an hour and on up the chain). This obviously results in a price increase because now everything is more expensive because your butchers, suppliers, truck drivers, etc. have to abide by the increased wage ladder, too. There’s also the fact that heads of businesses aren’t all just fat cats sitting around, much as the Left imagines they all are. They are constantly making decisions about growing their business, opening up new stores, investing in new products, hiring more workers, etc. Kate won’t answer me on price controls because she refuses to acknowledge that what she’s asking for is for the government to impose wage and price controls. That’s the only way her idea can work. Government would have to raise the wage and then prevent businesses from raising prices (I shouldn’t have to tell you that there’s a name for this idea and it never works). She also expresses a desire for executive bonuses to go down, in order to pay the workers at the bottom of the chain more. Again, you’re essentially asking for government to set a limit on how much executives can be paid. That’s the only way that happens. I would have gotten into this (and her claim that a “very small number of corporations” now apparently control “the market” to a degree that means the basic laws of supply and demand have been nullified or something. What?) more with her and plainly, instead of subtly, asked her the question no Lefty can ever answer: Why not set the minimum wage at $50? Why not $100? But it was 2 in the morning and I was tired. Note that she completely ignores the parts of my argument that don’t fit her progressive Unicornland narrative: the idea that maybe we should teach people skills and turn them into assets instead of simply treating them as mouths that need to be fed/problems to throw money at; the reasons (basic supply and demand, what skills a market values/needs) why a welder or construction worker or engineer or auto mechanic makes more than a McDonald’s cashier. Her argument boils down to the typical Leftist talking points: people who own businesses are evil people who should have their money redistributed and I want to give poor people free stuff, logic and math be damned.
Anyway, suddenly Kate found a Politifact “fact” that she must have been convinced she could really get me on because suddenly we were back on the deficit/debt train. She quoted a Politifact article (from a year ago) stating that Obama’s claim (at the time) that “the deficit is falling at the fastest rate in 60 years” is true.
I simply responded by asking: “How much has the national debt decreased?” Then I used the simple credit card example I used above to prove my point about why, even if what Obama said was true for that one year, it does nothing to address the larger problem. “If I get in $1,000 of credit card debt a year for four years and the fifth year I only get in $800 of credit card debt have I lowered my overall debt or am I still in a $4,800 hole?”
In a separate comment I posed the wage control question again: “So, you’re not calling for the government to institute a higher minimum wage?”
Kate responds correctly to the debt question: “The national debt has not decreased overall. As a matter of fact, it is expected to double over the course of Obama’s presidency. It will definitely not decrease with an obstructionist Congress blocking all attempts to improve the economy.” (Step 8: Revert back to the talking points: obstructionist Republicans’ fault!) “However, all of that is much too complicated for this thread.” (Step 9: (Now that I’m losing the argument and have been forced to concede your original point) it’s just all too complicated to discuss.) “And I, unlike you, do not consider the debt standing alone to be the most pressing issue this country faces.” (Step 10: It’s not a huge problem anyway! What’s the big deal?)
She continues in another comment: “Your last insulting comment has ended this discussion for me. I should not have to point out that I have the intelligence to understand that debt in your example accumulated. Since you seem to feel that I do, I have no desire to encourage your further “put downs.” I’m very sorry that you don’t understand that setting a MINIMUM wage does not constitute the government setting ‘all wages and prices.’ Good night.” (Step 11: Suddenly claim that you’ve been insulted and put down as an excuse to leave the conversation. Optional to Step 11: Put quotes around random words.)
Anyway, while all that was going on I was replying to her acknowledgment that the debt has increased. Me:
“No, it hasn’t decreased. It has increased. That’s my point. Even if you’re running a smaller deficit than you were running last year you’re still adding to the debt. Conservatives and libertarians would love to actually address the debt and fix the problem.”
I then reply to her claim that I “insulted” her:
“I don’t know what insulting comment you’re referring to. I asked my minimum wage question again, which you still won’t respond to. You implied that Obama had accomplished something by having one year of a slightly lower deficit. I used an example to prove it’s meaningless in the grand scheme of things. No put down involved.”
Ok, so at this point she goes up and DELETES the Politifact quote she posted.
I comment: “LOL. Way to delete your original comment that I was responding to.”
She replies: “LOL – way to assume it had anything to do with you or knowing that you were responding when I did it. Center of my universe you are not. :)”
Several minutes have now gone by, plus she responded to my response to her Politifact comment (that’s where she accused me of insulting her), so the idea that she didn’t know I had ever replied to the Politifact quote is ridiculous and disproven by scrolling up (assuming she hasn’t deleted that comment too). (Step 12: Put the inconvenient facts down the memory hole. Optional to Step 12: Start with the passive-aggressive smiley face emoticons.) I reply: “You posted a quote from Politifact, which I responded to. You said my response was ‘insulting’ and had ended the discussion for you. Then you deleted the comment you were complaining about my response to.”
At this point she replies to me by posting the following meme implying that I’m a greedy asshole (because I understand how the laws of economics work, sorry!):
Anyway, she now goes back and edits her last comment so that it now reads:
“LOL – Way to assume it had anything to with you or knowing that you were responding when I did it. Center of my universe you are not :) Two other of my posts didn’t show. One about my full realization that conservatives and libertarians have an absolute obsession with the debt and a single-minded idea that it is controlled only by reducing expenditures. The weakness is to ignore other elements of the equation related to building a healthy economy (including more employment and better wages) and country with an end result of reducing debt through more “income”. Much too complicated for conservative talking points. Another to point out that whereas I don’t think I discussed the minimum wage earlier, supporting an increase in the MINIMUM is not in any way equivalent to suggesting that government control all wages and prices. Either that is too complicated for you to understand or you were insulting by accusing me of that leap. Either way, discussion with you seems pointless.”
Step 13: A. Declare that “discussion with you is pointless.” B. Accuse your opponent of being insulting/arrogant/condescending, then immediately act in the manner in which you just accused them.
Now she’s replying to my last comment which was a reply to her previously unedited post:
“Sorry, but you have misstated what happened ONCE AGAIN, and misunderstood what you have said that is insulting ONCE AGAIN. I sincerely am leaving now, but I was not going to have the exchange end with your misrepresentation of what occurred. Yes, I deleted a post where Politifact determined that a statement made by the President about the deficit falling was true. I deleted it because I determined it served no purpose to post it. I deleted it before even reading your comments. The remainder of your last post is merely you having a fictional conversation with yourself. Good night.”
Theory: She deleted the Politifact quote because she posted it before she actually read through the article and when she realized they make my point halfway through the article, she deleted it. But that’s ok, that’s embarrassing, she doesn’t have to admit that.
Step 14: Insinuate that your opponent is a crazy person. “You are too busy having conversations with yourself.” WTF are you talking about? I’m having a conversation with YOU. If you’re talking about your feelings rather than responding to my arguments that’s not my problem.
Kate really tried to make Step 14 happen. She started going back and editing her comments so it looked like my replies were to an imaginary person rather than to her. “The remainder of your comment is you having a fictional conversation with yourself,” she said. Yes, now it’s me having a fictional conversation because you’ve gone back and edited your fucking comments so that I now look like a crazy person who’s talking to myself.
I brought this up but, of course, never got a reply: “You keep going back and editing your comments after I’ve already responded to what you originally wrote, so this conversation now doesn’t make sense to anyone looking at it.”
I briefly addressed her last couple points and then went to bed: “Increasing the minimum wage means other wages go up, which means prices go up, which means everyone is back to having the same amount of purchasing power they had before. I agree a healthy economy and more employment could help reduce the debt through more income. Raising the minimum wage isn’t going to do it though.”
The thing about the Left is that they don’t know what they don’t know. They think they know everything because they’ve been told that they are the “elites,” the “intellectuals,” that their opponents are knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who believe in Jesus and angels (gasp!) and must therefore be fucking idiots on every topic. (P.S. There are plenty of atheists on the right). But, in reality, my encounter with the average Leftist almost always involves me spending most of my time debunking absurd claims and/or explaining basic facts to them. Pro Tip: If you’re only getting your news from Salon, Think Progress, Daily Kos, MSNBC, etc., YOU’RE NOT GETTING ALL THE INFORMATION. I certainly don’t know everything and I get stuff wrong of course, but I read everything I can all across the Left-Right spectrum. Because if I didn’t, I would be even more stupid than I already am. It’s useful to read the other side’s arguments because it’s helpful to know what your ideological opponents actually believe and how they really think. Most Leftists have no idea what their ideological opponents actually believe. They live in a bubble in which they only talk to people, and read things, they agree with. Conservatives/libertarians have an advantage here because the American education system is steeped in Leftist thought and ideology. So, we have read our Marx and our Chomsky and our Said and our Keynes and our Zinn. Most Leftists I encounter have NOT read the other side’s thinkers (i.e. Hayek, Toqueville, Friedman, Burke, etc.). That’s why most conversations between the two sides play out like the one above.