It’s Not Just “Basic Economics”

Bad Arguments Vol. 5


If you’ve ever engaged in a debate with those on the left I’m willing to bet that a lot of their positions and understandings have left you scratching your head. From “rent is theft” to the labor theory of value, a lot of the positions held by those to the left leaves us wondering if they’ve ever studied the basics of how economies function. It’s hard not to question the economic credentials of the person you’re debating when they scream to abolish currency or markets. Before telling them to study basic economics as is the common retort I ask that you consider the following reasons why it’s a bad argument.

First off, claiming that your opponent is deficient in their knowledge can be either an insult or an Ad Hominem fallacy depending on how it’s phrased. It’s the same as calling someone an idiot; in the realm of debate, that type of personal attack holds no place. The only exception to this is if they claimed some form of authority on the matter. At that point questioning the quality of their credentials is acceptable, although I would add doing so in the form of an attack like this is poor form.

The next issue with this depends on the intentions of the person saying it. Like many loaded phrases, telling someone to read up on “basic economics” can invoke several fallacies dependent on use. This could be an Appeal to the Stone Fallacy if you’re suggesting they read because their claim is absurd (without actually proving that their claim is absurd). It could be an Argument from Incredulity Fallacy if you can’t truly understand their claims dismissing their conclusions as unimaginable thus false in your eyes. This could even be a form of Appeal to Authority wherein you believe yourself the authority and thus those that disagree must simply be uneducated on that matter. 

Most importantly it’s a bad argument due to the lack of quantification. What is “Basic Economics?” Is it understanding equilibrium pricing? Is it understanding investments and trust funds? Do you need to be able to cite the mathematics used in the Keynesian models from memory in order to discuss tax and spend? What is our marker for someone having a “basic” understanding of economics? Being the vast social science that it is, there’s no useful baseline that we can invoke to decide who has or has not met this criterion universally. It becomes double-edged when you claim they need to read more, yet you had to go look up what the TRPF hypothesis is.

“You need to read some basic economics” is little more than an advanced version of telling someone to go read a book because you disagree with them. As always in debate, your arguments and evidence need to counter the arguments and points being made by your opposition. To do otherwise is poor debating, and fails to address anything your opponent has actually said. The depth of how many ways this bad argument can be poorly used ought to lead to its end. Perhaps we’d all be better off if we read some more “basic debating” first.

Read more articles from Killian on Think Liberty here.


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