In his Labor Day article in Salon.com, Michael Lind satirizes free-market conservatives, who he claims believe that Laborers destroy wealth. In building that thesis, he presents a range of logical fallacies that are interesting to analyze.
Mr. Lind doesn’t daly. His opening sentence lays out his theme:
Today is Labor Day, when we celebrate the wealth destroyers – at least if the libertarian right is to be believed.
I’ve never hear such a ridiculous idea — that laborers destroy wealth — expressed by any libertarian, in words nor in print. How did Lind come to think that this idea is typical of the libertarian right? Maybe he is just being dramatic, as his second sentence moderates a bit:
According to many free-market conservatives, economic growth is almost exclusively the result of investment decisions by a small number of rich individuals – the “wealth creators.”
Clearly these the first and second sentence are of different magnitudes, with the implicit “all” of the first statement becoming “many” of second, and “wealth destroyers”, we discover are simply not those who created the wealth. ( If Lind is equivocal in his hyperbole, don’t fret; he will hit his stride later. )
More significant is the term “small.” Free market conservative do not believe that a small number of the rich create all of the wealth. They believe that the free market allows the entire population to participate in the creation of wealth. Lind’s bogey men are actually oligarchs, not free-market conservatives. At least these statements are simply mischaracterizations, not gasping exaggerations. But, by paragraph three, he’s back to the overwrought satire.
If you believe this theory, then Labor Day should be a cause for national mourning. We should all pause to mourn the loss of capital that might have gone to a fifth or a sixth mansion or a private jet, but instead was conscripted against its will to pay for a public school or higher wages in a factory.
To advance his attack on the straw-men conservatives, no American icon is sacred. Lind takes license wherever he can, impressing a series of Lincoln quotes into service as an argument against promoting capital over labor. Ultimately, the message of the quotes, that labor is independent of capital, and that capital wealth has the antecedent of labor, is both obvious and irrelevant. But, since the quotes employ both the word “labor” and “capital”, and they were spoken by the flexibly authoritative Lincoln, we must assume the quotes to be both insightful and incisive.
By the time the reader suspects Lind is presenting a false dilemma, by offering only the two economic world views of laborers as the creators or destroyers of wealth, Lind explicitly states that he is , in fact, committing the logical fallacy of a false dilemma:
The alternative theory is that the true creator of wealth is, ultimately, the commonwealth – not only the political community, but the civilization that it shares with other nations
There are certainly more than two theories, such as the theory that libertarians, and economists, actually believe, that capital is a lever that makes labor more productive. A worker can be productive on his own, but he is more productive when using tools, machinery and factories, the manifestations of capital. Conservatives do tend to focus economic remedies on production, and they aren’t fond of labor unions but Conservative don’t hate laborers or the labor they do. However, it is hard to foam at the mouth and fling spittle attacking the much milder ideas that Conservatives actually believe.
Ultimately, the article is polemic sophistry ( a genre with which readers of Salon.com are familiar ) , and while we may appreciate his homage to labor, Lind’s rhetorical tactics are transparent, tiring, and very unproductive.