Think Tanks, Clinton Spin, and the Minimum Wage

The previous post referred to one libertarian writer worth reading, David Friedman. Another worth reading is Megan McArdle. She certainly caught my attention as an honest thinker as opposed to ideologue with her comments on the Laffer Curve and the reaction from the right to criticism. Along a similar vein she writes this about think tanks:

You are not allowed to argue in favor of school choice if the only evidence you can come up with is two links from Cato. You are not allowed to argue against global warming if you are relying entirely on a report from CEI. You are not allowed to talk about the recording industry based only upon press releases from the Progress and Freedom Foundation. And you are definitely, definitely not allowed to talk to me about the minimum wage if the best evidence for your position comes from EPI. We can argue back and forth about whether think tanks buy scholars who agree with them, or pay scholars to agree with them; I’d argue for the former.

This certainly caught my attention considering the number of conservative and libertarian arguments I receive which are based entirely upon articles from Cato. I’m a tremendous supporter of the free market–far more than the Republicans who support corporate welfare and deficit spending. I also appreciate much of the work done by Cato. The problem is that libertarians and ideological conservatives have a view which they push and will ignore or deny any evidence which does not fit into their ideology, as Megan noted when a conservative publication once refused to publish a book review which criticized the Laffer Curve as “it violated their editorial line on taxation.” As essential the free market is to our prosperity, it does not always work perfectly.

An even worse variation of citing biased sources comes from supporters of a candidate who endlessly send the same talking points. I’ve probably heard every claim made at Hillary Clinton’s Orwellian named “Fact Hub.” No amount of links from there will disprove what we’ve all witnessed. The Clintons have resorted to race-baiting and have run a Rove-style dishonest campaign regardless of what the Clinton supporters link to. I’m no more impressed by their sets of links claiming that Obama is running a negative campaign. Often they are isolated comments from a supporter and not part of an overall trend as we’ve seen with the Clinton campaign. More often they are examples of Obama criticizing Clinton over policy differences, such as her support for the war or mandates in her health care plan. This is fair game, and is not at all comparable to the type of dishonest tactic from the Clinton campaign which I’ve discussed many times, and which Lawrence Lessig describes here.

The principle of considering the bias of ones sources applies to political campaigns and often to think tanks. While I used this for a mini-rant on the nonsense being spread by the Clinton supporters, Megan used this to lead into comments on the minimum wage. Liberal readers might not agree with her views but, unlike partisans on both sides of the issue, I think Megan essentially gets it right when she concludes:

The main thing to remember about the minimum wage is that it is trivial. If the minimum wage actually made a substantial improvement in worker’s conditions at the expense of employers, it would also almost certainly cause substantial disemployment. But it doesn’t, so it won’t. Anyone who tells you anything different, on either side of the debate, is trying to sell you something.

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