We’re already being forced to deal with election season nonsense. Instead of catching up on the latest Donald Trump fluff in the news, we’re going to look at some common logical fallacies used and abused by politicians.
Causal flaws abound in political reasoning. For example, a state will pass some expensive piece of tough-on-crime legislation, and then point to the fact that crime rates went down in the following years as justification.
However, just because Thing One happened before Thing Two, it doesn’t mean that Thing One caused Thing Two. Thing Two might have happened anyway. Crime rates may be plummeting in many similar states that have no analogous tough-on-crime legislation. That’s an instance of the effect without the purported cause.
Another variant of the casual flaw is the stock and trade of the incumbent political candidate. “During my previous administration, our state saw employment increase, crime decrease, and another great season of Game of Thrones. If you want more of the good times, vote for me!”
Right, two things can be present at the same time without being causally connected in any way. Sure, Game of Thrones came out during Obama’s presidency, but can Obama really claim credit for that? Nah. For a great example of this fallacy in action, check out Bill Clinton’s speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
During my first semester of law school, the attorney general of a state that had legalized marijuana came to give a talk on what a disaster legalization had been for his state. The AG’s main argument consisted of an enumeration of all the costs and harms citizens have suffered because of legalized marijuana.
No one was impressed. Sure, legalizing marijuana has costs, but what about the benefits? How do the benefits balance against the costs? There are costs to allowing people to bomb down highways at 70 MPH, but we generally think the benefits outweigh such costs.
Whenever you see a politician pile on the benefits for their favorite legislation without mention of the costs, or when they list all sorts of costs without a peep about the benefits, they are committing a variant of the Exclusivity flaw.
Keep an eye out for these logical fallacies this election season, and at least you’ll get some LSAT prep out of the whole spectacle.