WSJ opinion page is the hot spot for intellectuals who sell out to right-wing money

Michael A. Carvin, Yaakov M. Roth and Michael Saltsman have a lot in common.  All three are highly educated and learned white males who work for professional services firms as knowledge workers dedicated to both written and unwritten sets of ethics and professional conduct. All three generally serve corporate clients with right-wing interests.  All have written articles that appeared on the same opinion page on the same day in the Wall Street Journal. Both of their articles (Carvin and Roth work as a team) propose public policies that while, disastrous for the country, would help their clients.

One more thing they have in common: Their articles depend upon fallacious reasoning.

Saltsman is no newcomer to the opinion pages of right-wing media. He is rapidly becoming notorious for his specious reasoning and empty rhetoric in a slew of articles arguing against the minimum wage. He identifies himself as research director at the Employment Policies Institute, but an on-line biography lists him as an employee of Richard Berman, whose public relations agency specializes in creating pseudo think tanks to spew out white papers favorable to his clients—generally large businesses.  But Carvin and Roth, both lawyers at the mega-enormous international law firm Jones Day, are new to the game of misrepresenting facts and using fallacious reasoning in the news media to support their client’s position. They may do it in the court room and during negotiations all the time—I’m not in a position to comment.

Let’s take a look at what these intellectual sell-outs are proposing:

In “Courts Should Stay Out of Political Fact-Checking,” Carvin and Roth want to declare unconstitutional all state laws that prohibit lying in political advertising; currently there are 15 states that make it a crime. Carvin and Roth, by the way, are part of the legal team that Jones Day has put together to represent the plaintiffs in the case before the Supreme Court that is considering the matter.  The client wants to invalidate laws prohibiting lying in political ads.

Here’s the reason Carvin and Roth give for not wanting laws against lying in political ads: the voters and not judges should decide what is and is not a lie.  By letting the people decide, they of course mean by voting on Election Day.

There are three problems with this view:

  1. The voters have no standing and are incapable of deciding if a commercial has told an out-and-out lie. They aren’t experts in gathering and weighing evidence.
  2. People vote for certain candidates for a variety of reasons. A vote is not a mandate for whether an ad contained an overt lie. It is an endorsement of one candidate over another. I can imagine many scenarios in which someone might vote for someone whose campaign was caught is a lie.
  3. There is no recourse, i.e., punishment when there is no law with penalties.

To Carvin and Roth every statement made in a political campaign is both true and untrue, depending upon what candidate you are supporting. But in the real world, many statements are incontrovertibly true and false. And when a candidate delivers provable falsities in an ad, that ad should be taken off the air and the campaign penalized.

Right below the Carvin and Roth article on the printed page sits “Why Subway Doesn’t Serve a $14 Reuben Sandwich, “another hyperventilating screed from Saltsman against raising the minimum wage.  He thinks the economy will plummet if the minimum wage is raised so that it has the purchasing power that it once had. Over the past few decades, minimum wage workers have lost 40% of their purchasing power, while most goods and services had felt the effects of inflation.  The 40% rise in the minimum wage that President Obama is advocating is Saltsman’s “bête noire.”

Near the end of the article he notes that a double cheeseburger at Shake Shack, which starts employees at more than the minimum wage, costs in excess of 40% more than a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder. He goes on to postulate that McDonald’s would lose a ton of customers if a higher minimum wage raised its starting salaries by 40%.

There are two problems with this conflation of the Shake Shack and the McDonald’s version of the double cheese burger:

First of all, the two food products aren’t the same thing: Shake Shack uses hormone- and antibiotic-free meat which costs much more than the fatty, chemical-infused stuff McDonald’s processes. Other Shake Shack ingredients also cost more than those at McDonald’s, plus the preparation process is more staff-intensive. Finally, not only do people pay for the higher quality ingredients at Shake Shack, they also pay for the perception of quality, which is integral to the Shake Shack brand, just as the perception of cheapness is integral to the McDonald’s brand.  So you can’t compare the Shake Shack and McDonald’s products and say the only reason that one is so much more expensive than the other is because the workers make more money.

The second fallacious part of Saltsman’s reasoning is that he assumes that if the minimum wage went up 40%, MacDonald’s costs would go up 40%. Wages are only one part of cost to operate a McDonald’s franchise, which also includes rent, utilities, raw materials, payments to the corporation and marketing. Let’s not forget, too, that the price also includes profit to the franchisee. We know that labor constitutes 20% of franchisees’ cost of operation.  Even assuming that the franchisees make no profit, figuring in all these factors means that if labor costs went up 40%, the price of the double cheese burger would have to go from $3.99 to $4.31, which is 8%, not the 40% upon which Saltsman based his argument.

Seeing these two articles on the same page made me think of Julian Benda’s important 1927 essay, The Betrayal of the Intellectuals (Le Trahison des clercs in the original French) Benda argues that European intellectuals of the preceding hundred years often ceased to follow their professional dictates to reason dispassionately about political, economic and military matters, instead becoming apologists for nationalism, warmongering and racism. In going to any lengths to support the interests of their clients, Saltsman, Carvin and Roth have abandoned the principles of good reasoning, clear thought and factually based arguments that stand as the foundation stones of their professions. They are intellectuals who have betrayed the public. They have sold out to right-wing money.

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