Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Obama's Speech - Cognitive Dissonance

First post in a new series about logical fallacies and cognitive dissonance in the political space.
In this first post we take a look at a seemingly innocuous speech given by Obama on Feb 15, 2012 in Milwaukee, WI.

Briefly stated cognitive dissonance is when a person simultaneously holds two conflicting beliefs, ideas, feelings, or values.The theory holds that a person will sub-consciously work to reconcile the conflict by altering their inner state so that it is in alignment. Even short, cognitive dissonance leads to behavioral modification.

In the speech, Obama is addressing a blue collar crowd, and makes mention of the long running trend of US manufactures outsourcing jobs to countries with lower costs, specifically China.

He states:
"They're [companies who outsource] taking deductions for the expenses of moving out the United States. Meanwhile, companies that are doing the right thing and choosing to stay here, they get hit with the hugest tax rate in the world"
Ignoring the factual statements, this statement, that was greeted with strong applause, sets up a state of dissonance for these companies.

A companies primary responsibility is to make money, so the main incentive is to seek out the best conditions for doing so. Obama's statement frames this as a moral decision creating a dissonant state where companies have one course of action that is best for their interests, and one course that is right.

The danger in this approach is 1) that does not address the issue, where in this case the government is responsible for aligning the company's incentive to make money, and 2) the likely reaction is for companies to reject the moral argument justifying the gains of doing so against the 'rightness' of the action.

Without meaning to invoke a slippery slope argument, how easy does it become to make future immoral decisions after the first one is out of the way. I would argue that we should try to avoid forcing people onto the wrong side of the morality fence, especially when there are no gains in doing so.

The is the additional problem that this easily leads to a governmental situation where protectionist policies seems like the best remedy. Which when you look at farm subsidies as an example create situations where the American public ends up paying for people to do business. And in that example, we end up with a powerful lobby dedicated to protecting the rights of the few in charge of the massive arga-businesses that pass for 'The American Farmer'.

This is not responsible government. A responsible government proposes effective solutions for real problems, and does not rely on emotional or morality charged arguments to sway over the masses.

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