Monday, April 11, 2011

Two Hundred Years of Reactionary Rhetoric

The title of this post is taken from the title of Chapter One of Albert O. Hirschman's The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy (1991). Fortunately, I didn't read it until after substantially completing my research on the lump-of-labor fallacy claim. If I had, I would have simply dismissed the claim as yet another instance of set-piece reactionary rhetoric. Instead, I have unintentionally replicated Hirschman's study with a level of empirical detail the pursuit of which would have been hard to sustain had it been an intentional replication.

The perversity claim is that a proposed reform will have results the opposite of what were intended. For example, reducing the hours of work will increase unemployment rather than decrease it. The futility claim argues that the "laws" of society (or in this case economics) prevent any effect whatsoever. For example, it is sometimes argued that work-sharing doesn't reduce unemployment, it merely "spreads it around." The jeopardy argument points to some cherished achievement that would be undermined by the reform. For example, legislated or collectively bargained work-time reduction would allegedly impinge on people's right to work for as long and earn as much as they wish to. Various instances of the fallacy claim invoke each of Hirschman's three categories of perversity, futility and jeopardy. Some of the fallacy claims invoke more than one.

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