A False Dilemma is a fallacy in which a person uses the following pattern of “reasoning”:"Exactly the reasoning of the celebrated Bill Sykes," wrote Karl Marx:
Either claim X is true or claim Y is true (when X and Y could both be false).This line of “reasoning” is fallacious because if both claims could be false, then it cannot be inferred that one is true because the other is false.
Claim Y is false.
Therefore claim X is true.
“Gentlemen of the jury, no doubt the throat of this commercial traveler has been cut. But that is not my fault, it is the fault of the knife. Must we, for such a temporary inconvenience, abolish the use of the knife? Only consider! where would agriculture and trade be without the knife? Is it not as salutary in surgery, as it is knowing in anatomy? And in addition a willing help at the festive board? If you abolish the knife — you hurl us back into the depths of barbarism.”Which is to say, exactly the reasoning of the mainstream (or bourgeois) economists of Marx's day and ours. "If claim Y is false then claim X must be true!" If the quantity of labor to be performed is not a fixed amount, then -- mirable dictu! -- the economic system must be self-adjusting! Bingo!
But is the economic system self-adjusting? And if the economic system isn't self-adjusting -- as Keynes argued in the BBC radio broadcast linked to in the previous sentence -- is there any alternative to credit-fueled cycles of boom and bust? Again, Marx explained that the function of the economists' false dilemma is to exclude such alternatives from consideration:
No doubt he [the mainstream economist] is far from denying that temporary inconvenience may result from the capitalist use of machinery. But where is the medal without its reverse! Any employment of machinery, except by capital, is to him an impossibility. Exploitation of the workman by the machine is therefore, with him, identical with exploitation of the machine by the workman. Whoever, therefore, exposes the real state of things in the capitalistic employment of machinery, is against its employment in any way, and is an enemy of social progress!