Friday, November 04, 2005

Open Minded?

I haven't added anything to the "Board of Declaration" posts on Minimum Wage since my last comment on the matter, but I continue to watch the board with some interest. The Board has now been filled to overflowing with posts on both (if not more than two) sides of this matter. One recent post attempts to chastise both sides, suggesting that we will never find resolution until we can learn to change the way in which we frame arguments. In particular, we are called not to debate using "the world's way of arguing," and to exercise charity in our arguments. He then goes on to demonstrate shortcomings in arguments on both sides of the issue as debated thus far.

There's something I want to agree with in such a posting. We should exercise charity and open-mindedness as we debate these issues. Liberals have much to learn from conservatives, and vice-versa. But there's something in how this person phrases our need to move out of "worldliness" (not a word he actually uses, but I think it accurately captures his intent) that makes me wonder what he thinks we should do when Christians disagree? Surely he doesn't intend that we not have debates! I'm not entirely sure what he thinks reframing debates would look like. To be fair, it may not be that he's responding to any of my posts in particular. As I've said, I have not added to this discussion in quite some time. But although I've certainly tried to be fair, I do not wish to be so arrogant as to assume that I'm not part of the problem, as well.

The next post to appear on the board attempts to bring the issue back to basics. Rather than get into "high language" of "capitalism" and "socialism," he asks us to think about fairness. This isn't bad, and it is very clear from the writer's passion that he leans toward my side of this issue. But I think he argues too simplistically, and does not pay careful attention to the facts. For example, in arguing that CEOs are paid an unfairly high wage, he misquotes the statistic I cited earlier (with multiple sources at the time, and which I have heard used more recently on a Motley Fool radio broadcast which, despite airing on NPR, does not tend to lean to the left) which says that CEOs are currently paid 430 times as much as the average worker. My erstwhile colleague said that CEOs are paid 430 times as much as their lowest employees, which is clearly false. I have not yet posted to correct this error, but this kind of argument definitely opens up the "liberal" side to attack for not paying careful attention to the facts. Indeed, if he really wanted to compare CEOs to minimum wage workers, the ratio would be even higher. Using FairEconomy's figures of average annual CEO earnings at $11.8 million, the ratio of CEO pay to the annual pay of a minimum wage worker (at the California minimum of $6.75 an hour, working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, such a worker would make $14,040 in a year) becomes closer to 840-to-1!

But lest I be too quick to criticize for my friend's error, I myself had incorrectly stated the California minimum wage as $6.15/hour when I originally used it two months ago. (I have since corrected the error on that page to reflect the accurate figure of $6.75/hour) Not only that, but as I have frequented other message boards and discussed other issues with conservatives, I find that liberals (I find it ironic to keep calling myself that, since I know that I tend to lean more conservative than a lot of my friends!) are often rightly accused of skewing facts in order to argue their points and, in my own haste or ignorance, find that I have myself committed these same errors in my attempts to argue for my side.

FactCheck.org, at the very top of their front page, has a quote from Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts." If I am to be truly open-minded about debating the issues on which I am passionate, I need to be more willing to accept when the facts work in the opposite direction. Maybe that's what that "don't argue in the world's way" post was getting at. It's not enough to have good intentions. It's not enough for me to say that it is unfair that CEOs are paid 430 times more than the average worker, and propose a minimum wage increase as a solution. I need to be able to use the facts as they actually stand to show that any intended solution to this injustice will not actually make the problem worse. At the present, I still believe that such an increase would not cause the economic calamities that my conservative opponents suggest. But if I really do care about the poor, I need to be as certain as possible that the conservatives aren't right, and that their arguments really do come from a position more concerned about protecting what power they currently have than about helping those who are powerless.

But it is hard to be open-minded about issues that we are passionate about. That's why I've argued that true impartiality is so difficult, if not impossible, to find.

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