A Philosopher's Blog

53% and Envy

Posted in Business, Law, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on October 13, 2011
Wall Street Sign. Author: Ramy Majouji

Image via Wikipedia

Erick Erickson recently started a movement in response to the Occupy Wall Street movement. The occupiers have as a slogan that they are the 99%. To counter this, Erickson hit on the idea of the 53%. This is the percentage of Americans who pay the federal income tax. His message is that complaints should cease, people should not blaming Wall Street, and people should pay their taxes.

For those who might think that 47% of Americans are just skipping out on taxes, the people who do not pay do so for two main reasons. The first is that the tax laws (such as the cuts under Bush) are such that about half of these people end up with no owed tax. The second is that the other half are so poor that after exemptions and the standard deduction they owe no taxes.

I happened to see Erickson being interviewed on CNN and found his remarks very interesting. He did make a valid point in claiming that although the Occupiers talk about the 99%, they do not actually represent 99% of  Americans. This is, of course, true of any political group since there is virtually no issue on which Americans have 100% agreement. Of course, this also means that his 53% folks also do not speak for all Americans (or even most).

Erickson seemed to be trying to make the point that his collected anecdotes from the 53% somehow refute the Occupiers. However, this seems to be questionable reasoning. In general, the folks in this movement note how they have jobs and pay taxes. However, the fact that they claim to be doing okay does not seem to show that the Occupiers do not have legitimate points. After all, if people organized to raise concerns about crime having some people say “I have not been a victim of crime” does not show there is not a problem.

Erickson did make a fairly stock accusation, namely that the Occupiers are motivated by envy. He seemed to regard this as showing that they are in error. However, this sort of reasoning is fallacious and can be regarded as an ad homimen. This method is so common that I think it deserves its own distinct name as a fallacy. Naturally, I suggest that it be called Accusation of Envy or perhaps Refutation by Envy. It has the following form:

  • Premise 1: Person P makes critical claim C about X.
  • Premise 2: P is accused of envy (typically in regards to X).
  • Conclusion: Therefore claim C is false.

Obviously enough, whether a person is envious or not has no bearing on the truth of the claims s/he makes. Even if, for example, the Occupiers are envious of the employed and the wealthy and even if this is their sole motivation, it does not follow that the criticisms they make are thus in error. The following example should nicely illustrate that this “reasoning” is flawed:

  • Sam: “When tyrants oppress their people and commit genocide, they are acting wrongly.”
  • Sally: “Why you are just envious of tyrants. So you are wrong. They are acting rightly.”

Naturally, the question of whether someone is jealous or not can be a point of interest. However, this is a matter of fact rather than a point of logic and is, as noted above, irrelevant to the truth or falsity of claims made by the allegedly jealous person.

Thus, Erickson’s charge of envy has no logical weight in this matter. I do, however, thank him for giving me the idea to write up this “new” fallacy.

In my next post I will address his remark about life not being fair.




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12 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on October 13, 2011 at 8:29 am

    Mike, what do you think about this line of thought? See any problem?

    1) Corporations control the government

    2) Therefore, we need government regulation to protect us from these corporations

    • dhammett said, on October 13, 2011 at 10:28 am

      And this: Technically, the people, through their elected representatives, control their government. At least I believe that’s what the Founders were aiming for as they bargained their way toward a Constitution. The people vote government officials into and out of office. If the government is controlled by corporations (and arguably, corporations, with their lobbying power and their recently SC established position as individuals do carry mighty weight in elections) there are only four possible approaches I can see for preventing corporations from destroying our lakes and our air and killing off our population with unregulated drugs and tainted foodstuffs and nuclear missiles if they wish.
      1/ We can settle for the government we have and settle for whatever protections it may afford us from the nasty corporations (I.E. from ourselves since corporations are individuals, too.).
      2/ We can elect representatives less prone to corruption. But, one thing we know about the human condition is that even if we find such representatives and manage to get them elected , once they’re plopped down in an environment where corporate money is flowing freely, an unhealthy number will display a very human tendency to bend with the corporate winds.
      3/ We can make major amendments to the Constitution which will prevent abuses of power. Sure.
      4/ We can overthrow the present government and replace it with something better.
      5/ No doubt a few are missing. Add on as you see fit.

      Conclusion: If not one of the above seems likely or even possible, and if there are no other options, there’s really nothing left to protect us from corporations and the government and ourselves.

      • T. J. Babson said, on October 13, 2011 at 10:41 am

        We can decentralize government rather than concentrating all the power in Washington.

        • dhammett said, on October 13, 2011 at 10:49 am

          Will that solve the problem of corruption of government by national corporations that can simply move their operations to other states that are more needy and likely, therefore, more amenable to allowing the corporations to operate in ways that may be detrimental to the National population?
          Will it lessen the problem of corruption or simply decentralize it?

          • T. J. Babson said, on October 13, 2011 at 11:12 am

            Decentralizing it lessens it.

            • dhammett said, on October 13, 2011 at 11:38 am

              True. It makes it less centralized. I don’t think it makes it any less insidious.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm

          The states still have considerable power. Less than the national government of course-but that is what makes us a nation rather than an alliance of nations.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 13, 2011 at 1:23 pm

      The corporations have undue influence on the government, but lack complete control. Laws can thus be passed that provide protection against their misdeeds. Also, to be fair to the corporate folks, many of them see that they have a stake in a functioning democracy and with operating within certain boundaries.

  2. ajmacdonaldjr said, on October 13, 2011 at 11:09 am

    As I’ve said before: the progressive federal income tax is institutionalized class warfare.

    Every American should pay their fair share in taxes; there should be no one paying nothing, or worse: getting money in return without having paid-in at all.

    The entire federal income tax needs to be abolished for wage and salary earners. Businesses alone should be made to pay federal income taxes; an equal percentage of their profits, if they made any, not their total income.

    A percentage taxation guarantees and equal burden for all. The current system is unfair and unequal for all.

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