American Elephants


The Butterfield Fallacy Raises Its Ugly Head in the White House. by The Elephant's Child

When President Obama recorded his Weekly Address for today, Saturday, he took up the matter of criminal justice, and showed clearly that he is a victim of the Butterfield Fallacy—which consists of misidentifying as a paradox that which is a simple cause and effect relationship. When you put more of the people who are committing crimes in prison, the crime rate goes down. It is not a complicated matter of “Oh look, the crime rate has dropped, why do we have so many people in prison?”

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It’s true that more young black men are convicted of crimes and sent to prison. That is because more crimes are committed by young black men. There are more murders in the black community and they are committed by young black men. There are lots of reasons: gangs, fatherless households, young single mothers, peer pressure, unemployment, police backing off because of what has been called “the Ferguson effect” when the police were blamed for young black men killed in self defense by policemen. When policemen are attacked and threatened for trying to maintain order in the community, they are more hesitant to stop people on suspicion, make arrests, or try to prevent trouble. Higher crime rates mean lack of opportunity— the unemployment rate for young blacks is the highest of any category.

Lack of discipline in the schools: when school is orderly and the demand for excellence is high, more learning takes place, more kids are able and encouraged to go to college or to good trade schools.  This is another area where the Left shifts the blame. Schools are harshly criticized for expelling obstreperous kids who disrupt classes, so schools lighten up on the discipline because they are criticized, and the schools become more out of control.

Most of the protests in the universities and in the black communities is due to agitation by #Black Lives Matter, Acorn, Organize for America and other groups trained by community organizers to disrupt and encourage protest. The Left is deeply worried that the black community that turned out so resoundingly to support the first black president will not turn out at the polls in such numbers this time. From what I can see, that’s why there is so much emphasis on race, at a time when, except for agitation and protests, race relations have been so much better.

Locking criminals up does make communities safer. Discipline for badly behaving kids, and expelling those who won’t mind the rules from school makes for more orderly schools. Of course we need more uniformity in sentencing laws. Selling hard drugs is a crime and sellers should be put in prison. Released felons should be helped to reenter society successfully. I hope there is a sincere desire to help, not just an effort to increase racial tension for the sake of the next election.

ADDENDUM: I removed the graphic on gun violence because it is incorrect. Sorry about that!



The Mysteries of the Butterfield Fallacy by The Elephant's Child

Have  you heard of the Butterfield Fallacy?  It is rooted in ideological prejudice, and well known to conservative commentators.  Fox Butterfield was a reporter for the New York Times  “whose crime stories served as the archetype for his eponymous fallacy.”

“It has become a comforting story for five straight years, crime has been falling, led by a drop in murder,” Butterfield wrote in 1997. “So why is the number of inmates in prisons and jails around the nation still going up?’  He repeated the trope in 2003: “The nation’s prison population grew 2.6 percent last year, the largest increase since 1999, according to a study by the Justice Department. The jump came despite a small decline in serious crime in 2002.” And in 2004: “The number of inmates in state and federal prisons rose 2.1 percent last year, even as violent crime and property crime fell, according to a study by the Justice Department released yesterday.”

The Butterfield Fallacy consists of misidentifying as a paradox, that which is a simple cause-and-effect relationship. You put more bad guys behind bars, and crime goes down. The typical New York Times reporter disapproves of sending people to prison because among other reasons they think it is racially discriminatory. “In 2004 almost 10 percent of American black men ages 25 to 29 were in prison” and it diverts tax money from what should be higher priorities.  In 1997, “already California and Florida spend more to incarcerate people than to educate their college age populations.” Here, Reynolds Law comes into play:

The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.

New York Times business reporter Reed Abelson wrote yesterday with bewilderment that insurance premiums are rising sharply as ObamaCare’s insurance regulations begin to take effect:

Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers.

Yuval Levin wrote of Ableson’s surprise that health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers. Ableson was bewildered at the Butterfield Fallacy. as Levin wrote under the perfect title “Even Though.” Some people think this might have something to do with ObamaCare’s basically outlawing actual insurance and replacing it with an economically  incoherent substitute. The article also notes with surprise that businesses that now have to have their prices approved by regulators have adopted a  peculiar practice by which they first propose higher prices than they expect to end up with and then work down toward their costs. Levin adds “sources say that supply and demand may be related in ways that influence prices, but this remain unconfirmed.”

When health care bureaucrats reduce the price that will be paid to providers for their services, oddly enough, the cost of insurance will go up.

James Taranto noted another example from the Associated Press:

A bluefin tuna sold for a record $1.76 million at a Tokyo auction Saturday, nearly three times the previous high set last year–even as environmentalists warn that stocks of the majestic, speedy fish are being depleted worldwide amid strong demand for sushi.

The reporter, Malcolm Foster, was too caught up in environmental sentimentalism to notice that this is basic supply and demand at work. When the supply of something is low, prices go up.  Imagine that.




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