Thursday, August 22, 2019

All Or Nothing Arguments

Just because something doesn't work 100% of the time is no reason it should be thrown out entirely.

One argument that has become popular as of late, which is also an entirely specious argument, is to point out that whatever rule, regulation, or law is being proposed or discussed, if it is not 100% effective all of the time, it therefore should not be enacted or if already enacted, abolished.

Whenever you hear this argument being made, you can be sure that the person making it is lying to you.  And you know how I feel about liars.  And if somebody's going to lie to you once, chances are going to lie to you again and again.  So just walk away from liars and their specious logic.

A classic example of this argument is the one that the NRA makes every time there's been some sort of mass shooting.  In the aftermath of such tragic events, people propose all sorts of new laws and regulations.  Perhaps we should expand background checks so that they cover the giant loophole known as the gun shows.  Or perhaps mental illness should be more carefully tracked and guns taken away from people who make wild threats or act irrationally.  Or perhaps we should limit the size of gun magazines and also what types of firearms can be purchased.  Perhaps.   These proposals may be effective at least some of the time in preventing such tragedies.

No matter what the proposal is, the NRA response with the same tired old song. They will point out that none of these measures would be effective 100% of the time and therefore there's no point in enacting any of them.  Even if some measure would be effective 50% of the time, they feel this is not sufficient to warrant what they perceive as infringing on their second amendment rights.

Of course, this is a ridiculous argument. You can make the same argument about any law enacted, ever.  Why bother having speed limits when many people speed anyway?  You might as well just abolish all speed limits let people drive at what speed they think is reasonable.  Unless speed limit laws are 100% effective and eliminate all accidents, you might as well just abolish them, because they don't work.  It's a ludicrous argument.

And I use that as a crazy example, but some people actually believe this.  We live in a crazy world.  Some of these folks call themselves "libertarians".

I see the same argument being made in my own field of endeavor - or what I should say is my former field of endeavor - intellectual property law.  People argue that the existing Patent, Trademark, and Copyright laws are unevenly applied and result in unjust outcomes on occasion.  Thus, they argue the entire system is flawed and should just be abolished and everybody be allowed to copy everybody else's intellectual property without paying any fees or royalties.

And granted, they are right in that in many instances injustice has occurred.  People who invented nothing end up collecting royalties by using aggressive litigation techniques and arguing that their patent to an unrelated technology applies to someone else.  These so-called "patent troll" suits usually go after customers of manufacturers and not the manufacturers themselves. Thus, for example, a fellow with a patent on a phone system doesn't sue the phone company but rather a large company like Coca-Cola, which has a number of phone systems installed its offices worldwide.  Companies like that don't want to deal with some trivial patent matter, and they usually settle quickly for less than the cost of attorney's fees.  It ain't right.

And on the other hand, there are instances where inventors with great inventions, have them ripped off by it companies or overseas competitors. Unless they can pony up the money to obtain patent protection in almost every country in the world, and then pay to have those patents enforced, they cannot enforce their intellectual property rights.  And often, these small inventors don't have those kind of resources, so their inventions are freely ripped off and they rarely see a profit from their efforts.

On the other hand, there are cases where inventors have made money from their patents of their inventions. It doesn't happen very often, but usually the invention has to be something that's significant enough to be worthwhile litigating, and there's somebody willing to invest in litigating the patent. This does often mean that the inventor has to sell off a huge share of his invention to some other party, which you may argue is unjust, but that's the nature of the system.

Throwing out the entire intellectual property system is not necessarily a good solution.  Regardless of how flawed our system is, does encourage people to innovate. It is not necessarily the actual result that drives people to invent things, but the implied promise of reward for your inventive work. The fact that the system isn't perfect 100% of the time is no reason to just throw it in the trash heap.  The end result would be that no one would innovate, or that innovators would be even less valued than they are now.

Border security is another area in which we see this argument being raised. Our current immigration laws are severely flawed and both liberals and conservatives decry the uneven results in our immigration system, particularly the cruel results under the current administration.  Many on the left argue that we should just abolish the agencies in charge of border security and just open our borders to anyone who wants to come in.  This is a ludicrous argument.  Just because the system is flawed doesn't mean it should be discarded entirely and replace with absolutely nothing.

Fixing existing laws and systems isn't easy.   It takes a lot of tweaking and adjustment to make things work properly.  Obamacare is a case in point.  The law is deeply flawed and needs an extensive overhaul to work.  But the only solution offered by Republicans is to merely abolish it entirely and throw everyone into the abyss and let them see if they can sink or swim.  I think most would end up sinking.  Sadly, even Democrats have abandoned this signature piece of legislation of the Obama era.  Seems the Democrats are eating their own - first Clinton, now Obama.

Criminal justice seems to be another area where this argument is made.  There are injustices, so let's let everyone out of jail.   Hey, I saw a show on Netflix that said everyone is innocent, right?  It's on television, so it has to be true!   Comrade Sanders has a plan to let half of all people in jail go free, even though 88% of the prison population are in State prisons on State charges, which a President cannot affect.  And never mind that most of them are not in on drug charges (despite all the hoopla you've read) but for violent crimes - rape, robbery, assault, murder.   Never mind all that, some of these folks got a raw deal (yea, right) and we should just abolish the Police (they're bad, it goes without saying) and let everyone go free.

It is this sort of insanity that will re-elect Donald Trump in 2020.   It is sad, too.

The next time someone says abolish this or let's get rid of that, simply because the item in question isn't 100% effective, think of what the alternative consequences would be. Unless they have some sort of proposal to fix the existing system or come up with an alternative, chances are they're just blowing smoke.  Just because a system isn't perfect doesn't mean it should be thrown away.