Intellectual Honesty

Brian Harry

I’m going to jump out of character here and rant about something that really got under my skin today.  Let me start by saying I’m not into politics all that much – I see both sides of too many issues to have overwhelmingly strong opinions.  Further, I consider myself pretty moderate sometimes agreeing with Democrats and sometimes with Republicans. Every day at the end of the radio news on the local radio station there is a political commentary.  As I was driving home tonight, I heard the latest installment and was offended to my core – not because I agreed or disagreed with the position but because the argument was offensive. The commentator was taking the position that North Carolina corporate taxes are not too high.  He chose to make his argument by “disproving” the opposite argument.  He said that supporters of lower NC corporate taxes claim that the high taxes in NC drive companies away – particularly to South Carolina where taxes are lower.  His “proof” of this claim was a company who sometime, presumably not too long ago, announced expansion in the state of North Carolina and that one of the alernatives they had investigated was South Carolina.  The fact that this company chose to expand in NC is proof that NC corporate taxes are not too high. Does this argument prove that?  Not even close!  It’s hardly even a relevant argument at all.  This company could have made the choice for any number of reasons – proximity to suppliers, proximity to existing facilities, labor availability, or anything else.  They may have felt that the taxes were a significant negative factor but that other factors overwhelmed them. The comentator had no information on why the decision was made.  Now you may argue (and rightfully so)  that it doesn’t really matter why they made the decision, the decision shows that taxes were not prohibitive.  However, it is only one data point.  If you want to support such an argument, it could only reasonably be done by looking at a significant number of such decisions and determining how taxes affected them (for example by polling the companies to understand their motivations). I call this post intellectual honesty because this is how I define it.  When you are intellectually honest, you don’t claim that an argument means more than it really does.  You acknowledge the potential weaknesses in your own argument.  You’re clear about what your motivations/agendas are.  You clearly distinguish fact, supposition and opinion. I am a VERY big believer in intellectual honesty.  Politics has gotten to the point today where I can’t find anyone on either side who is intellectually honest.  I have to say that it’s the most discouraging thing to me.  I don’t mind a good argument.  I’m fine with not being able to overcome a difference of opinion with someone.  But if you can’t rely on someone to argue a case honestly, the discussion is pointless. I think if I could change one thing in this world, this might be it 🙂



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