Ideological Turing Tests, Climate, and Minimum Wage

Yesterday I was interviewed for a student radio show, I believe from the USC Annenberg school.  I have no quarrel with the staff I worked with, they were all friendly and intelligent.

What depressed me though, as I went through my usual bullet points describing the "lukewarmer" position that is increasingly common among skeptics, was that most of what I said seemed to be new to the interviewer.   It was amazing to see that someone presumably well-exposed to the climate debate would actually not have any real idea what one of the two positions really entailed (see here and here for what I outlined).  This gets me back to the notion I wrote about a while ago about people relying on their allies to tell them everything they need to know about their opponent's position, without ever actually listening to the opponents.

This topic comes up in the blogosphere from time to time, often framed as being able to pass an ideological Touring test.  Can, say, a Republican write a defense of the minimum wage that a reader of the Daily Kos would accept, or will it just come out sounding like a straw man?  I feel like I could do it pretty well, despite being a libertarian opposed to the minimum wage.  For example:

There is a substantial power imbalance between minimum wage workers and employers, such that employers are able to pay such workers far less than their labor is worth, and far less than they would be willing to pay if they had to.  The minimum wage corrects this power imbalance and prevents employers from unfairly exploiting this power imbalance.  It forces employers to pay employees something closer to a living wage, though at $7.25 an hour the minimum wage is still too low to be humane and needs to be raised.  When companies pay below a living wage, they not only exploit workers but taxpayers as well, since they are accepting a form of corporate welfare when taxpayers (through food stamps and Medicare and the like) help sustain their underpaid workers.

Opponents of the minimum wage will sometimes argue that higher minimum wages reduce employment.  However, since in most cases employers of low-skilled workers are paying workers less than they are willing and able to pay, raising the minimum wage has little effect on employment.  Studies of the fast food industry by Card and Walker demonstrated that raising the minimum wage had little effect on employment levels.  And any loss of employment from higher minimum wages would be more than offset by the Keynesian stimulative effect to the economy as a whole of increasing wages among lower income workers, who tend to consume nearly 100% of incremental income.

Despite the fact that I disagree with this position, I feel I understand it pretty well -- far better, I would say, than most global warming alarmists or even media members bother to try to understand the skeptic position.  (I must say that looking back over my argument, it strikes me as more cogent and persuasive than most of the stuff on Daily Kos, so to pass a true Turing test I might have to make it a bit more incoherent).

Back in my consulting days at McKinsey & Company, we had this tradition (in hindsight I would call it almost an affectation) of giving interviewees business cases** to discuss and solve in our job interviews.  If I were running a news outlet, I would require interviewees to take an ideological Touring test - take an issue and give me the argument for each side in the way that each side would present it.

This, by the way, is probably why Paul Krugman is my least favorite person in journalism.  He knows very well that his opponents have a fairly thoughtful and (to them) well intention-ed argument but pretends to his readers that no such position exists.  Which is ironic because in some sense Krugman started the dialog on ideological Turing tests, arguing that liberals can do it easily for conservative positions but conservatives fail at it for liberal positions.


** Want an example?  Many of these cases were just strategic choices in some of our consulting work.  But some were more generic, meant to test how one might break down and attack a problem.  One I used from time to time was, "what is the size of the window glass market in Mexico?"  Most applicants were ready for this kind of BS, but I do treasure the look on a few faces of students who had not been warned about such questions.  The point of course was to think it through out loud, ie "well there are different sectors, like buildings and autos.  Each would have both a new and replacement market. Within buildings there is residential and commercial.  Taking one of these, the new residential market would be driven by new home construction times some factor representing windows per house.  One might need to understand if Mexican houses used pre-manufactured windows or constructed them from components on the building site."  etc. etc.


  1. OMMAG:

    ... so to pass a true Turing test I might have to make it a bit more incoherent ... Yep!

  2. W. C. Taqiyya:

    Coyote, you are correct to point out that useful dialogue can only happen between two people if they both understand the other's point of view and agree on the meanings of the key terms used to describe the issue. It is essential for communication. To demonstrate such understanding, your touring test comes in handy. I would submit however, that all of this potential understanding presupposes the existence of some partially validated hypothosis to argue about. The argument for impending climate apocolypse, in my view, does not measure up to this low standard. Thus, there is no basis for any serious discussion and no need for any touring tests. Against something so ethereal, opposing viewpoints are superfluous. No, they are a complete waste of time. Unless or until they can offer proof of their doomsday scenario, their idea is mere fantasy. Even if we were to agree that CO2 is a global warming agent, we have no idea how much of it has been contributed by our industrialization. We do not even understand the mechanisms of it's creation and all of the factors that may cause fluctuations. Even more importantly, the one hundred year sample size is way too small to have any meaning. There have been lots of climate changes over the past many ages of man. Many of them quite extreme and yet life on the planet persists. As you point out, the doomsayers have a rickety set of interconnected hypothosis and the links between them are void of solid evidence. Suppositions, conjecture, guesses are what links them together. If one link is broken (and none of them has yet been proved) the whole structure tumbles down. And this is what we want to argue against? For this crap we need a touring test? I don't think so. I would be happier to argue how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. At least we can see the pin. I say make them prove something first or send them to bed with no dinner. No touring tests for them.

  3. 3rdMoment:

    I agree, your argument is way too coherent. Most people (on all sides of issues) don't bother to think through secondary unintended effects at all. The main argument for the minimum wage rarely goes beyond "more money for people who work hard in crappy jobs" which I'll admit sounds great. I truly do wish everyone could have a job that paid $50 per hour.

  4. stanbrown:

    Psych prof Jonathon Haidt and his fellow researchers have demonstrated that Krugman has it exactly backward (anyone surprised?). Conservatives understand liberal positions, but liberals have no clue about what conservatives think. All that most liberals know about conservatives is that they are evil (racist, sexist, mean-spirited, hate-filled, homophobic, yadda, yadda).

    Haidt reports on the following experiment: after determining whether
    someone is liberal or conservative, he then has each person answer the
    standard battery of questions as if he were the opposite
    ideology. So, he would ask a liberal to answer the questions as if he
    were a “typical conservative” and vice-versa. What he finds is quite
    striking: “The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and
    conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were
    pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least
    accurate, especially those who describe themselves as ‘very liberal.’
    The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the
    Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives.” In
    other words, moderates and conservatives can understand the liberal
    worldview and liberals are unable to relate to the conservative
    worldview, especially when it comes to questions of care and fairness.

    In short, Haidt’s research suggests that many liberals really do
    believe that conservatives are heartless bastards–or as a friend of mine
    once remarked, “Conservatives think that liberals are good people with
    bad ideas, whereas liberals think conservatives are bad people”–and very
    liberal people think that especially strongly. Haidt suggests that
    there is some truth to this.

  5. Matthew Slyfield:

    I have occasionally wondered if liberals understand their own positions.

  6. MingoV:

    Krugman does worse than pretend his opponents don't have arguments worth considering. He pretends that his earlier writings, the ones that led to his Nobel Prize, don't have arguments worth considering.

  7. MingoV:

    I everyone received $50 per hour, inflation would wipe out the wage gains. $50 would have the purchasing power of $10.

  8. johncunningham:

    most lefties have no positions, they have war cries. they listen to the pack leaders pointing out an enemy, then they go on the hunt--"Koch brothers!! Sarah Palin!! RACISSSSSS!!!" those are their "positions."

  9. Matthew Slyfield:

    Yes, they do have that herd mentality.

  10. Mark:

    So are you depressed that the guy had never heard your position before, or elated that you were able to spread the good word to a brand new audience of skulls-full-o'-mush?

  11. Joe_Da:

    The conservative talking point is that raising the minimum wage increases the unemployment rate among that class of worker. To counter that talking point, the progressives promote the numerous minimum wage studies - numerous studies show there is little change in unemployment rates after increases in the minimum wage. Aside from the difficulty in isolating the changes in employment rates from a single factor (including as the proprietor of this blog points out that businesses adjust rates of hire in anticipation of wage changes months in advance).

    One common theme of the progressive talking points from these studies, and extensive commentary in the studies is how much emphasis is placed on demonstrating that the unemployment rate is largely unaffected by the change. Yet every study acknowledges that working hours are reduced offsetting any benefits of wage increases and B) that teen unemployment is adversely affected (especially black teen unemployment). Another common theme in these studies is that the acknowledgment of these two facts is usually a single sentence in a 10-20 page report.

  12. Joe_Da:

    The wage gap between Women and Men is currently one of the major talking points of progressives.

    Two points that demonstrates the studies showing a 10-20% wage gap is bogus
    1) in my industry - one person working 45 hours per week is more productive than two people working 25 hours per week. Two people working 45 hours per week are more productive than 3 people working 35 hours per week. This is true for numerous reasons with the biggest factor being the ability to finish the project when needed. Women with children generally has chosen the career path that puts the children first. As an employer, compensation is based on productivity - " not the phantom equal pay for equal work"
    2) If there was an actual pay gap - then the unemployment rates for women would be close to zero while the unemployment rates for men would nearly double. (something about those evil capitalists that want to maximize profits). The unemployment rates difference between men and women are almost the same across almost all industries.

  13. Jason:

    I have a corollary about the wage gap for women.

    For every Progressive complaining about the wage gap between Men's and Women's pay, if that Progressive is the head of an organization that employs both Men and Women, then that organization pays the Women it employs less than the Men.

    The Pastor at my church just proved this corollary true, by complaining about women's unfair pay on Facebook. He still has yet to raise my wife's salary…. Nor has Obama increased the pay for women staffers at the White House.

  14. irandom419:

    I always wondered if the incremental increases in the minimum wage are so great, then why doesn't welfare spending go down each time?

  15. Sam Wah:

    I would take exception to "...since in most cases employers of low-skilled workers are paying workers less than they are willing and able to pay..." since the employers may be able to pay more, but are not likely to be willing to pay more.
    Also, remember the robot hamburger machines, looking better all the time.

  16. epobirs:

    Most leftists have a mental meltdown when you bring up that minimum wage was originally proposed to freeze 'undesirables' out of labor markets.

  17. Alan Turing:

    Turing Test. Not Touring Test.
    It's named after me.

  18. Rudy:

    That's the only legitimate reason for raising it, to price illegal immigrants out of the market. That's what Switzerland just did.

  19. dustydog:

    You've got it backwards. Minimum wage laws are set-asides for illegals, who accept being paid under the table for less than minimum wage.

  20. John Willock:

    I think this is a very useful idea, to state your opponent's argument as convincingly as you can. Firstly, because it will take the wind out of the opposition when they realize you can state their positing more coherently than they can and also because it should lead to some humility on our side, because no one has a monopoly on the truth. It emerges from dialogue. Pascal put it well:

    "When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides."

  21. Peter S. Dee:

    Great article. I love Turing. Not sexually, of course, because I'm not prepared to pass the test on it. NTTIAWWT.

    I think trying to emotionally get into the heads of lefty's in order to convert them is not possible; it's blatantly obvious the following premise is flawed from an honest conservative standpoint, and arguing it is disingenuous. The Left deals in "all is fair in war" means to ends. Conservatives do not. These are the "poles." There has to be two poles from which to anchor an ideological measuring tape, so to speak.

    The Left argues in emotion and rhetoric, the Conservatives from logic and learning (via history). Note, btw, I'll never call Conservatives "The Right," as this is a false definition. Conservatives, by nature, are in the middle (think of a Bell Curve). A True "The Right" would be as anxious to create change as The Left.

    "There is a substantial power imbalance between minimum wage workers and employers, such that employers are able to pay such workers far less than their labor is worth, and far less than they would be willing to pay if they had to."

    This premise is clearly false, because employment is "at will," therefore minimum wage workers have power, and power equal to their employers in this respect. "Free" market forces dictate wages; businesses often pay much more than the minimum wage to attract better workers and retain them.

    In PA, a local Sheetz convenience store is paying $10.10 an hour for entry-level cashiers. It can be argued this is over paying for someone to push buttons and count money and service customers, not at all far below their worth.

    NOW, if you did it masquerading as a moderate and deceptively hiding your true ideology as Leftists do, I think you might have some traction, especially with the young and stupid. Otherwise Conservatives should never accept Liberal premises as bases for an argument, because doing so confuses the honest, mainstream convertable who just don't know any better.

  22. holygoat:

    He's not suggesting accepting the other side's premises, but rather that we should strive to fully understand the logical underpinnings of those premises.

  23. MJ:

    Get "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt. Or google it and find a good summary. In short, conservatives better understand liberals and libertarians than liberals or libertarians understand conservatives. He identifies 7 basic values in a the "moral matrix," and liberals and libertarians highly value only a couple (different from each other) and hardly value the others at all, whereas conservatives value all 7 roughly equally. Therefore, liberals and libertarians tend to have very large blind spots to propositions based on those values to which they are insensitive, whereas conservatives may not agree with liberals and libertarians, but have some understanding of where they are coming from.

    I'm not doing it justice, you should get the book.

  24. Peter S. Dee:

    I got that 100%. But what does it gain us? A more refined logical argument? Sure--it absolutely will. However, we can't use logic to argue our positions with #proglodytes, who use rhetoric (with all of its logical fallacies), emotion, and frankly, falsehoods to confuse moderates and low information voters. Logic is slooooooowwwww, and it hurts--it's system two thinking. System one, Blink think/intuition is fast... fight or flight... rid ourselves of cognitive dissonance ASAP. Counter intuitive logic cannot compete against an anchored intuitive belief like a nugget of conventional rhetorical wisdom like Bush Lied, People Died, Republicans are anti-science and racists. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera...