Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Denialists' Deck of Cards

Chris Hoofnagle of Samuelson Law has written a paper discussing the rhetorical techniques and tactics used to deflect debate and reform. Hoofnagle writes from a perspective of consumer protection, but the same denialist techniques can be used in many other fields.

Public policy debates on consumer protection and the environment almost always start with the "no problem" theme. The argument emphasises that whatever consumer reform being debated is unnecessary. This is because there is no problem.

"No problem" is the chorus of a denialist argument. The skilled denialist, even after engaging in a debate for an extended period of time, will never concede that a problem exists.

As Hoofnagle says, many of the arguments give can be legitimate. Sometimes industrial groups are correct, and denialism serves a good purpose. But often these rhetorical tools are used for Wickedness rather than Niceness. A common example is appeals to competition. Competition can be a very strong force for reform, but the loudest voices in favour of "leave it for the market to decide" come from uncompetitive markets. Consumer choice in the Model T Ford style ("any colour you like, so long as it is black") is always valued by those who have locked up the market.

The paper can be downloaded for free from here.

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