The Appeal to Consequences (Update)

The “appeal to consequences” or argumentum ad consequentiam is an argument in which the proposition is deemed true or false depending upon whether it leads to favorable or unfavorable consequences. It is a fallacy. In his column on the Obama Administration’s wildly optimistic early estimates of the state of the economy David Leonhardt observes

The first explanation is that the economy has deteriorated because the stimulus package failed. Some critics say that stimulus just doesn’t work, while others argue that this particular package was too small or too badly constructed to make a difference.

The second answer is that the economy has deteriorated in spite of the stimulus. In other words, the patient is not as sick as he would have been without the medicine he received. But he is a lot sicker than doctors realized when they prescribed it.

To me, the evidence is fairly compelling that the second answer is the right one. The stimulus package does seem to have helped. But its impact has been minor — so far — compared with the harshness of the Great Recession.

It strikes me as a fine example of the appeal to consequences. If in fact the stimulus failed and by failed I mean failed because its premise was wrong, then there’s very little we can do other than to weather out the storm and ameliorate the conditions of those in need as best as we are able.

I think it’s arguable that the stimulus package was intended to fail. My preference would have been to frontload the stimulus with more measures likely to pump money into the economy fast. Instead of that the stimulus was structured in such a way that much of the spending comes just in time for the midterm elections. That’s not a confidence builder for me. Arguing that it was structured that way to prevent a double-dip recession is like looking five moves down the road for the endgame while not realizing that your opponent will place you in checkmate in the next move.

What is the empirical evidence that the stimulus has prevented things from getting worse?


Tigerhawk agrees that Mr. Leonhardt’s column is fallacious but his pick for the fallacy is the false dichotomy:

The author of the article suggests that there are two possible explanations — that the stimulus has not worked, or that the economy was in much worse shape than understood and would be even worse without the stimulus — and elects the second. There is, of course, a third, which is that the Obama administration could not honestly forecast the depth of the recession (even as it was pushing for the stimulus package) because then the Congressional Budget Office would have projected deficits even worse than now foreseen, and that would stoke opposition to President Obama’s vast and expensive program to redesign the health care, energy, and financial sectors of the economy. Call me a cynic, but I pick the third.

7 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    I am still living in my home.

    Thanks, Obama!

  • Drew Link

    The only evidence I have are the reports that only a fraction of the stimulus money has so far been spent. (I’ve seen reports as wide as 5-15%, so info buyer beware.)

    If this stimulus package deferral is by design, they are the schmucks I believe they are. If by accident they are just callous dopes.

    Tax reduction would have put purchasing power into peoples hands day 1. That would have helped the little guy. I think the left likes to talk about helping the little guy, I just don’t think they have a chance – or a real intent – in hell of doing so.

    I must ask any reader here, stimulus packages…..multipliers etc aside. With obvious prospects of material increases in all forms of taxation at Fed , state and local levels – on you, for your efforts, and on prospective consumers of anything you offer for sale – ………..and with regulatory costs of the current set of do-gooders prominent and rising……..with energy costs – a key economic variable – set to increase under current liberal policies , is this an environment in which you would a) curl up like a turtle in your shell and preserve wealth or b) accelerate your spending, or your capital at risk out there in this, uh, “not so robust” business friendly environment to create profits and jobs for the future?

    I have a healthy respect for the intelligence of most of the readers here. No need to answer.

  • PD Shaw Link

    A recent Forbes article, discussed in the Atlantic, is what worries me: “They assert that, as soon as the economy begins improving, Washington will institute new measures to knock business back down a few pegs. That potentially includes higher corporate taxes, cap and trade, health care play-or-pay provisions, etc.”

  • Larry Link

    I spread over a ton of gravel this spring filling lots of potholes in my folks driveway, at the time every pothole was full of water..some were pretty deep. I managed to fill all the holes, but my ton of gravel didn’t go as far as it would have if the holes were dry…each shovel full of gravel just seemed to vanish and dissolve. A month later, even after all the potholes were filled ..their all back, not as bad as before, but their back..I need more gravel to redo the job, but not as much as the first time, if I had waited, the road may not have been passable…

  • Let’s dig more potholes! Surely doing something on a timely basis is better than doing nothing at all.

  • Drew Link

    Uh, Larry? This time buy gravel…………not sugar cubes.

  • Heh, I just wrote something on this too. I look at the two explanations as to what we are a seeing:

    1. The initial forecasts were too optimistic.
    2. The initial forecast was fine, but the stimulus has been a failure.

    I go with 2 becuase of the following:

    A. Very little stimulus money has been spent so far.
    B. There is reason to believe the stimulus would be less effective than politically motivated claims to the contrary.

    A and B lead me to go with the second explanation.

    I suppose we can go with Tigerhawk’s approach but it strikes me as a combination of 1 and 2 above. 1 in that the economy was in worse shape than the forecast suggested, 2 that the stimulus package was not going to work. I don’t go with this since there are forecasts aside from the Obama Administrations and I don’t think they are all that worse.

Leave a Comment