The Dishonesty of Poltical Adjectives

Rhetoric is a noble field — the ability to use language skillfully to clarify and justify a policy. But the political use of language is often used In a far less honest fashion. Consider the language of some policy positions advanced today:

Fair Trade: No one likes to be seen as a protectionist.  Protectionism—the idea that a nation should help its own industries by taxing their foreign competitors—is now widely viewed as a discredited policy.  This is largely due to the failures of protectionism’s past, like the Smoot-Hawley Tariff policy which exacerbated the suffering of the Depression and was one of many causes of WWII.

Thus, modern protectionists favor trade that is “fair.”   This term signifies that voluntary exchanges between individuals is only justified if it meets the criteria of a wide array of other interests such as labor, human rights advocates, internationalists, environmentalists, religious advocates, or feminists. These other goals may be legitimate but if this criteria is used only trade approved by Greenpeace, Amnesty International, the AFL-CIO, the Christian Coalition, and NOW would be allowed. Few trading arrangements could meet the utopian demands of these disparate groups.   Thus, “fair” trade is another way of arguing for protectionism.

Safe Nuclear and Clean Coal: Americans believe that energy should be accessible and that the poor should not be shouldered with unnecessary costs.  Thus, those opposed to energy development allege that they favor expanded use of nuclear power — as long as it is “safe”, greater use of coal power as long as it is “clean.”

But there are no “safe” energy sources (only “safer” ones) and no “clean” sources of power.   Even the cleanest and safest processes for creating anything have some risks and some waste associated with them.  So, if we’re being honest, there are only really “safer” and “cleaner” methods than those now in use.  Environmentalists and others seeking restrictions on American energy (and thus higher prices) use the absolutes—”safe” and “clean”—  which are very deceptive qualifiers.

Green Jobs: A capitalist economy seeks to employ people to meet human needs and job creation is very politically popular. However, some environmentalists and others would focus job creation efforts on employment in those areas which would advance their anti-development aims — thus, “green” jobs.

Social Justice: We all favor “justice” but, as Friedrich Hayek noted long ago, “social” is a weasel word designed to weaken this core value of any moral civilization into a tool of redistributive policy. According to “social justice,” creating wealth and knowledge is irrelevant unless such achievements also increase income equality.

One professor was told by one of his Canadian students that he could never migrate to America. “How,” he asked, “could anyone live in a world with such a poor GINI (a measure of income dispersion) value?”

That those income differences (like the prizes granted athletes and others) might increase general welfare is viewed as secondary.

Political discourse would be more transparent and honest if such deceptive adjectives were banned.