The Fallacies of Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich’s speeches make me so angry. Lately he has been campaigning against child labor laws. That reason alone is enough to upset me, but why do people fall for his troglodyte viewpoints and spurious arguments? Ignoring the legal and social arguments in support of child labor laws (and there are many good reasons for labor laws to protect children), I decided to review which logical fallacies Newt committed with his recent speeches against child labor laws. The article I’ve used quoted one speech in Iowa, another at Harvard University, and a third that aired on ABC. I’ve edited the quotes in an attempt to remove redundancies.

“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works … So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of  ‘I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal. … It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods … entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid.”

That is obviously a genetic fallacy* supported by a false dichotomy. Teaching children to have a work ethic does not require removal of child labor laws.

“You have a very poor neighborhood. You have kids who are required under law to go to school … They have no money. They have no habit of work. What if you paid them part-time in the afternoon to sit at the clerical office and greet people when they came in? What if you paid them to work as the assistant librarian? And I’d pay them as early as is reasonable and practical… I am prepared to find something that works, that breaks us out of the cycles we’re involved in right now, and finding a way for poor children to learn how to work and learning how to have money that they’ve earned honestly is an integral part of that…”

 Frankly, I don’t see how a return to child labor “as early as is reasonable and practical” would solve the economic problems in inner-city areas let alone help the national unemployment rate.  So what cycles did he mean?  Assuming that he was referring to poverty in cities, this was a slippery slope stated positively. Using a generous sprinkling of red herring fallacies to lead the audience down that slope, Newt ignored the complex reasons for poverty. First, he oversimplified the issues found in poor neighborhoods by the claim that they have no money and no “habit of work.” Then he lead the argument away from lack of money to a listing of jobs that he assumes would teach a “habit of work.” Then he stated a slippery slope claim that child labor would break the cycles of poverty.  The next red herring, he effectively sidestepped the problems of lack of jobs and child labor issues to end with a statement that employing school children would teach them honest work (we all what that, right?).  His statements also ignore the very true reality that children (whether poor or not) need an education or they will not be able to obtain employment as adults. Illiteracy tends to prevent a company from hiring someone. Thus, he implies another false dichotomy, that is, a choice between working and attending school.  What about supporting training inside schools, training that would lead to a better chance of employment after graduation? What about focusing on the habit of attending school instead of the habit of working at a job? By providing experiences in education that were valid precursors to employment, the children could grow up to be more employable. Newt ignored that possibility.

“It would be great if inner-city schools and poor neighborhood schools actually hired the children to do things … What if they cleaned out the bathrooms and what if they mopped the floors? What if, in that process, they were actually learning to work, learning to earn money, they had money on their own, they didn’t have to become a pimp or a prostitute or a drug dealer?”

With that statement, he returned to a genetic fallacy. Aside from the fact that children are supposed to be learning math, science, spelling, reading, etc. in schools, he implied that the only reason to have schools in inner-city neighborhoods would be to teach children how to earn money. Of course, the jobs he mentioned were also a genetic fallacy since he implied that the only jobs that would teach poor children how to work would be cleaning jobs. There’s also the fallacy of composition:  poor neighborhoods are not made of pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers. There are a lot of hard-working poor people living in those neighborhoods, and the majority of inner-city residents are not earning a living doing illegal activities.

Newt’s entire argument seemed to be a false dichotomy based on prejudicial assumptions about inner-city poor people. His implication was that child labor laws prevented children from having money, and because they don’t have money, they would turn into criminals.  He is a master of fallacious argument. In addition, I can see a glimpse of a scarier concept behind his words. Does Newt want poor children to become an uneducated labor force too immature to question policies and procedures?  I don’t know. But what he has already said makes me worry about the future of our children if he controls education.

* In this blog,  I’ve used terminology that comes from studies of philosophical informal logic, also called critical thinking. It’s appropriate that I supply my definitions of the terms I’ve used.  Genetic fallacy means stereotyping; it is an academic term that defines faulty logic based on prejudicial beliefs or actions. False dichotomy is exactly what it sounds like: it pretending that there are only two choices when there are really more possibilities. Composition is the fallacy of assuming that because one individual fits a certain category, the entire group fits that category. Any flaws in explanation or analysis are mine and were not committed by Ms. Huisenga, the author of the editorial that was the source of the quotes I used.

Source: Sarah Huisenga, “Gingrich: Poor Kids Don’t Work ‘Unless It’s Illegal’” National Journal  Fri, Dec 2, 2011. Copyright © 2011 Yahoo! Inc. Online at (accessed 12-04-2011).


About Lillith ThreeFeathers

Lillith ThreeFeathers is a shamanic healer, author, medium, and priestess.
This entry was posted in Media Thoughts, Politics, Society and Civilization and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Fallacies of Newt Gingrich

  1. Joy says:

    Well put. All I can manage to say is that he is an i___t.


  2. Much as I hate the Newt, in a way, he does have a point. There are some irreconcilable fallacies in the way he states his case, but in some ways, I agree. It is not at all fair to make the claim that they are poor for the reasons he does. There is no way to genetically determine someone’s work ethic. It can be INFLUENCED by those in their immediate environment, but at the end of the day, only the individual themselves can decide how motivated they are to work and how hard they do so. I do, however, agree with Mr. Gingrich on the basis that the child labor laws need to come under a little more review to prevent those who would turn toward illegitimate means of earning from doing so.

    Consider this: Jay-Z frequently talks about how when he was 12, he was introduced to the “hustle game”. When you are 12 years old and selling cocaine, this is not a good situation. The fact that he has made it as far as he has and is as successful as he is does not exactly come from this background. Nevertheless, even though he speaks against it, the frequent mention of a “Hard Knock Life” seems to glorify the lifestyle. If, instead of illegal behavior, children were encouraged to help out with simple tasks in exchange for a small amount of pay, they would probably be much more willing to work doing something legal and legitimate.

    A paper route is a good example of positive child labor. Working part time helping sort books in a library or file paperwork would be GREAT alternatives that help teach the value of hard work and how life is in a different environment to the younger generation. If we could introduce them to more culture, more diversity, and the thought of continuing education through these things, how could we NOT benefit? You could put together programs for children to help clean and prepare the hall in exchange for a chance to listen to the symphony. Pre-teens could learn more about what possibilities they have in the future of curating by helping assemble exhibits at museums. Spending time filing paperwork for tribal services may help them develop more love for Native American culture. The idea that we could contribute a small portion to their income while promoting things that will help them become upright and responsible citizens seems to be a good one, in my opinion.



    • Hello Kent. Thank you for sharing your comments. It sounds like you are conflating the problems of poverty with a lack of willingness or motivation to work. First, poverty has nothing to do with how hard a person works. Many people in the inner-cities do work; their wages just aren’t adequate. Here are some statistics to support that statement.

      – According to the 2010 US Census, 21 million people lived in working-poor families.

      – In the US, in 2009, 43.6 million people (14.3 percent) were in poverty.

      – Right now, 1 in 6 in the U.S., including 1 in 5 children, go hungry.

      Actually, poor people often work harder and longed hours trying to make enough to feed and house their families. Sure there are poor people who don’t work, and perhaps some of those people do not want employment. However, that enormous sociological issue is not the root of the flaw in Gingrich’s argument nor is it the basis of my response to you. Poverty is widespread in the US, and it occurs in every county and state. In fact, there are employed people who have no where to live. I refer you to my previous blog “Homeless and Responsibility” for more details. Additionally, those working-poor families include children. I think we would all agree that hungry children can’t be expected to learn much.

      Hard work does not necessarily provide an individual with the route out of poverty. Since you are worried about glorification of illegal activities, I suggest that education would ultimately offer assistance with that problem too. Sadly, in our society, there are few ways out of poverty. Victor Hugo wrote, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison,” while Malcolm X said, “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” Without an education, the chance of truly succeeding in our society is limited, and the probability of obtaining economic stability is infinitesimal.

      Let’s remember we are talking about children — children who happen to be growing up in economically poor areas — in other words, they should be learning. We have child labor laws for a reason. They are supposed to be gathering tools for life, getting an education, learning cooperative social skills, developing thinking and reasoning skills so that they can make decisions and figure out solution to the problems they will face in life.

      Although Gingrich’s referral to cleaning jobs implies a racist or elitist attitude, I’m not against training children in library or office skills. In fact, library knowledge and research skills would be an excellent foundation for success in college — assuming a destitute student could find a way to pay for that. However, those skills should not become the main goal of education. How would a wealthy family feel about their child spending time learning how to mop floors? Might the parents feel the school was failing their child?

      You wrote: “we could contribute a small portion to their income while promoting things that will help them become upright and responsible citizens seems to be a good one.” First, you imply that money is the basis of responsible citizenship, an idea that I find offensive. Economic status has nothing to do with ethics or morality.

      Second, at a time when many inner-city schools are bankrupt, how are the schools going to pay that “small portion” of income? If the school boards find the money, where exactly will the schools find the jobs? Training in job skills will do nothing if they have no opportunities for employment.

      In fact, the number of jobs located in the inner-city areas near schools is infinitesimal. How many paper routes are available in each neighborhood? Currently, there are few paper routes available in any town. In fact, jobs for the adults living in the inner-cities are few, and many unemployed people want jobs can’t find one. Would you eliminate adult employment and transfer the burden of support to children?

      Gingrich’s argument (and your response) implies that the children only need to have better role models to change their attitudes. This statement involves stereotyping of poor kids. Children from impoverished families have dreams too. If you ask a class of first graders what they want to be when they grow up, they will respond with the same breadth and variety as their more financially advantaged counterparts. We need to find a way for impoverished 6-year-olds to achieve their dreams.

      Could we offer high school students real opportunities? For instance, schools could offer them a chance to test various trades; if they like one, the school could help them qualify for an apprenticeship that would lead to employment. How about offer scholarships for college programs to young people who don’t excel at sports? What would happen to a potential musical prodigy or future acclaimed author in a school focused on getting children into the workforce as early as possible? The answer is obvious.

      All children need opportunities for well-rounded education; all students should receive a variety of educational experiences. Yet, there is a real danger that schools will no longer have the means to offer a quality education. How can a child become a fireman, musician, artist, teacher, doctor or computer programmer without an education? Where will we find the future leaders if we do not educate them now? How can any children grow into “upright and responsible citizens” if they don’t know the world is a vast and wonderful place that we share with different peoples, dissimilar cultures, and a diverse and fragile population of nonhuman life? In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë wrote: “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.” Frankly, democracy depends on an educated populace.

      Statistics taken from: Feeding America online at (accessed Feb. 20, 2012).


  3. Dave Turner says:

    This is another Gingrich fallacy. The idea is that if the child labor laws were “re-vamped” everything would be rosy and great. He probably feels the same way about social security and worker protection and worker safety. I grew up in poverty. Starting twelve years old I worked full time. We didn’t get anything from the government and we weren’t “on the dole”. I didn’t work for my father, because he wasn’t around. I didn’t work in the “family business” because we didn’t have a family business , a rich uncle or an aunt that owned a radio station. I worked at full time jobs starting in Junior High School and continuing for over fifty years.Jobs where the government took out social security, Something that Gingrich and his cohorts would like to “privatize”. I graduated from college and along the way I had jobs in construction, the restaurant business, auditing, security, public school teaching, and thirty four years in law enforcement. When I was working in junior high I wasn’t studying. I wasn’t in school plays. I wasn’t in school clubs and doing school sports. These were “things” that kids do when they don’t work full time. A summer job , entrepreneurship or a job with the uncle is good for a kid. Forced labor isn’t. I would never, never force a child to clean bathrooms unless it was some kind of discipline. Maybe not even at that point. Not that there is anything wrong with a cleaning job. I have done those as well. While working full time I missed classes in algebra, plane geometry, trigonometry, calculus,foreign languages, chemistry and science. I had to take all those classes on the remedial level to graduate from college and to go on to graduate school. Sometimes kids don’t work for “self esteem”. They work out of necessity. My family is multi- racial. The assumption is that racially diverse families “don’t work”. Most families from the lower socioeconomic spectrum work at least two job and sometimes three or four jobs.Its about economics not race. Yes, some people are “lazy” and don’t work as hard as Newt. Yes, sometimes “they” or their kids get food stamps or SSI. Yes, sometimes their kids get medicare. Yes, sometimes their elderly grandparents get disability or Medicaid. Some of them are even two years old…. Newt. This is the same warmed over mantra about “jobs” and “opportunities” rehashed by Gingrich and his merry band of privateers for the past twenty years. Once again Gingrich needs to come up with something a little more creative.


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