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 http://news.yahoo.com/gingrich-poor-kids-don-t-unless-illegal-163034200.html (accessed 12-04-2011).