Archive for the ‘cui bono’ Category

Ad homs R NOT Us: discussions over rent-seeking necessitate painful wrestling with slippery "cui bono" demons

October 7th, 2009 No comments

My recent post, “Bob Murphy on climate change at Antiwar Radio; a puppet for the “King Coal” hand that feeds him?“, attracted a bit of attention, including some hostile comments from some LvMI community members who thought my comments regarding the motivations of Bob Murphy`s funders were over the line.

Since I consider the issue an important one and welcome the comments, I thought I would raise the comment thread to a post here, in the hopes that I might elicit further thoughtful commentary. 

Are cui bono inquiries off-base to Austrians when reviewing policy arguments over government policy? Or, as distasteful as such inquries may be, are they unavoidable?

I note that I have tried to have this discussion with Bob on several occasions over the past four months; for the curious reader, here, in chronological order, are my posts:

Bob Murphy, the Heritage Foundation and “green jobs” – ignore coal! We only pay attention to rent-seeking from greens/the left;

which I try to help Bob Murphy figure out just what the heck I`m
talking about (when I say he`s entangled in a partisan, rent-seeking
; and

Fun with Self-Deception and Rent-Seeking: Bob Murphy`s “Man in the Mirror”.

Here is the comment thread (anonymized to avoid distractions; I am happy to add handles back in if the relevant persons prefer):


# Saturday, October 03, 2009 1:10 AM
by “A”

Challenge his facts and ideas.  Challenging his paycheck is cowardly and dishonest.

# Saturday, October 03, 2009 1:33 AM
by “B”

I agree with “A”. Only because Bob Murphy gets a part of his income due to “Big Coal” doesn’t discredit his ideas.

# Saturday, October 03, 2009 10:34 AM

“A”, if Bob forthrightly informed everyone that he gets paid to
talk about climate change by the group of investors who has benefitted
the greatest from the non-free market status quo, I wouldn`t feel a
need to mention it.

It is absurd to suggest that libertarians – whose biggest peeves
center on the entanglement between the state and business – either
shouldn`t notice, or shouldn`t comment on, the way some of their
erstwhile members make one-sided comments that happen to suit the
agenda of statist corporations that are funding them.

# Saturday, October 03, 2009 10:36 AM


I agree that Bob`s funding doesn`t discredit his ideas per se.  It`s
just that “Bob`s ideas” conspicuously deflect light from the whole

# Saturday, October 03, 2009 11:06 AM
by “A”


Why would Bob admitting he gets paid by so and so change anything?  Do you believe Bob’s opinion is compromised?

If yes, could you substantiate such a claim?

# Saturday, October 03, 2009 3:03 PM

“A”, I believe that the answer to your question is patently obvious:

If Bob were to forthrightly acknowledge what interests are funding
his opinion, readers would be more likely to  notice what the real
PURPOSES of his remarks might be.

It is precisely to mask such purposes that rent-seeking corporations
like to channel their efforts through “think tanks”, pundits and the

Both Bob Murphy and Scott Horton are well aware of this, which is why

– when Bob identified himself the economist for IER, Horton
immediately said, “Ah now, wait a minute. Does that mean that you`re a
front man for Exxon or something?”, and

– Bob chuckled, hemmed and hawed and replied, “Uhh, well, no, but, you can take it with a grain of salt if you want.”

But sadly, Bob did NOT take the opportunity of Horton`s specific
question to explain who funds IER – not Exxon or oil, but coal – even
though most of his later substantive comments were ABOUT how
Waxman-Markey is a fight between interest groups for government favors.

As to whether who funds Bob affects what he says, it think that`s
also fairly evident: if it didn`t, his funders wouldn`t bother to pay
for his services. Of course this doesn`t at all need to imply that Bob
doesn`t mean what he says (he probably does, and I agree with him on
many points), but simply that he omits to say other relevant things.

# Saturday, October 03, 2009 8:57 PM
by “C”

hope Tokyo Tom will tell us who the most noble and self-funded
commentator is on the topic, so that we might all swallow his ideas and
arguments wholesale.

# Sunday, October 04, 2009 4:34 AM
by “A”

that is an evasive way of further undermining Bob’s credibility while
trying to cover your own ass for taking potshots at him.

“This doesn’t need to imply…”

But that is exactly what you are doing.  You have inferred numerous
times in this post and comments, that Bob is compromised by his

Can you answer, clearly, yes or no that he is compromised?

And if not, don’t you find your inferences somewhat irresponsible within the context of sincere and productive debate?

# Sunday, October 04, 2009 4:42 AM

“C”, I don’t think TT will be so forthcoming.

TT is fallaciously claiming a sin [sic] of omission, is proof of a sin of commission.  It is a non-sequitur.

The fact is, anyone can make any claim that Bob has not provided
enough background, about LvMI, about Chaos Theory, about his personal
religious beliefs, about what sort of car he drives.

By making an ad hominem (challenging Bob’s person and not his ideas)
now TT can duck and weave the “we shouldn’t draw anything from this
thing I have decided to make a big deal about” while avoiding
discussing any issues Bob may be incorrect on.

# Sunday, October 04, 2009 3:29 PM

“C”, it`s good that apparently you`re NOT interested in swallowing anyone`s ideas and arguments wholesale.

But if so, why does it bother you that I provide you with additional
information about Bob and the interests that are funding him? Are you
uninterested in Austrian insights about rent-seeking?

Maybe you should take your complaint to Bob, who himself suggested
that listeners might want to take his views with a grain of salt.

# Sunday, October 04, 2009 4:37 PM

“A”, you`re having a tough time reading me.  

1. I think I`ve fairly clearly stated that I think that Bob`s
expressed opinions on climate change are influenced by the fact that
they are supported by a rent-seeking interest. When I said “This
doesn’t need to imply…” I was referring to whether or not he believes
what he SAYS – as opposed to what he omits to say – and expressed the
view that he probably does mean what he says (as well as that I agree
with much of what he says).

2. I don`t think I`m being evasive at all, but rather
straightforward. And I don’t consider my fairly open challenges to Bob
on this matter to be “somewhat irresponsible” within the “context of
sincere and productive debate”. Instead, I reluctantly find them to be
necessary, given the ubiquity of rent-seeking and the ways that it
perverts both legislation and the debate over it.

3. I like Bob and don`t really enjoy making this criticism, but I
think he would probably be the last to say that questioning his
entanglement with rent-seeking interests is off-limits, particularly
when rent-seeking is PRECISELY one of his chief substantive criticisms
of cap-and-trade. Bob`s personal familiarity with Austrian criticisms
of the influence of business and other interest groups on government
policy does not create immunity from criticism on the same grounds.

4. “I don’t think TT will be so forthcoming”. Care to take back your
words? In the future, perhaps you`d be good enough to leave me time to
reply before you speculate on whether I will?

5. “a sin [sic] of omission, is proof of a sin of commission.  It is
a non-sequitur.” You`re using a lot of big words, but I`m not sure I
follow you. I`ve said Bob failed to disclose something that was
relevant to the discussion. Period. (Bob may have some thoughts on if
it was a sin and what kind, but if it was deliberate I`m not sure I see
a distinction between omission and commission.)

6. “anyone can make any claim that Bob has not provided enough background”.

Sure, but there are only certain times when “full disclosure” is
relevant; on most things Bob comments on whether someone funds him is
irrelevant. But when he is talking about legislation that will have a
significant impact on someone who is paying him to speak, that fact
that he is acting as a spokesman is VERY relevant. That`s why Scott
Horton asked the question, and why Bob dodged it.

7. “by making an ad hominem”

Sorry, but if you want to split hairs, a “cui bono” argument is not
ad hominem argument. In any event, Austrian economics tells us that we
need to worry about the perversion of government via rent-seeking. If
the wheels of our worrying about rent-seeking are ever to hit the road,
it means that we have to keep asking “who benefits”.

This of course complicates debate and cuts many ways; sorry that I can`t make life simpler for you.

8. “while avoiding discussing any issues Bob may be incorrect on.”

Are you serious? I`ve had several years of substantive discussions
on climate on the LvMI blog, and argue routinely with Bob on
substantive matters, both on my blog and over at his. All you`re
showing here is an unadmirable ignorance or shortness of attention.

In any case, your attention is welcome, but we can have a more
intelligent and productive discussion if you`d check your inclination
to reflexive negativity.