Editorial Note

This letter was published by Scientific American in the December 2001 issue, page 12. Parts that were edited out in the published version are enclosed in brackets, which includes all of the third and fourth paragraphs. I have written more than one letter to Scientific American on the subject of the political bias and tendentiousness of many of their articles, some of which, like the one in question, have next to nothing to do with science in the first place. This is nothing new for them. I still remember a piece making fun of the Laffer Curve back in the early 80's -- mocking an economic prediction that not only was subject to empirical test, but which has been confirmed, not just as the result of tax cuts by Coolidge and Reagan, but also when taxes were cut by Lyndon Johnson. Scientific American, however, would rather mock Republicans and count on the ignorance of its readers about Johnson.

Letter Replying to:  "U.S. Workers and the Law," Rodger Doyle, "News Scan," Scientific American, August 2001, p.24

20 July 2001

The Editors
Scientific American
415 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10017-1111

Re: News Scan: "U.S. Workers and the Law," Rodger Doyle, Scientific American, August 2001, p.24.

Dear Sirs:

[Rodger] Doyle [("U.S. Workers and the Law," August 2001, p. 24)] asserts that, as the subtitle says, "labor rights of Americans lag behind those of other nations" just because the United States does not adopt "U.N. standard rights." This presupposes several facts that are not beyond dispute and only grudingly considers that the extra labor rights might "harm the U.S. economy." [no paragraph in published version]

The question is not just whether there would be harm to the U.S. economy[,] but whether there would be harm to U.S. workers and consumers. ["]Rights["] that drive up the cost of labor arguably cause unemployment[, not only in the simplest economic theory of supply and demand but as recently forcefully argued by Richard Vedder and Lowell Gallaway (Out of Work, The Independent Institute, 1993, 1997). This also] increase[s] the cost of consumer goods, which erodes the standard of living. [I take it that unemployment and a lower standard of living are undesirable.

Doyle considers neither of these possibilities but seems merely to assume that capital exploits labor and that labor law is beneficial and just, both for workers and consumers. After the failure of command economies and a decade of double digit unemployment and poor economic growth in Euro-socialist countries like France, these assertions can still be argued, but not conscientiously without awareness of the forceful counter-arguments and counter-examples. If New Zealand can prosper by eliminating privileges of "collective bargaining," Rodger Doyle can at least notice that.

Doyle's piece is bad science and does not belong in Scientific American because, (1) it ignores the actual, i.e. economic, science altogether, and (2) relies for its force on the unexamined moral use of the term "rights," which is not a scientific term at all. This is a strategy of rhetoric, not of science; and it tends to confuse a tendentious political position (apparently that of "Human Rights Watch") with scientific knowledge -- and with self-evident righteousness.]

Yours truly,
Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D.

Political Economy

Philosophy of Science

Home Page

Copyright (c) 2001, 2002 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved