The rhetoric of advocacy

Metaphors in dis­putes over trade pol­i­cy often run in a reli­gious vein: ‘free trade’ is an arti­cle of faith; pro­tec­tion is—or, per­haps, is not—a sin; pro­tec­tion­ists are dis­ci­ples of dark­ness; reformers—or reactionaries—are evan­ge­lists of hope and ratio­nal­i­ty. In the debates on trade pol­i­cy, as in the even more vicious debates on devel­op­ment pol­i­cy, the rhetoric ris­es to the heav­ens as the invec­tive sinks below. But the goal of all rhetoric is per­sua­sion, and advo­cates of both reform and reac­tion may fail to per­suade for sur­pris­ing­ly sim­i­lar rea­sons One of the most influ­en­tial ana­lysts and his­to­ri­ans of eco­nom­ic reform is the redoubtable “Albert Hirschman”: who has com­ment­ed on many heat­ed debates about devel­op­ment and growth poli­cies skep­ti­cal­ly, but from a humane per­spec­tive, over his long career. The fol­low­ing is from an essay he wrote for The Amer­i­can Prospect in 1993. Reform­ers in their enthu­si­asm, Hirschman argues, make mis­takes that are the pre­cise­ly the con­verse of those rhetor­i­cal errors he attrib­ut­es to reac­tionar­ies (reac­tionary com­plaints of the per­ver­si­ty or futil­i­ty of reform or the jeop­ardy that it cre­ates). Reform­ers fail to con­vince says Hirschman when they argue, in the same mode as reac­tionar­ies, that: bq. “1) We should adopt a cer­tain reform or pol­i­cy because as things are we are caught, or will short­ly land in, a des­per­ate predica­ment that makes imme­di­ate action imper­a­tive regard­less of the consequences–this argu­ment attempts to
deflect and neu­tral­ize the per­ver­si­ty the­sis. bq. 2) We should adopt a cer­tain reform or pol­i­cy because such is the law or tide of history–this argu­ment is the coun­ter­part of the futil­i­ty the­sis, accord­ing to which attempts at change will come to naught because of var­i­ous ‘iron
laws.’ bq. 3) We should adopt a cer­tain reform or pol­i­cy because it will solid­i­fy ear­li­er accomplishments–this is the pro­gres­sive’s retort to the jeop­ardy claim that the reform is bound to wreck some ear­li­er progress.”(“American Prospect Online(link to this excerpt)”: Hirschman rec­om­mends that reform­ers try to design their reforms tak­ing into account the like­ly oppo­si­tion on per­ver­si­ty, futil­i­ty or jeop­ardy argu­ments. For exam­ple, ‘per­verse’ out­comes are not always bad out­comes seen from a dif­fer­ent angle. He urges reform­ers to resist the urge to claim that his­to­ry is on their side—as we insin­u­ate when we show the graphs of his­tor­i­cal declines in the lev­el of pro­tec­tion with the impli­ca­tion that the trend must con­tin­ue. He points out that most of the claims ever made about ‘rev­o­lu­tion’ and renew­al, or the claims then being made (at the begin­ning of the 1990s) about his­to­ry’s end, are uni­ver­sal­ly con­sid­ered implau­si­ble and unper­sua­sive only short­ly after they are made. Final­ly, he warns that argu­ments from syn­er­gy—anoth­er form of the ‘his­tor­i­cal inevitabil­i­ty’ argu­ment that all good things go togeth­er, like lib­er­al­iza­tion and eco­nom­ic growth—“can mask a reformer’s readi­ness to push through one “good thing” at the cost, if need be, of the oth­ers”. These are tough stan­dards to fol­low.

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