Econ 479

The Art of Writing, the Science of Economics

Fortifying an Argument with Well-Chosen Authority

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, as the old saw has it. That does not mean that all opinions are equal—a point that often seems to be lost in our culture. (I know, I know: that’s elitist. Too bad.)

I have suggested that you reinforce your arguments by enlisting authorities in your support. If you are discussing a point of monetary policy, for instance, you might want to invoke the views of the likes of John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, or Ben Bernanke—of some known, noteworthy person, in other words, who will have your back in the rhetorical fight you’re waging.

The trick is to find a person with sufficient credentials that your audience will naturally want to pay attention to his or her opinion. Regardless of whatever political view I might hold, if Greenspan or Bernanke says something about fiscal policy, that opinion counts—if only because millions of people make decisions based on it.

Think of it this way: Albert Einstein’s views on physics are worth more than your high-school teacher’s. Gerald Swanson’s opinion about the market will be more valuable in an argument than that of an economist who has not written so extensively about the matter. Edward Prescott’s thoughts on economics are likely to be more compelling than those of someone who has not won the Nobel Prize. Austan Goolsbee’s opinion, Laura Tyson’s opinion, Paul Krugman’s opinion, and so on, is worth more than . . . well, you get the idea.

Choose your support wisely: the better known and more well-respected the authority is, the better your argument will appear—if it’s a good argument, and all other things being equal, of course.


Written by gregorymcnamee

September 30, 2008 at 9:52 pm

Posted in Economic writing

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