Paul Jacob

I have to keep reminding myself: The term "reductio ad absurdum" pertains to rhetoric. People use it to try to persuade other people. It's a highfalutin form of mockery. You mock an argument by taking it to an extreme, thereby showing the consequences of your opponent's premises.

The trouble with the Old Reductio, today, is that our enemies take their own arguments on beyond absurdity — and then expect applause.

Example? You need an example?

We have all talked about the bailouts. Nearly everyone in power seems for them. But all the fear of falling prices and recession and depression and credit freezes and the like don't make up for the simple fact that the bailouts take taxpayer money and throw it at people who have made some horrendously bad business decisions.

To support the bailouts is basically to confess, publicly, that only profit may exist. Loss must be avoided on the macro level, at least for "people who matter."

It is the utter repudiation of what was once called "the profit-and-loss system," or "the free market," for short. This system can be said to work, to the extent it does (which is: far better than government-managed systems), because of both profit and loss.

Modish modern thinking kicks half of the machinery away.

Recently the economist whose last name is Stiglitz appeared on the Colbert Report, trying to explain how all this doesn't amount to socialism. He said it was the modern system of "public-private partnerships," of socialized risk and privatized profit ("where the public gets the losses and the private sector gets the profits") and he said it with the kind of smirk that suggested he was in on the joke with Stephen Colbert, and yet . . . that's precisely the kind of system he pimps for.

Where's the joke? Is he against this system? No.

Apparently, he just wants the right people to get the money. And he wants himself or a preferred set of friends to be in power, distributing the money.

There's satire here, but the satire is in the merest statement of fact. Stiglitz is now a figure of comic proportions, all the more so because he is dead serious. And absurd. (Though when he says that we haven't "seen the worst of it, by far," I believe him.)

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.