Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Slippery Slope

If You Eat Hamburgers, You Will Kill Billions of People

1. Hamburgers are made of cow.

2. Cows produce methane.

3. Methane is a greenhouse gas, 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

4. Methane comprises 14% of the world's greenhouse gas. By 2030 that could increase by 60%.

5. Greenhouse gases lead to global warming.

6. Global warming will lead to the sea level rising.

7. The sea level rising will lead to the ecosystem collapsing.

8. The ecosystem collapsing will kill billions.

9. So stop eating burgers, or you will destroy mankind.

This is a slippery slope argument--a logical fallacy that makes sense taken in small steps, but when all the small steps are put together it leads to a silly, baseless conclusion.

But in the case of this particular slippery slope, there is some merit to it. The world's consumption of beef is leading to more cows, which is leading to more methane. While saying that eating a burger will kill billions is stretching the point to ridiculousness, at least each step taken individually seems plausible.


That hamburgers are made of cow and cows produce methane is irrefutable. So is the fact that methane is a greenhouse gas, and more potent than CO2. 

Then things get fuzzy. I pulled the 60% number of the net, and I'm sure there is some scientific justification behind it, but we truly won't know for sure until it happens.

We can guess. But we don't know. This isn't a scientific experiment with a control group. Saying the earth's methane output will rise 60% may look good on paper, it it isn't the same thing as saying 2 + 2 = 4, or mix oxygen and hydrogen and you'll get water.

Greenhouse gases do lead to global warming. Venus is a pretty decent example of this. But it can be argued that global warming is cyclical and has little to do with humans, or that it is manageable, or that a hundred other things might happen before sea levels start to rise.

The ecosystem collapsing is a pretty big leap. And if the ecosystem does collapse, how can we be sure billions will die?

That's the problem with guesses. They cause fear, but are unproven until they happen.

But you probably looked at the original statement, that eating burgers will kill billions, and realized it was bullshit from without me dissecting it. Other statements, however, aren't as obvious.

Let's look at another slippery slope argument:

The Agency Model Encourages Competition and Is Good

1. Amazon has the lion's share of the ebook market.

2. Amazon has sold ebooks for under the publisher's cover price, and below cost.

3. Other retailers can't sell this low, and will be driven out of business.

4. The only way to save retailers is if publishers set the retail price of books.

5. If Amazon becomes a monopoly, they will harm authors and readers.

6. Publishers had no choice but to stop Amazon from predatory pricing, to protect competition and for the good of everyone.

The first two points are true. Amazon does have the lion's share of the ebook market, and they have sold ebooks at below cost.

But we need a bit more information here. Amazon pretty much single-handedly created the current ebook market. Just like they created online bookselling. As Bob Mayer says, Amazon didn't exist except for in Jeff Bezos's mind back in 1994.

Amazon listened hard to what readers wanted, and it fulfilled those wants. They've kept prices low. I'd guess they do it to attract customers, because customers are drawn to low prices. But I truly don't know Amazon's motivation, other than the fact that they are a company in business to make money. Just like Big Publishing. Except Amazon seems to be doing it by giving people what they want, rather than forcing people to take what is offered.

Then we get to "retailers will be driven out of business."

That can cause an emotional, knee-jerk reaction when someone hears it. We don't want companies to go out of business. We all know companies that have. That leads to people losing their jobs, which is sad. It leads to places we once liked to go to no longer existing. That's sad. As human beings, we don't like to see unemployment, and we don't like to see bullies.

But this statement is no different than stating greenhouse gases lead to global warming. Certainly, they might. But we won't truly know until it happens. Until it does, it's fear mongering.

A lot of bookstores might blame Amazon for putting them out of business, or competing unfairly. Welcome to capitalism, kids. That's like saying, "My girlfriend left me for another guy who is more attractive and treats her better."

Don't blame the guy. Blame your girlfriend for preferring someone over you. And blame yourself for not stepping up your game to win her back.

Nobody owes anyone a living. Just because you did well in the past doesn't mean you deserve to do well in the future, especially in the face of competition. If you want to run your own business, you better pay attention to what the customers want. If you can't give them what they want, you shouldn't be in business.

Then we get to the next giant leap in logic; the only way to save retailers is to let publishers set retail price.

Huh? How can otherwise smart men and women seriously say and believe something so stupid?

If the price of a book is the same everywhere, that leads to less competition, not more competition. Customers are price conscious, and they will shop for the best deal. You can lure them to your store many different ways, but price is one of the biggies.

Taking away a store's ability to set a retail price is fixing the game.

The other side to that coin also needs to be addressed. Not only do stores get harmed by not being able to set prices, but there is nothing illegal, immoral, or unfair when companies do set prices.

Passive Guy says it very well:

In the United States, it is not against the law to sell at low prices. It is not against the law to sell products for less than they cost. It is not against the law for you to price your products so low that you put other retailers out of business. For all intents and purposes, it is virtually impossible to win an antitrust case based upon predatory pricing.

Show me a case where a retailer used predatory pricing to drive competitors out of business. And let's say you find a case or two, what's wrong with that? The customer benefits from lower prices.

But you can't say "Amazon is evil for keeping prices low" because people will think you're an idiot. Show me someone who doesn't want to pay less for something.

So instead, the pinheads use a slippery slope argument, and a damn poor one at that, to instill fear in those who aren't paying close attention.

I also have to ask, is the Agency Model really the only way to save bookstores and publishers? There really are no other ways?

You see how silly that is, right? Especially since I've shown, many times, how bad the Agency Model is for authors and customers.

Which brings us to Amazon's potential monopoly power, and how it will hurt everyone.


People love to bash Walmart. Walmart ruins communities. Walmart destroys American Main Streets. Walmart murders malls. Walmart forces poor mom and pop shops out of business.

And then, once Walmart takes over a town and enslaves the populace, it triples all of its prices, holding customers hostage.

Except that it doesn't. The great evil empire that is Walmart keeps its prices low, even after it has killed the competition.

Hmm. Kinda sounds like Amazon, which continues to keep prices low, no matter how many businesses it allegedly destroys.

So what are we afraid of exactly?

Oh, yeah. All the unemployment. All the jobs lost. Except for the 65,000 people Amazon employs. And the tens of thousands of authors who--many for the first time--are making money.

But once Amazon reaches a critical mass and eliminates everyone, certainly it will begin a reign of terror, even though that is the exact opposite of everything Amazon has done thusfar.

It could happen. Just like cows could cause the icecaps to melt. Just wait and see it to get proof.

Except I doubt we'll ever get that proof. Companies have always competed with Amazon, and I'm sure more will come along. Amazon hasn't put Smashwords, or Kobo, or B&N out of business. They didn't put Borders out of business (nor did the raise prices on books once Borders collapsed.) And the Agency Model isn't the reason these other companies have been able to compete. Innovation, location, and customer service are how they've stayed alive. They were around before the Agency Model. Some will be around after it ends. And new companies will enter the game.

That's capitalism for you.

Capitalism is not about allowing the publishing cartel to collude so they can continue screwing readers with high prices and authors with unconscionable contracts.

Capitalism is not about putting businesses on life support when they refuse to innovate or cater to their customers.

Capitalism is not about price-fixing.

And competition doesn't exist for its own sake. The point of business isn't to encourage competition. The point of business is to beat the competition by having more customers. The more businesses in a market, the more a customer will benefit, unless the businesses collude to fix prices.

I'll say it again: No one owes you a living. And I won't weep for any company that whines, lies, or makes bullshit arguments to stay afloat. You shouldn't either.