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Emotion trumps logic

By By Craig Ziemba / guest columnist
July 21, 2002
Craig Ziemba is a pilot who lives in Meridian.
No matter what the issue may be, the recurring theme in modern American culture is that raw emotion triumphs over reason and logic virtually every time.
Logic, or the ability to objectively discern how different facts relate to each other, used to be upheld as the goal of formal education. Today's emphasis, however, is not to focus on facts, but rather to get in touch with how things make you feel. The ridiculous statement, "perception is reality," typifies this trend in American thought.
When emotion rules over reason, chaos is king. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the arena of personal and public finance. Acting on emotion without carefully examining the consequences has driven millions of Americans to bankruptcy, and our government is careening down the same path.
Every day we are bombarded with emotional offers to go further into debt. Television commercials show young, beautiful people spending themselves into happiness in exotic locations with credit cards that show up daily in the mail. Banks invite us to use our home equity to buy cars, boats and anything else our hearts desire. The message is clear: don't think about it, just do it.
Pressure sales and pressure politics use identical tactics appealing to emotion over reason. Let's examine how this works: a consumer we'll call Bob drives by a car lot and sees a shiny, new truck on sale with the slogan, "Bad Credit? Slow Credit? No Credit? No Problem." All of a sudden the 10-year-old truck he's driving looks old. Sure, his truck runs fine and is paid for, but he can't help but imagine how much better it would feel to drive up to the deer camp in a brand new 4×4.
Reason looks at the checkbook and says, "There's not enough money to make a truck payment and save for retirement or the kid's education," but Emotion screams in reply, "It's a four wheel drive!" Bob pulls into the car lot just to take a look, and an eager salesman says he'd like to put him in that truck today.
Two hours later he has a new truck, 60 months' worth of $500 payments, higher insurance, lower gas mileage, and an outrageous annual license plate to buy. Rather than going home and rationally figuring out whether or not he could afford the truck, he fell for the classic trap of allowing his emotions to overpower his reason.
The same thing happens to us taxpayers all the time. Politicians make emotional appeals to increase government spending for the needy. Obviously, no one wants underprivileged children to go hungry or the elderly to have to choose between prescription drugs or food.
But before we expand the role of government and saddle the working class with higher and higher taxes, shouldn't we calmly figure out how much it will really cost?
As soon as questions like these are asked, the battle between emotion and reason erupts. Logic points out that as our population becomes older and couples have fewer children, fewer working age taxpayers are left. Every time a new benefit is added to the welfare state, the working class has to work even harder and longer to pay for it all. When the payees begin to outnumber the payers, something has to give.
But emotion could care less about the math. Any time legitimate, reasonable opposition is made to any type of social program, those who want bigger government carefully avoid logical arguments and instantly go for the emotional appeal. Oppose them and they will accuse you of hating children, grandma, and the poor.
Bill Clinton used to blink back a tear, bite his lip, and tell us that he felt our pain. It works every time.

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