Home / General / If You Think Consumers Should Know What’s In Their Food, Surely You Favor Mandatory Rape

If You Think Consumers Should Know What’s In Their Food, Surely You Favor Mandatory Rape


This Tyler Cowen nonsense is a classic example of a conservative rhetorical technique that is particularly annoying. I’m not sure what to call it — the strawman tu quoque? It’s not quite the same thing as poetic justice as fairness. But it’s remarkable how proud conservative some commentators are of the idea that if you support some state regulations that a conservertarian doesn’t you must presumptively favor all state regulations, given how utterly asinine it is.

Cowen does, however, has to be given credit in a way for choosing an example that makes the silliness of his premise particularly obvious. Yes, indeed, many of the people appalled by Virginia’s reprehensible forthcoming abortion regulations favor other regulations that provide information to consumers. The “contradiction” is not terribly hard to understand if one thinks about it for a tenth of a second or so. On the one hand, the typical consumer regulation does not require consumers to pay substantial direct costs to undergo humiliating and invasive medical procedures without their consent. And on the other hand, the “information” provided to women by the regulation is worthless, since women are generally aware of what pregnancy entails. It’s not very complicated once you leave the Planet Strawman, on which liberals who favor any regulation must favor any other regulation, including those that entail substantial costs while providing no benefits. I’m hoping that Cowen’s twitter feed was hacked by an especially mean parodist…


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  • genjirama

    Is Cowen married? Perhaps a concerned spouse, sister or mother could explain the necessary distinctions to him.

    • abrev

      He was my professor. He is married, and has a step-daughter.

      • cpinva

        are you certain the woman wasn’t under the influence of mind altering drugs, when she married him? i must have long-form proof!

        in fairness to mr. cowen, the proposed legislation is so odious, there really isn’t any good way to defend it. in order to do so, one must go to the absurd.

  • DocAmazing

    First Poulos, now Cowen. We’re getting the cream of the right-wing intelligentsia these days.

    • I won’t fee well informed until I hear from McMegan on the subject.

    • Spud

      We’re getting the cream of the right-wing intelligentsia these days.

      I would say that cream turned into rancid cheese long ago.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        Of course _you’d_ favor distributing that rancid cheese as part of a gummint program, thus creating dependency on rightwing pundits.

        Ah the unintended consequences of librul compassion!

    • Jon H

      ” We’re getting the cream of the right-wing intelligentsia these days.

      More of a cheesy discharge, I think.

  • tedra

    It’s quite simple: liberals favor government regulation that helps most Americans, and disfavor regulation that doesn’t.

    • chris

      Yes, that is simple, but if your brain is in the grip of a zero-nuance worldview, then you’re incapable of grasping the possibility that someone might react DIFFERENTLY to something depending on the details. You’re only allowed to react to things according to their membership in the broadest categories imaginable.

      It’s the kind of worldview that thinks “four legs good, two legs bad” is an impossibly complex principle because you have to count the legs. Are legs good or bad? Make up your mind already!

    • Honorable Bob

      It’s quite simple: liberals favor government regulation that helps most Americans, and disfavor regulation that doesn’t.

      It’s all in the eye of the beerholder.

    • NBarnes

      Context? In public policy? Psh.

  • We really do need a name for this fallacy, since it’s annoyingly common. Substantively, it’s seeing someone behave in a way that is inconsistent with a crazy idea you claim they hold, and rather than adjusting your view that they hold the idea, instead accusing them of hypocrisy. E.g. liberals are categorically in favor of intrusive government regulation, so they are hypocrites for not supporting intrusive regulation of abortion. Or the classic example from back in the heady warblogging days, liberals are working for the imposition of sharia law in the United States, so they are hypocrites for supporting feminism and gay rights.

    • c u n d gulag

      How about the “Al Gore drives an SUV” Syndrome?

      Or, “Al Gore has a big house” Syndrome?

      OT – I’m sure we’ll see a tweet from some right-wing twit like this before November:

      “Obama left Rev. Wright’s Church when the Reverend finally converted him to being a Muslim Atheist.”

      • Pith Helmet

        Al Gore is Fat syndrome?

    • DrDick

      It is simply called “conservative discourse.”

    • Bill Murray

      the Scarecrow fallacy — full of straw and lacking a brain

    • calling all toasters

      I nominate “Hobgoblin accusation fallacy” after Emerson (i.e. Douthat doesn’t actually believe in such a foolish consistency, he just want to accuse us of same).

      • Jeffrey Kramer

        Hadn’t read the above when I made my suggestion, so I withdraw the nomination to second “Hobgoblinism.”

    • Jeffrey Kramer

      “Strawman Somersault with One-And-A-Half Twists”?

    • Michael H Schneider

      We really do need a name for this fallacy, since it’s annoyingly common.

      From below in this thread:

      Listen, I’ve sat here and watched all of these people champion California and the right of the state over the fedk on issues such as medical pot.

      Now, you’re whining about the right of the people of Virginia, through a democratic processs, to govern themselves.

      In light of this perfect example of the fallacy, can we call it an “Honorable Bob”?

  • Crikey. I would have thought a non-fundie wouldn’t pull something that is vanishingly close to “they consented to penetration when they had sex.” Which is patently ridiculous, Cowen knows there’s a difference between the state shoving a medical instrument into a woman’s body and requiring a corporation to post calorie counts.

    He just doesn’t care, because he doesn’t have a vagina, so it doesn’t affect him personally. I will say that, following the Ron Paul ongoing debacle, it doesn’t say much for the “not racist or sexist at all” glibertarian contingent.

    • DrDick

      This really is no different from most libertarian/Chicago School/Austrian economic arguments.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        As long as a private entity is paying a market price for an activity, it’s efficient….and it’s all good!

  • foosion

    If I stick a broom handle up your rear end, remove it and show it to you, you’ll gain information about the contents of your colon. How could anyone object?

    • Warren Terra

      Difficult to do when he’s already got his head up there.

      • Bill Murray

        but it was previously penetrated so it’s still good

      • R Johnston

        It’s not so tough. Tyler Cowen is synonymous with anal squicking by instrument.

        • DocAmazing

          In the manner of Santorum? That might be a good exercise: make “Tyler Cowen” Google-equivalent to “insertion of a foreign body into the anus”.

          Maybe “buttplug” would be simpler…

  • ema

    Ugh, this stupid meme that these mandatory probes are medical tests that offer information needs to die already.

    A medical test has 1) an indication, 2) a validated technique, 3) a set of relevant values, and, last but not least, it requires the patient’s consent. Not one of these requirements is satisfied by this law.

    • herr doktor bimler

      Has the Medical Association come out with a response?

      • Nothing up on the website of either the AMA or the Medical Society of Virginia.

      • ema

        ACOG has, for years, endorsed AIUM’s (American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine) position that nonmedical use of U/S is inappropriate and contrary to responsible medical practice.

        As to what’s going on in Virgina, ACOG has A Legislative Update asking Ob/Gyns to contact their local representatives about the U/S bill (and a list of other detrimental bills):

        If you have been following the 2012 General Assembly session, you are already aware of the unprecedented attack on women’s health this year. … Among the most detrimental to women’s health, particularly to low income women, are the … bills that seek to impede the ability for women to have access to abortions.

  • howard

    Does cowen ignore traffic lights? Otherwise, he must believe in state regulation of everything.

    • RhZ

      This is great.

  • Honorable Bob

    So which of the outraged commenters live in Virginia?

    Listen, I’ve sat here and watched all of these people champion California and the right of the state over the fedk on issues such as medical pot.

    Now, you’re whining about the right of the people of Virginia, through a democratic processs, to govern themselves.

    Then there was the championing of the first amendment when OWS was being ousted for being disrupted and then later against the first amendment when Obama uses the full force of government to usurp the consitutional rights of religious organizations.

    It seems there really is no ideology they follow other than whatever promotes their agenda in the short term.

    Pick one and stick with it for reasons other than what’s up on the ticket this moment.

    • DrDick

      Dishonorable Boob once again demonstrates why he was at the bottom of his special ed class.

    • Spud

      Bobby, all laws which discriminate were enacted by the democratic process. Its a lame excuse for bad laws.

      Its why we have the 14th Amendment and a judiciary whose job it is to evaluate whether laws enacted by the majority provide equal protection under the law.

      The fact that you can’t understand how our Bill of Rights works is the reason you don’t see any kind of consistency here.

      Its obvious to many conservatives that they do not understand how the 1st Amendment can protect political protest (other than their own), the free exercise of religion (other than Fundamentalist Christianity), or why government entanglement with religious dogma is bad (unless it is with Fundamentalist Christianity).

      Its not a short term agenda, its understanding our country was not designed to be a theocracy.

      The people of Virginia have voted to legalize non-consensual sodomy with a medical instrument. Something their laws criminalize under any other circumstances.

    • TT

      I live in Virginia and I believe these impending laws are the most profound and grotesque outrage perpetrated by a state legislature in my lifetime–but not because I am a Virginian, but because I am a human being.

      If you can’t–or, more likely, refuse to–understand the difference between allowing chronically ill patients or mere private citizens the chance to VOLUNTARILY partake in an activity (smoking marijuana in this case) which poses zero danger to the larger community; and granting power to the state to enforce the INVOLUNTARY shoving of an ultrasound probe into the vagina of a pregnant woman, against the pregnant woman’s will and against the medical oath of the physician tasked with said shoving….


      If you can’t–or, more likely, refuse to–understand the difference between religious freedom as the Framers of the Constitution understood the term, and the state granting power to a religious institution to deny health insurance claims to non-adherents performing a secular mission on the institution’s behalf, based on “doctrine” that is not actually doctrine and which the overwhelming majority of actual adherents to said religious institution ignore anyway….


      You are so fucking stupid it’s amazing you even know how to breathe much less read and type.

      My hope is that you are just a parody, a wingnut apparition. However, there is the chance that you are, like all too many conservatives in the public sphere, just a really fucked-up person.

      • Honorable Bob

        …VOLUNTARILY partake in an activity…

        Like insurance companies and religious organizations deciding for themselves what is to be covered and what is not?

        Kinda like that?

        • joe from Lowell

          Aren’t you people supposed to understand – nay, champion – the distinction between individuals and collectives?

      • Honorable Bob


        While you don’t like the collective decision the majority of the duly elected representatives of the people of Virginia have mad through the democratic process, most apparently do.

        When do the people of Virginia get the right to govern themselves within the constitution of the US?

        When you decide?

        • Scott Lemieux

          Shorter Bob: I strongly disagree with Virginia’s AG challenging the Affordable Care Act. When will the American people get to govern themselves?

          • This is Bob’s most principled stand except for his noted outrage at the evisceration of the 4th Amendment.

            • thebewilderness

              Not even you, Bob, could be so incredibly stupid as to think that this “law” is in compliance with the Constitution of the US and the laws of Virginia.
              Passing a law that requires citizens to violate criminal law is about as unconstitutional as you can get.

            • Honorable Bob

              Lemme tell you, Erik, few outside your academia bubble think college teachers are smart or should be in charge of anything.

              Most think you are idealistic socialists with no real world experience.

              I think they’re right.

        • DrDick

          Oddly, you and the rest of the conservatives seem disinclined to accept that a majority of Americans, through the democratic processes, have put Democrats in charge of the Senate and White House, because they prefer progressive policies to regressive Republican ones.

        • redwoods

          Oh choke to death on a bag of dicks, Bob. McDonnall (from Regent!) campaigned on a “JOBS JOBS JOBS” platform, and Virginia followed it’s long-standing habit of voting in a governor in the party opposite the new president (Since Truman, as far as I can remember). People are pissed about the “JOBS JOBS JOBS” not showing up, and a slew of Republicans representatives are seeing the chopping block forthcoming in November, and trying to slide in as much “culture wars” shit as they can. Not one of these people campaigned on restricting abortion access, because nobody gives two tugs when jobs and money are so tight. Virginia’s duly elected officials ARE NOT taking care of the things they campaigned on and were voted into office to deal with. Like the goddamn TRANSPORTATION. Shit.

          • Sharon

            Virginia Republicans have never cared about transportation. They just rant about the heatans in NoVA, cut taxes, cut the highway budget and close a bunch of DMV offices.

          • John

            The tradition doesn’t go back that long. Virginia didn’t elect any Republicans through 1965, and then Republicans won in 1969 and 1973, following Nixon’s national victories. The consistent backwardsness began in 1977 with the election of Republican John Dalton, and has continued up to the present.

        • Spud

          When do the people of Virginia get the right to govern themselves within the constitution of the US?

          So what part of the Constitution can be used to justify the government mandating that a large medical instrument has to be shoved into an orifice without consent of the patient or the operational necessity of the doctor?

          Do you understand why we have the 14th Amendment or is Equal protection under the law just a major inconvenience for you?

        • josefina

          While you don’t like the collective decision the majority of the duly elected representatives of the people of Virginia have mad through the democratic process, most apparently do.

          Not so fast, Bob.

          Virginia voters, by wide margins, want to retain the state’s landmark one-handgun-a-month law and oppose mandating that a woman receive an ultrasound before having an abortion, according to a new poll. … Another measure that could reach the governor would require women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion. Of those polled, 55 percent say they oppose the requirement and 36 percent support it.

          From the Times Dispatch, “Poll finds most Virginians oppose changes in abortion, gun laws”

          When do the people of Virginia get the right to govern themselves within the constitution of the US? Huh, Bob, huh? When?

        • Pseudonym

          When do the people of Virginia get the right to govern themselves within the constitution of the US?

          When they pass laws that respect the constitution of the US.

    • Anonymous

      And in one comment, Bob proves the point of the original post. Come on Bob, stop making it so easy.

  • DrDick

    Can we now stop pretending that we need to take these people and their arguments seriously? Hayek loved him some fascism and Cowen loves him some institutional rape. They are authoritarian tools of the rentier classes who deserved public pillorying.

    • BradP

      Cowen is not defending the policy.

      • DrDick

        Really?! How else would you interpret this:

        “All of the sudden requiring consumers to be informed is extremely unpopular on “the pro-regulation side”?

        I realize you are loathe to admit the truth, but come on now.

        • joe from Lowell

          I would interpret is as Cowen being disparaging “the pro-regulation side,” in an attempt to equate his opposition to truth-in-labeling laws with opposition to the Virginia law.

          And to equate support for consumer-protection laws with support for the Virginia mandatory rape law.

          • DrDick

            Hadn’t thought of it that way, but it is still a profoundly stupid and disingenuous argument. Of course that means it is exactly like everything else he and the rest of his cadre of useful idiots writes.

          • I think Joe is right. His point is not so much to defend the VA as to discredit consumer protection laws that aren’t similar to it in any respect.

            • R Johnston

              What do you mean not similar? Being told you can’t lie by omission to sell a product is exactly the same thing as having objects forced into your body against your will at your own expense for no reason at all.

              I think someone should kick Tyler Cowen in the nuts. After all, that’s the exact same thing as reasoned discourse.

      • The Shaggy DA

        I’d respect him more if he was. Otherwise, he’s just being a child trying to score points and piss off other people.

  • Jeffrey Kramer

    Back when we used to have to sign up with Compuserve to get into these discussions, I remember being struck by the way every libertarian argument seemed like some variation on this ‘insight’: “but if you grant the government the right to regulate/forbid/require this, you are granting it the right to regulate/forbid/require the reverse!” It was as if Opposite Day was always just around the corner, the day when the state would declare it illegal not to pollute, or would make discrimination against minorities mandatory. And so, they argued, it was only sensible for liberals like me to join the libertarians in pointing and shrieking at the approach of any regulation at all.

    So I guess now we have it; Opposite Day has come. Virginia has made rape mandatory, and it’s all my fault for not joining in the libertarian denunciation of laws which require calorie information on cereal boxes. The precise causal mechanism is still a bit fuzzy, but I know I ought to feel guilty, somehow. The principled libertarians would like to join in denouncing this outrageous abuse of government power, but really, how can they be expected to keep to their principles if we won’t keep to their principles too?

    No, that didn’t come out right, did it? It’s more like… they would like to join in denouncing this, but once it’s been established that the government can make laws whose ends they heartily approve of (like lowering pollution and diminishing racial discrimination) but whose means they see as improper, then it’s all over for liberty and there’s no point anymore in disapproving even of laws whose ends and means are both obnoxious.

    No, that wasn’t quite it either. It’ll come to me, I’m sure.

    • Spud

      Libertarianism was never a coherent political idea. It was always kind of a selective anarchism or the lazy person’s version of it.

      They want a functioning government to provide benefits and infrastructure to them, but they don’t want to pay for it or come up with ideas as to how it should work. This is because either of those requires actual effort and thought which they don’t wont to bother with.

      They fail to come up with the idea that governments can have legitimate interests which it may want to promote.

      So to clear things up:
      The interest in labeling food-So we know what we consume in an informed manner as to avoid obesity, avoid diabetic shock or heart attack.

      The interest in probing women without their consent-because the sick perverted monkeys in the VA legislature like probing women without their consent.

      • DrDick

        Libertarianism was never a coherent political idea.


        • R Johnston

          It is however adherent, sort of an idiocy seeking glue gun projectile.

          • DrDick

            I like that.

      • DocAmazing

        I go to a lot of anarchist book fairs and the like, and there are always a few Libertarians slinking around the periphery, being laughed at. Give ’em credit for still showing up, I guess, but they aren’t exactly drawing converts.

        • DrDick

          I give them points for having the self awareness to show shame. Never thought they had it in them.

        • Honorable Bob

          I go to a lot of anarchist book fairs and the like…

          Who knew?

  • muddy

    I’d like to know why they are not freaking out that women have to pay for medical care when they don’t want it. I can’t imagine it would be free.

    So why is it okay for this and not for ACA? Of course this is basically rhetorical, see: get gov’t outa my medicare.

    • The Shaggy DA

      Please point to the part of the ACA that requires anyone to receive medical care they don’t want.

      • The Shaggy DA

        Oops, missed the point entirely. Sorry.

  • Jamie

    I’m pretty sure Cowen is attempting to play for Public Intellectual status in some overly complicated way. If you’ve read him over time, you’d note that he is obsessed with the mechanisms of status games.

    I think his main problem there is that he’s punching above his weight, picking fights with Kthug and Delong, which he keeps losing (and then, of course, whining about civility).

    I haven’t read his recent output. Maybe there is something good there. Discover Your Inner Economist was vapid to the point of silliness, so I haven’t bothered with the rest. The blog, however, is a useful barometer.

  • First, I find it nearly impossible to interact, however remotely, with people who advocate forcing health care workers to rape women (on the woman’s dime!!!!). Or who are comfortable with such advocacy. Anyone who thinks that “A Handmaid’s Tale” is a good blueprint for governance is both hopeless and repugnant.

    Second, the fact that women whose health care providers are forced to rape them do not need to look at the rape pictures the rape is supposed to provide demonstrates that this has exactly nothing to do with informing. If the information the rape is supposed to yield does not need to be seen by the patient in order for her to be (sufficiently) informed, there’s no reason to carry out the rape for the reasons given.

    Of course, that’s secondary to the utterly risible notion that this is needed for any sort of informed consent. But it’s interesting how nakedly contemptuous they are about even meeting some minimal forms of informing here.

    Third, health care providers are in a shitty place. They should rise up screaming. But assuming that is (as is likely) ineffective, it is tricky to determine what they should do. Obviously, being required to rape someone is repugnant to an extreme. But then their choice is not to provide care (which isn’t going to help women), provide care and violate the law, or provide care and adhere to the law. It would be nice if there were mass civil disobedience (i.e., provide the care and violate the law), but I suppose the end result would be shutting down the clinics and making it prohibitively difficult to continue to provide care.

    So, it might just be that they should comply. How fucked up is that.

    Finally, given that women have sought out abortions that involved coat hangers, I suspect that the actual procedure is not the most effective deterrent (aside from the cost). Thus, it just means that this is punishment, pure and simple. Which induces an unspeakable rage in me at everyone pushing or excusing this evil bill.

  • Corey

    It was a very, very dumb thing to say, but having met the guy, I’d be willing to bet that it was just a thoughtless aside. Nothing in his background or writings suggests culture warrior.

    • John

      He’s saying liberals/right thinking people should oppose consumer protection laws, not that they should support the Virginia law.

      • R Johnston

        He was equating consumer protection laws with rape. Whether endorsing both or opposing both, that’s sociopathic.

        • DrDick

          that’s sociopathic.

          Libertarianism in a nutshell.

        • UserGoogol

          I wouldn’t really say that. It’s more like autism. It’s not sociopathic to fail to see the important emotional distinctions between two acts, it’s just a lack of comprehension, which is the sort of thing which is more in line with the autistic spectrum than with particularly sociopathic behavior.

          • pseudonymous in nc

            With Cowen, it always feels as if economics’ gain is sofware engineering’s loss.

            • Pseudonym

              Or vice versa.

          • Pseudonym

            A lack of empathy? A pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others? It sounds like both.

      • Right. As I said above, I think Cowen’s point wasn’t to defend the VA law so much as to assert that if you oppose the VA law you should logically also oppose consumer protection laws that actually have some value and don’t involve sexual assault.

        • Uncle Kvetch

          So it’s still equal parts evil and stupid, just not in the exact way we initially thought.

        • First, who the hell knows? I mean, it’s so completely incoherent (and loathsome) is there really much percentage in distinguishing whether he is pro-rape law or really really really anti-consumer protection laws?

          I mean, hell, there’s no making a slippery slope argument as the same people writing mandatory rape laws are those who would gut consumer protection laws.

          I agree that there’s some sort of fucked up conservative contrarian hipster faux socratic intellectualism driving the particular episode (of how to piss off/shut up a liberal variety)…but how could he go here without thinking rather charitably toward the mandatory rape law?

        • Pseudonym

          The idea is that if we give the government the power to regulate corporate disclosure we also give it the power to rape. Of course, I’m sure that eliminating consumer protection laws would completely stop this kind of law from being passed.

          This is the central problem with libertarianism: in practice, nobody else really gives a fuck what libertarians think or how much they care about their peculiar notions of liberty. A government that’s too weak to inhibit liberty is also too weak to protect it.

    • Thoughtless asides that lead one to endorse state mandated rape should trigger a big “Oh Shit” followed with profuse retractions and apologies.

      Any of that?

      There’s no defending it.

    • Warren Terra

      He posted the tweet a day ago; he has at least a half-dozen tweets and a half-dozen blog posts up since then. If it was a thoughtless aside or is being wildly misinterpreted, why hasn’t he addressed the outrage at all? Why hasn’t he tried to clarify, expand, rephrase, or apologize?

  • thebewilderness

    It is the same argument being made to require women to look at pictures of aborted fetuses and have counseling informing them that they are pregnant prior to receiving the medical procedure they came there to have.
    There is no consumer protection law that requires a shop keeper to explain what food is and test for hunger before being allowed to sell a customer the food they came there to buy.
    The analogy is beyond stupid.

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