Tyler Cowen commits the genetic fallacy

One week ago, Tyler Cowen, the prolific co-author of the popular “Marginal Revolution” blog, published this odd post on “The IRS tax data leak.” Instead of engaging the merits of these damning allegations — the fact that many of the most wealthiest Americans are self-righteous hypocrites who game the tax system in order to avoid paying their fair share of federal taxes — Cowen decided to dwell on the “ethics” of the data leak. Among other things, Cowen concluded that “ProPublica acted unethically, and in fact nothing fundamentally new or interesting or surprising was learned from their act as accessory.”

Let us assume for the sake of argument that Cowen is right, that ProPublica somehow acted unethically by publishing private tax data and that nothing new was learned from these sordid revelations. (Put aside the fact that Cowen, like most commentators calling for greater ethics, never bothers to share with his readers what theory of ethics was in play here. Virtue ethics? Duty Ethics? Consequentialism?) Even so, Cowen is committing a version of the genetic fallacy. Instead of questioning the ethics of our perverse tax system itself, Cowen chooses to focus on the illegal provenance of ProPublica’s data. Sorry, but no dice …

On the contrary, a strong case can be made that ProPublica’s exposé, by revealing how little U.S. billionaires pay in taxes and by exposing their rank hypocrisy, was highly ethical–under whatever theory of ethics you prefer. After all, what ProPublica did was to reveal the truth, and how can transparency and truth ever be inconsistent with ethics? Furthermore, although I already knew that companies like Amazon pay little in taxes, I did not know, contra Cowen, that Jeff Bezos–the richest man in the world–pays little in taxes. Also, thanks to the N.Y. Times, I knew Donald Trump paid only $750.00 in federal income taxes in 2016; I did not know that Elon Musk paid $0 in 2018! So, don’t lecture me about “ethics”!

Understanding Genetic Fallacy With Examples

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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