Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Git Gittins gits goin' on a straw man

Over at the Sydney Morning Herald, Ross Gittins is busily bagging the Federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, for suggesting merit pay for exceptional teachers. The problem is, he is not attacking her argument, he is attacking his fantasy of what her argument would be if she was as dim and simple-minded as him.

He is exhibiting a classic straw man fallacy, and his example might be useful for those of our readers who would like a full-on and particularly cretinous example. The bolded sections in the quote below are the most extravagant Gittins fantasies about Bishop's position.

These incentives are always monetary. Why? Because money is the only sure-fire way to motivate people. Every conservative politician (including not a few Labor politicians) believes that. But it's nonsense. It's far too materialistic. And because we've all been so indoctrinated by the economic rationalists we fail to see the glaring weakness in their analysis. They ignore every factor that can't have a dollar value attached to it because that is the only way they can get it into their mathematical models.

He concludes: There's our sense of job security, the pursuit of status and power, the satisfaction we derive from doing a job well, the joy of being part of a smooth-working team and, particularly for teachers, the deep satisfaction of helping young people develop their potential and sometimes receiving a lot of hero worship and gratitude in return. These things are of negligible value? Pull the other one.

Bishop has not repudiated or diminished any of these things, or claimed that they are of "negligible value" - she has merely suggested an additional incentive - a modest pay loading for competence. Pull the other one, Git!