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The Stock Stock Argument

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When I am critical of the current economic system in the United States a stock counter argument involves focusing on the claim that most Americans own stock. I suspect that the point of this argument is to contend that the system is a good one because most Americans own stock. It might also be aimed at showing that people can work their way towards wealth by investing. It is true that most Americans own stock. At 51.9% it is just barely a majority; but just barely does suffice to make that claim minimally true. But the positive view is a matter of perspective; after all this means that 48.1% of Americans do not own stock and presented from that perspective it does not sound as good. To use an analogy, if someone said that most passengers survived the sinking of a ship, then that would probably sound good to you: while the sinking was bad, at least most people survived. But if you inquired more and found that 52% of the passengers survived, that would sound rather less good—after all, 48% did not. As such, some stock rhetorical techniques are in play here. One is to use the vagueness of “most.” Psychologically people tend to think in terms of “most” referring to a significant majority rather than being just barely over half. As such, it is generally wise to consider the percentages and numbers rather than uncritically accepting “most.” Another technique is the emphasis. When numbers are used, presenting them with the positive or negative statement can influence people. So, saying 52% of Americans own stocks makes it sound good. But saying 48% of Americans do not own stocks makes it sound bad. Looked at neutrally, 48% is a significant lack. After all, if 48% of Americans lacked shelter or adequate food, we would hardly rejoice that 52% had those things. So, gushing about 52% of Americans owning stock is a bit absurd. Another rhetorical tool in use here is leaving out critical information. By simply asserting that most Americans own stock, this suggests that most. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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