June 2007 LSAT, III, #19

Section 3, Question 19 of the June 2007 LSAT presents an argument that's quite a bit more difficult to follow than the earlier questions in the section. That's not unusual. Generally, the questions get harder as we go deeper into each section. It's a great reason to avoid rushing at all costs; the worst strategy you could possibly employ would be to hurry through the easier questions, making silly mistakes. All this does is save up time for the harder questions that you might miss even with unlimited time. Don't do it! If you're not getting 80% correct on the questions you attempt, you're attempting too many questions. I'd rather see you guess at the end of each section than half-ass the entire thing.

Editor: Many candidates say that if elected they will reduce governmental intrusion into voters' lives. But voters actually elect politicians who instead promise that the government will provide assistance to solve their most pressing problems. Governmental assistance, however, costs money, and money can come only from taxes, which can be considered a form of governmental intrusion. Thus, governmental intrusion into the lives of voters will rarely be substantially reduced over time in a democracy.

OK, what's going on here? I had to read this one a couple times. Putting it into my own words, it starts out something like "Some candidates campaign on less government intrusion. But the people who WIN elections promise government help. Government help costs money. Money requires taxes. Taxes are a form of intrusion." I'm following along pretty good so far. But then the conclusion comes, and the conclusion is usually bullshit. Here, it's "Thus, governmental intrusion into the lives of voters will rarely be substantially reduced over time in a democracy."

A novice, at this point, would rush into the answer choices. An expert would criticize the argument. Let's be experts. Do we buy this argument? Does it make sense?

I encourage you, as often as possible, to answer NO to these questions. If you find yourself nodding along while reading the argument, you're probably not being critical enough. You must resist. Here, the argument isn't terrible, but it's incomplete. The hole occurs right at the end... right at the conclusion. Even if we grant that winners usually make promises, and promises require money, and money requires taxes, and taxes can be considered intrusion, does that guarantee that governmental intrusion can't be substantially reduced? I don't think it does. Can't we simultaneously do things that reduce intrusion, even as other things are increasing intrusion?

Metaphor time: This bathtub has a leaky faucet. It's constantly dripping. The dripping increases the amount of water in the bathtub. THEREFORE (here comes the bullshit!) there's no way we could ever reduce the total amount of water in this bathtub.

What would you say? "Open the goddamn drain?" Yeah, that would be a good response.

The same objection applies to the editor's argument. Even if our elected officials do some stuff that tends to increase governmental intrusion, isn't it also possible that we (or they) could do other things to reduce governmental intrusion? The facts don't say this is impossible, so it's possible. Time to read the question.

Which one of the following, if true, would most strengthen the editor's argument?

So far, we've been criticizing the argument. This puts us in a great position to support the argument... if we know its weaknesses, we're qualified to make it better!

(A) Politicians who win their elections usually keep their campaign promises.

Hmm. I didn't see this one coming, but "politicians keep their promises after winning" would definitely strengthen the argument. In fact, it's probably a Necessary Assumption of the argument. (If this answer is false, the argument is ruined.) This isn't what I would have predicted, but it definitely makes the argument better. We should be happy choosing A if we can get past B-E.

(B) Politicians never promise what they really intend to do once in office.

This would  actually weaken the argument. We're looking for a strengthener.

(C) The most common problems people have are financial problems.

What do "common problems" or "financial problems" have to do with the conclusion about governmental intrusion? This answer is irrelevant.

(D) Governmental intrusion into the lives of voters is no more burdensome in nondemocratic countries than it is in democracies.

I really don't see what nondemocratic countries have to do with anything. Another irrelevant answer.

(E) Politicians who promise to do what they actually believe ought to be done are rarely elected.

This is definitely irrelevant. The argument never mentioned the "actual beliefs" of politicians.

Our answer is A, because it's a necessary assumption of the argument. If it's false, the argument would be ruined. So making it true would strengthen the argument.