Please, enough with the metaphors

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Metaphors, comparative situations, are useful when you have a firm grasp of the underlying principles which make the important features of what you are discuss fundemantally akin to the important principles of whatever metaphor you wish to employ.

There are a lot of commentators on the bailout with very little grasp of finance who are confidently opining on the bailout based on one of two broad principals:

1)  Markets good, government bad
2)  Markets bad, government good

They then proceed to construct a metaphor which illustrates why we [shouldn't do anything/should do something different/should do exactly what their political leadership wants].  The bailout is like the Titanic:  the ship would have been better hitting the crisis head on than trying to turn when it's too late.  The bailout is like the Iraq war:  the Bush administration is trying to ram through plan without proper deliberation.  The bailout is like a game of chicken:  we need to rip off the steering wheel and throw it out the window to show the bankers we are serious.  The bailout is like the Treaty of Westphalia.  The bailout is like learning to needlepoint.  The bailout is like this really cool cloud I saw the other day that totally looked exactly like Marylin Manson wearing a zoot suit.

One can construct any sort of metaphor (okay, right, or simile) to demonstrate why whatever you oppose is folly.  But, as you'll notice whenever you read an op-ed on any subject you actually know something about, 95% of those metaphors are glib hogwash.

If you cannot explain in clear English exactly what all the salient questions and facts are about the bailout, then please do not attempt to convince others that it is best understood in terms of Dirty Harry movies or the time your Aunt Mavis lost her car keys in the garbage disposal.  It is possible to have principled and intelligent support for today's vote.  But such support cannot be arrived at solely  through studying auto accident statistics and the collective writings of Norman Vincent Peale.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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