BrianGarst.com

Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.

Thursday

10

April 2014

0

COMMENTS

Statists Getting Heartburn Over Free Internet?

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Free Markets

The latest digital scare to captivate the media is the so-called Heartbleed bug, which constitutes a major vulnerability in OpenSSL, a common encryption program. In light of the find, the Washington Post’s Craig Timberg penned an article less about the bug itself and more about his discomfort at the idea that there are systems which operate outside the heavy hand of government or other centralized control. Wringing his hands over the “chaotic nature of the Internet,” Timberg finds it “terrifying” that the internet is “inherently chaotic,” and that there’s “nobody in charge of it all.” Give me a break.

Keep in mind that the Heartbleed bug was discovered by security experts and the news at this stage is just a proof of concept. No major infiltration has yet been attributed to the vulnerability, though it’s apparent lack of a footprint means they may still have occurred. But even if there were, it would hardly justify concern over the internet’s free nature, nor the prevalence of open source programs, which Timberg spends an inordinate amount of time dissecting. Despite his fretting that “volunteers and nonprofit groups that often create [open source software] lack the time and expertise to continually update their work,” such programs nevertheless are found in many ways to outperform enterprise or closed-source developments, or do just as well across a range of metrics. It’s the power of emergent order on display.

Likewise, there is little reason to be great central control would make vulnerability like Heartbleed less likely to occur. If you want an idea of what the internet would be like with “someone in charge of it all,” just look to any of the number of failed Obamacare exchange launches for guidance.

Bugs and vulnerabilities in code are a fact of life. There is nothing that will ever prevent them entirely. But a robust, innovative system unencumbered by centralized, bureaucratic control is far more likely to possess the nimble responsiveness necessary to react quickly and minimize the damage.

Monday

7

April 2014

New OECD Rules Strike at the Foundation of Tax Competition

Written by , Posted in Taxes
Originally published in Cayman Financial Review

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) claims that new rules in its recently published Common Reporting Standard for Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information are necessary to eliminate tax evasion. They’ve used the same argument in the past to justify numerous other demands, and each time when low-tax jurisdictions undertook the costly process of meeting OECD mandates, the goal posts were subsequently moved.

Jurisdictions surprised by ever evolving standards make the mistake of taking OECD claims at face value. Far from being motivated primarily by reducing tax evasion, their true objective is to eliminate tax competition so that the world’s largest welfare states can maximize the extraction of wealth from the global economy.

Tax evasion is not a very complicated problem to solve. Nations with the highest compliance rates tend also to be those with the least burdensome tax code. If members of the OECD took the sensible route of lowering tax rates and ending double taxation on capital, they could achieve the twin objectives of increasing both prosperity and fairness.

Unfortunately, politicians in high tax nations have other goals. Chief among them is collecting every potential tax dollar they can get their hands on. This includes dollars that might otherwise be attracted, even legally, to jurisdictions offering more favorable tax rates or more efficient regulations. The OECD is not aiming to even the playing field, in other words, but to kneecap the competition.

Evidence of this agenda is simple to find. Numerous OECD documents refer favorably to the theory of capital export neutrality (CEN), which asserts that economic efficiency is best promoted by harmonizing tax rates between domestic and international investments. The argument is that so-called neutrality promotes the making of investment decisions on business rather than tax considerations, which in turn enhances economic efficiency. But CEN fails to account for the negative economic impact of high tax rates, and thus the legitimate reasons for considering the impact of taxes not just as a fundamental part of choosing an investment, but simply of running a successful business. CEN also ignores the positive impact of tax competition as a pressure for the adoption of pro-growth fiscal policy.

Elements of CEN theory were featured prominently in the OECD’s 1998 and 2000 anti-tax competition reports. While the anti-tax competition initiative was shelved after a backlash from both the U.S. and low-tax jurisdictions, subsequent OECD efforts – in particular those of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes – continue to move in the direction of reducing or eliminating the ability of capital to gravitate toward more favorable tax structures.

Subsequent OECD efforts to pressure low-tax jurisdictions to sign tax information exchange agreements have not proven to be a mutually beneficial endeavor. While large nations have sought to acquire the information they desire in order to impose onerous tax rates no matter the location of their citizens or their money, low-tax jurisdictions which have no desire to double tax capital receive only the benefit of avoiding punishment for noncompliance.

This dynamic is not indicative of a healthy relationship built upon mutual respect between nations, and should provide low-tax jurisdictions with no stronger sense of security than the store operator feels after he’s paid the latest round of protection money to the local mafia.

Despite the asymmetry of benefits, it was nevertheless easy for low-tax jurisdictions to justify compliance. After all, if a nation presents evidence of wrongdoing on the part of a specific individual, it is not unreasonable for another to assist in the enforcement effort. Sure, the OECD’s tactics – including threats of blacklisting and economic sanctions – were both deplorable and an affront to national sovereignty and international camaraderie, but despite being also costly, the demands hardly appeared an existential threat to tax competition.

The current initiative is not so well disguised. Despite getting everything it has thus far requested, the OECD remains unsatisfied. The new standard’s demand for automatic transmission of bulk taxpayer data is aimed squarely at the heart of tax competition – and also the continued vitality of jurisdictions that rely on investment attracted by pro-growth tax policies and streamlined regulatory systems.

The U.S. is currently the only OECD nation that taxes the income of its citizens no matter where it is earned, but that will likely change with the widespread adoption of automatic exchange. OECD hand-wringing over so-called “double non-taxation” makes clear the distaste with which bureaucrats and finance ministers from high tax nations view the choice of other jurisdictions not to impose exorbitant tax rates on every type of economic activity. Widespread adoption of the new standard will allow them to rectify this perceived oversight.

Despite being the world’s largest (de facto) tax haven, attitudes in the U.S. have changed considerably since it helped torpedo the OECD’s anti-tax competition initiative in the early 2000’s. With passage of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), the U.S. has led the way on fiscal imperialism and the effort to globalize tax administration, which provided the opening the OECD needed to press ahead on its quest to eliminate tax competition.

The OECD acknowledges that FATCA “acted as a catalyst for the move towards automatic exchange of information in a multilateral context.” By unilaterally subjecting institutions to costly reporting requirements and draconian penalties for noncompliance, the United States inadvertently managed a feat in making the OECD seem reasonable that international bureaucrats couldn’t have dreamed possible.

In hopes of sparing the world from a proliferation of FATCA-like laws, some jurisdictions seem to have calculated that the OECD is the lesser of two evils. But if history is anything to go by, the costs of acquiescing to the OECD’s new initiative will be significantly higher than they first appear.

The new OECD standard, which is based largely on the model FATCA agreements, is being sold as a means to prevent the spread of FATCA-like laws and thus the need to comply with a hodgepodge of different rules and requirements. Even ignoring the obviously superior solution of standing up against fiscal imperialism and demanding that the U.S. stop its assault on the global financial sector, the OECD provides a poor alternative.

The new standards are themselves just a minimum requirement, and some nations will no doubt have demands that go above and beyond.

In other words, the new standard will do little to reduce the costs of complying with a multitude of different standards. But it will ensure the flow of information to high tax nations, which in turn will be used to facilitate the flow of tax dollars. Where will this leave low-tax jurisdictions?

After its initial defeats, the OECD realized that the way to boil a frog is not to dump it in blistering hot water, as it will simply jump out.

Rather, if the water is initially cool and the temperature raised gradually over time, the frog won’t notice the danger and will eventually boil alive. For more than a decade, the OECD has been slowly raising the temperature on tax competition and low-tax jurisdictions. They’ve so far played along and, like the frog, have yet to jump out of the water. But the water is no longer cool, and the new requirements threaten to send bubbles rippling toward the surface.

The time for low-tax jurisdictions to save themselves is now, but they must both recognize the gravity of the danger and possess the necessary fortitude to jump from the water.

Sunday

30

March 2014

0

COMMENTS

Weiner Reveals Progressivism’s Anti-Progress Economic Agenda

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Government Meddling, The Nanny State & A Regulated Society

I promised myself I wouldn’t give any attention to Anthony Weiner in his new capacity as Business Insider columnist after the increasingly awful outlet’s decision to give the indelibly awful Weiner yet another public forum. But his inaugural column provides so perfect an illustration of the regressive positions of ironically so-called progressives on matters economic that I cannot resist.

Dipping his toe, and gratefully not other parts of his over documented anatomy, into the recent debate over whether Tesla motors has the right to sell their own product without first going through a government enforced middle man, Weiner comes down firmly against the interests of consumers, but not only that, against the very idea of economic progress. He says:

In Tesla’s case, some might consider bans on direct auto sales to be part of a protectionist regime set up by a powerful lobby—neighborhood car dealers—and unchallenged by a lazy industry that didn’t want to antagonize its sales force. Still, dismissing all existing regulations out of hand without recognizing them as the product of reasoning and careful consideration isn’t the answer.

Tesla and these other tech disruptors might want to put more of their energy into finding ways to fit their innovations into existing regulations.

…In situations where that’s not possible, why don’t these founders and tech executives focus on getting wider public support or convincing lawmakers their causes are just? Instead, they seem to show up expecting the world to be wowed by their shiny new companies and losing it when people don’t get out of the way. Gnashing of teeth via press release doesn’t make the case where it counts. If you want to be in the business of selling great cars, there may be more productive ways to spend your time than bitching about the laws that the majority have passed and reaffirmed from the time of the Model T.

If I didn’t know better and naively thought that political words still had meaning, I might be surprised to hear such conservative rhetoric from someone who proudly and loudly claims a progressive label. But modern progressivism is no longer about tearing down the existing order standing in the way of human progressive (well, they never truly were, but that’s another matter) because they are that order, and it is they who are standing in the way of progress. Innovations do not occur through the careful consideration of government bureaucrats and empowered regulators as Weiner fantasizes, but rather at the hands of “tech disruptors” who see the faults in the current order and move decisively to excise them.  Anthony Weiner wants Telsa to properly prostrate itself before the political elites, grease some wheels, and help keep Anthony Weiner and his friends in the social driver’s seat by working within a dysfunctional system for no other reason than that it is run by his compatriots and benefits the same.

Modern progressivism is about power and control, and modern progressives like Anthony Weiner will defend the political power to control your lives in every instance where it is threatened, because what progressives revealed once they finally had the power they long lusted for was that it was never simply sought as a means, but always as an end unto itself.

Wednesday

26

March 2014

0

COMMENTS

Government’s Top Thug Preet Bharara Shakes Down Toyota

Written by , Posted in Big Government, The Courts, Criminal Justice & Tort

Preet Bharara is a rogue U.S. Attorney and government thug. The latest victim of one of his shakedown scams is Toyota:

The original uproar was set off when a Lexus crashed in San Diego on Aug. 28, 2009. In later investigations, both Nhtsa and the San Diego County sheriff’s office concluded that the car had been fitted out with too-long floor mats belonging to another model, trapping a floored accelerator.

Horrifying as mat-entrapment accidents may be, they are rare: The feds have identified only one fatal Toyota crash with this pattern other than the one in San Diego. There also is nothing unusual about sudden-acceleration claims—they’ve been lodged against Audi, NSU.XE +0.02% Honda, Ford, Mercedes, GM, GM -0.84% Subaru, basically every auto maker.

Toyota had recognized the mat concern as early as 2007 on a Lexus model, and now, out of caution, it also recalled millions of cars to have gas pedals altered so oversize, stacked, or otherwise errant mats would be less likely to overtake and smother them.

Nevertheless, the Justice Department on March 19 announced a one-count wire fraud indictment of the Japanese company, simultaneously settled by Toyota’s agreement to pay $1.2 billion. Why the huge sum? Supposedly, the company had made that much in extra sales by inappropriately reassuring the public, Congress and regulators that it was adequately handling the (almost entirely bogus) furor.

…Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s statement of agreed facts fulminates about a second supposed coverup, that of “sticky pedal” syndrome: unwanted friction might make some gas pedals stick on the way back up. Toyota informed Nhtsa about sticky-pedal in October 2009, but the feds complain that the company should have come clean a few weeks earlier than that.

Left out of all this is the conclusion reached in the Nhtsa’s 2011 report: There was no evidence sticky pedals played a role in any of the accidents. The agency also acknowledges that sticky or otherwise, a gas pedal can be overridden by properly functioning brakes.

Providing an addendum to his op-ed at the Cato Institute blog, Walter Olson highlights some of the draconian terms in the “agreement” offer that Toyota no doubt understood it could not refuse:

A couple of other points I didn’t have room for in the WSJ piece: Toyota is settling the government’s trumped-up single charge of mail fraud by way of a so-called Deferred Prosecution Agreement, or DPA, and its terms really must be seen to be believed. “Toyota understands and agrees that the exercise of the Office’s discretion under this Agreement is unreviewable by any court,” appears on clause 14 on page 6, with “Office” referring to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, currently Preet Bharara. And if you are expecting even the tiniest squeak from anyone at Toyota in contradiction to the government line, even around the coffee machine at the local dealership, consider clause 13, which states: that Toyota “agrees that it shall not, through its attorneys, agents, or employees, make any statement, in litigation or otherwise, contradicting the Statement of Facts or its representations in this Agreement.” If DoJ catches wind of any such statement it can revoke the agreement not to prosecute, without of course having to give back the billion dollars. “The decision as to whether any such contradictory statement shall be imputed to Toyota for the purpose of determining whether Toyota has violated this agreement shall be within the sole discretion of the Office.”

When people talk about federal prosecutors having become a law unto themselves, this is the sort of thing they mean.

Appalling stuff, but this is really just par for the course for Bharara, whose unquenchable quest for power has turned him into one of the government’s more vile goons. He touched off an international incident last December when he arrested and subjected to a strip search an Indian diplomat over a petty minimum wage issue. He later added fuel to the fire he created with one of America’s strongest Asian allies by going off half-cocked and lashing out at critics with a “defense” of his action that was thoroughly unprofessional in tenor and tone, which further antagonized India and undermined efforts of the State Department to calm the matter. Investigative reporter Gary Weiss correctly observed that, “there is something seriously wrong with [Preet Bharara's] judgment and temperament.”

He’s not the only one tired of Bharara’s antics. U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan criticized the “tabloid tone” of Bharara’s typical pretrial grandstanding.

But it’s still business as usual for Manhattan’s U.S. Attorney, whose aggressive tactics are typically celebrated thanks to the heavy dose of economic populism that accompanies his agenda. So long as he targets unpopular segments of society, his overreaches will be tolerated  by the cocktail crowd. In fact, they generally criticize him for doing too little on Wall Street. In that regard, Bharara resembles much more a demagogic politician than an agent and enforcer of the law. The law is simply a tool that he is perfectly comfortable perverting to his nakedly self-interested ends. Given the significant and largely unchecked power he wields, that makes him one of America’s most dangerous thugs.

Tuesday

18

March 2014

0

COMMENTS

The Case Against War

Written by , Posted in Foreign Affairs & Policy

At Breitbart’s Big Peace, Joel Pollak makes “The Case for War.” Where exactly I’m not entirely sure, but perhaps everywhere. From Russia to Iran to China to North Korea, all are apparently in need of a good ol’ American whooping. It takes Pollack about 300 words to make his case. I think I can beat that.

The case against is a lot simpler. It can be summed up by this image:

War dead

Final thoughts: There are wars America must fight, and when they come we will fight and win them. We don’t need to go looking for them.

Saturday

15

March 2014

0

COMMENTS

181 Members of Congress Don’t Think the President Must Enforce the Law

Written by , Posted in General/Misc.

Of all the things that ought to receive widespread bipartisan support, the basic expectation that it is the job of Congress to pass law and the job of the President to enforce it should be near the top of the list. But Trey Gowdy’s ENFORCE the Law Act (H.R. 4138), which grants either House of Congress, or both, standing to bring civil suit against the President or agency heads within the Executive Branch for failure to enforce binding law, passed the House recently 233-181, with all 181 no votes coming from Democrats.

To what, we must wonder, could they have found objectionable? It is indeed the proper role of the Executive Branch to execute laws – it’s even in the name! It is, likewise, perfectly fitting to ask the Judicial Branch to adjudicate dispute between the other two. And it’s well within the power of Congress to establish the proper juridiction and procedures for such.

As Rep. Growdy highlights in the beginning of his speech above regarding the act, President Obama was once deeply concerned about the balance of federal power and the need for the Executive Branch to both enforce the law as well as not operate outside its bounds. He even endorsed the idea of turning to the courts to resolve interbranch disputes. That was important to Senator Obama, but now President Obama is threatening to veto it on the erroneous grounds that it “violates the separation of powers.” In typical Newspeak fashion, the claim is exactly the opposite of the truth. But he can put his pen down, as Harry Reid is likely to exercise his iron grip on the Senate to ensure once again that nothing useful gets done under his watch.

As Rep. Growdy also covered in his speech, process matters. The Founders spent a lot of time and effort on establishing a specific process for government because they understood it to be vitally important to the success of the American experiment. Since that time the Executive Branch has expanded immensely and systematically worked, through Presidencies of both parties – to undermine that process. Their is no rational argument beyond a naked desire for power and to be without accountability for the President to oppose additional oversight of the Executive Branch’s most basic and fundamental responsibility – enforcement of the law – or for other members of his party to stand in way of its passage.

Thursday

13

March 2014

0

COMMENTS

South Carolina Prosecutors Think They Should Be Above the Law

Written by , Posted in The Courts, Criminal Justice & Tort

I spend a lot of time railing against abuses of the federal government, and for good reason given its size and disposition, but state and local officials are by and large just as awful. And South Carolina is doing its best to make sure we don’t forget it.

Radley Balko reports on a brewing conflict between South Carolina prosecutors and one of the state’s Supreme Court justices. Justice Donald Beatty, it seems, has upset a number of prosecutors who are demanding that he recuse himself from future criminal cases. The cause of their uproar? Beatty apparently deigned to remind them that they are not, in fact, above the law:

At a state solicitors’ convention in Myrtle Beach, Beatty cautioned that prosecutors in the state have been “getting away with too much for too long.” He added, “The court will no longer overlook unethical conduct, such as witness tampering, selective and retaliatory prosecutions, perjury and suppression of evidence. You better follow the rules or we are coming after you and will make an example. The pendulum has been swinging in the wrong direction for too long and now it’s going in the other direction. Your bar licenses will be in jeopardy. We will take your license.”

Any prosecutor who objects to the above should be presumed unfit to hold office and immediately fired. It won’t happen, of course, because the institutional corruption runs too deep. The fact that so many within our criminal justice system  - who exercise tremendous power over the public - believe that they should remain above legal accountability is deeply troubling.

Tuesday

25

February 2014

1

COMMENTS

Let Them Eat (Someone Else’s) Cake

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Culture & Society, Free Markets, Liberty & Limited Government

At RedState Erick Erickson weighs in on the debate over whether or not bakers should be required to supply wedding cakes for gay couples if they don’t want to. He looks at the issue through the prism of Christianity (which is not unreasonable given that most of those refusing to do so are Christian). But I’m not particularly interested in the theological aspects or what a good Christian ought to do. I’m interested in policy.

Erickson states:

If a Christian owns a bakery or a florist shop or a photography shop or a diner, a Christian should no more be allowed to deny service to a gay person than to a black person. It is against the tenets of 2000 years of orthodox Christian faith, no matter how poorly some Christians have practiced their faith over two millennia.

And honestly, I don’t know that I know anyone who disagrees with any of this.

I don’t know Erickson, so his statement remains true, but I emphatically disagree that “a Christian should no more be allowed to deny service to a gay person than to a black person.” In fact, I’d take that in the exact opposite direction than he intended and say that both should be allowed.  In a free society, anyone should be free to choose not to engage in commerce with anyone else, for any reason.

Erickson chooses to approach the issue from the angle of religious freedom:

The disagreement comes on one issue only — should a Christian provide goods and services to a gay wedding. That’s it. We’re not talking about serving a meal at a restaurant. We’re not talking about baking a cake for a birthday party. We’re talking about a wedding, which millions of Christians view as a sacrament of the faith and other, mostly Protestant Christians, view as a relationship ordained by God to reflect a holy relationship.

I think he’s attempting to cut too fine a line. Moreover, I think the religious freedom argument is weaker than the property rights and freedom of association arguments. These rights are simple to digest: I own my labor and that which it produces, and I therefore own the right to choose with whom I shall trade my goods. The government has suppressed this right by asserting that stores are “public” if they allow people to enter freely, and by being “public” they must serve everyone. This is and always has been hogwash, and the requirement that a business serve everyone has no basis in any authority granted to government.

Similarly, the freedom to associate necessitates an implied freedom of disassociation. Without the right to refuse association, the right to associate with those whom we choose is meaningless. And if the right to disassociate with a person or entity does not encompass the ability to refuse an economic transaction with that person or entity, then it is a hollow right.

Matt K. Lewis similarly addressed the issue at the Daily Caller, in the context of a proposed Arizona law to allow Christian businesses to refuse work for same-sex weddings. I don’t care for the specific law, which is parochial and targeted in a way that suggests animus and bigotry as its intent rather than true preservation of rights. But that aside, Lewis doesn’t tackle the right question:

The truth is, this is a tough issue that pits things we value as a society against things we value as a society.

We have reached a point in the gay rights debate where all the low-hanging fruit has been picked. We are now entering into the zero-sum game phase of the debate, where gay rights and religious liberty must collide. (In other words, the cake is only so big. If you take a piece, you are guaranteeing the other guy has less cake.)

So who’s right? My guess is one could guarantee public opinion is on either side of the issue, depending on how you frame the question. If, for example, you were to ask someone whether or not “businesses should be allowed to deny services to same-sex couples,” the answer would, of course, be “no.”

On the other hand, ask Americans if “government should have the right to forcefully coerce Christians to violate their convictions,” and the answer would also be “no.”

He is probably right that people would answer the question of whether a business has the right to deny services to same-sex couple in the negative, but that’s in part because it’s the wrong question. We might find it utterly distasteful when someone refuses to serve another for bigoted reasons, but we also find it distasteful when others express bigoted opinions. The right to free speech is nevertheless widely acknowledged as protecting their rights to do so. Why are economic rights taken less seriously? So contra Lewis, what we should be asking is whether “business should be allowed to deny services to anyone,” or even whether “exchange should ever be compulsory, instead of voluntary.” These are the questions at the heart of the matter, and these are the questions which too long have been answered incorrectly by government, the courts and even voters.

Friday

14

February 2014

0

COMMENTS

Notable Quotations

Written by , Posted in General/Misc.

Nick Gillespie, “Are Social Cons Saving Liberalism? Roger L. Simon Thinks So, Sees Libertarian Shift as Future of Conservatives, GOP:”

Any energy coming from Republicans these days is because of the large failure of Barack Obama and liberal Democrats’ political agenda and because of the libertarian wing of the GOP and its focus on civil liberties, foreign policy, and fiscal rectitude. It’s not because cultural warriors are getting the vapors over the gays or drugs or the need to triple defense spending.

Ilya Shapiro, “IRS Illegally Expands Obamacare:”

Cato and the Pacific Research Institute have now filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs on their appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. While it is manifestly the province of the judiciary to say “what the law is,” where the law’s text leaves no question as to its meaning—as is the case here with the phrase “established by the State”—it is neither right nor proper for a court to replace the laws passed by Congress with those of its own invention or the invention of civil servants. If Congress wants to extend the tax credit beyond the terms of the Affordable Care Act, it can do so by passing new legislation. The only reason for executive-branch officials not to go back to Congress for clarification, and instead legislate by fiat, is to bypass the democratic process, thereby undermining constitutional separation of powers.

Todd Zywicki, “Dionne v. Hayek:”

So why is central planning not only unwise, but dangerous to liberty? This is Hayek’s key insight that escapes Dionne… Hayek’s great insight was that moving economic decision-making from individual decision-making through the market to collective decision-making through the state does not eliminate the economic problem. The reality of economics is still present: scarce resources and unlimited wants. The only question is “Who decides?” Do you decide for yourself (through markets) or does someone else decide for you (through politics)?

Doug Bandow, “Free the Inside Traders:”

Objectively, the insider trading ban makes no sense.  It creates an arcane distinction between “non-public” and “public” information.  It presumes that investors should possess equal information and never know more than anyone else.

It punishes traders for seeking to gain information known to some people but not to everyone.  It inhibits people from acting on and markets from reacting to the latest information.

 

 

Tuesday

11

February 2014

0

COMMENTS

Whose Washington Post Will It Be?

Written by , Posted in Culture & Society, Media Bias

It was a pleasant surprise when the Washington Post added Radley Balko as an opinion blogger, a surprise which was compounded when they soon after announced the Volokh Conspiracy would now publish under their banner. While both Balko and the many excellent law bloggers at Volokh bring a healthy dose of libertarianism to the Post, they have also injected some rare skepticism into the paper. Not only are they obviously skeptical of government, but they tend to approach all sources of authority with a healthy dose of skepticism. Why, they even direct it toward their own ideas, a novel concept at the Post.

This attitude contrasts with Washington Post relics like E.J. Dionne, whose hackneyed, partisan water-carrying tends to result in confused arguments and dishonest caricatures. To be sure, the Post has long counted George Will among its numbers, but the Dionne model has tended to dominate.

The two styles are perhaps the result of the environments in which they were crafted. Balko and the writers at Volokh honed their craft of commentary in an immensely crowded and competitive internet field, where name recognition meant squat. The quality of their individual work was paramount to their success, whereas the Washington Post and its assortment of writers have coasted on brand identification after its one significant achievement back during the Nixon Administration.

While the new additions are most welcome, I wonder whether or not they can ultimately co-exist with the close-mindedness of the old model. More importantly, I wonder which will ultimately win out, real investigative reporting or obsequious water-carrying for the powers that be? I hope it’s the former, as the New York Times has already called dibs on being the dead-tree version of MSNBC.

Ideological diversity is desirable, but it needn’t come at the expense of intellectual rigor. It is not necessary for the Washington Post to become a libertarian, anti-government mouthpiece. It just needs to dump the garbage. And while the acquisition of the paper by Jeff Bezos augurs well that the new additions might signal more than mere superficial reform, the J-school dominated news industry is still doggedly opposed to any challenge of elite media orthodoxy.