URLs du Jour

2021-10-27

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  • How badly could this go wrong? Jeff Jacoby maintains that A free press doesn’t take government handouts. At issue:

    The newspaper business has been in a bad way for years. Can taxpayer bailouts cure what ails it?

    Quite a few lawmakers appear to think so. Tucked into the massive spending and tax legislation currently before Congress is a trio of tax subsidies, collectively dubbed the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. Sponsored by more than 70 senators and representatives from both parties, they are intended to give a financial boost to local newspapers and other media outlets.

    One of the tax breaks is a credit of up to $5,000 for businesses that advertise in a local paper. A second would let individuals who pay for a newspaper subscription lop as much as $250 from their tax bill. The third and most lucrative would give publishers a hefty tax break for each journalist on their payroll. The credit, worth $25,000 in the first year and $15,000 annually thereafter, would be refundable, meaning that a publisher who owed less in taxes than the credit was worth would receive the difference from the Internal Revenue Service in the form of a refund check.

    Jeff (I call him Jeff) works for the Boston Globe, a probable beneficiary of the legislation, but he realizes that this is only a specific example of a general disease: a special interest demanding subsidies.

    Subsidies nearly always amount to confiscating money from the many in order to redistribute it to the few. Those who advocate funneling funds to local newspapers via tax breaks for publishers, advertisers, and subscribers are really saying that if people won’t support local journalism voluntarily, the government should make them do so involuntarily by manipulating the tax code. If you ask me, every family ought to subscribe to one or two newspapers and read them faithfully. Others might feel just as strongly about the importance of music lessons, sending kids to summer camp, filling a house with books, or mastering a foreign language. They’re all worthy activities. But that’s no justification for propping them up with tax breaks.

    Yes, the American system of democratic self-government is strengthened by honest and diligent journalism. But government subsidies, almost by definition, are antithetical to the spirit of an independent press and the First Amendment. A newspaper that takes money from the government is apt to pull its punches when it covers that government — especially if it grows addicted to tax breaks that will have to be renewed every few years.

    Our local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, is pretty lousy. It won't get better if they get subsidized by Uncle Stupid.


  • China kinda sus. The MSM huzzahed (sample) over China's recent announcement that it would stop building new coal-fired power projects abroad. Even the normally level-headed site UnHerd features a tongue-bath article: How President Xi can save the planet.

    Save us, President Xi! You've done such a swell job with Hong Kong and the Uighurs!

    Matt Ridley is properly wary: China is using the climate as a bargaining chip.

    China’s President Xi Jinping has apparently not yet decided whether to travel to Glasgow next month for the big climate conference known as COP26. That is no doubt partly because he’s heard about the weather in Glasgow in November, and partly because he knows the whole thing will be a waste of his time. After all, the fact that it is the 26th such meeting and none of the previous 25 solved the problem they set out to solve suggests the odds are that the event will be the flop on the Clyde.

    But another reason he is hesitating was stated pretty explicitly by his Foreign Minister, Wang Yi: ‘Climate cooperation cannot be separated from the general environment of China-US relations.’ Roughly translated, this reads: we will go along with your climate posturing if you stop talking about the possibility that Covid-19 started in a Wuhan laboratory, about our lack of cooperation investigating that origin, or about what we are doing to Hong Kong or the Uighur people.

    The Chinese Communist Party is using the COP as a bargaining chip. To keep us keen, Xi announced last month that China would stop funding coal-fired power stations abroad. ‘I welcome President Xi’s commitment to stop building new coal projects abroad — a key topic of my discussions during my visit to China,’ enthused Alok Sharma, the president of COP26. ‘A great contribution,’ said John Kerry, the United States climate envoy.

    In truth, Xi is throwing us a pretty flimsy bone. He did not say when he would stop funding overseas coal or whether projects in the pipeline would be affected, so the impact on the world’s coal consumption will be minimal. And the gigantic expansion of coal burning in China itself continues. It already has more than 1,000 gigawatts of coal power, and has another 105 gigawatts in the pipeline. (Britain’s entire electricity generational capacity is about 75 gigawatts.)

    I wonder if you can read Pun Salad in China?


  • Rationales? We don't need no stinking rationales! Steve Landsburg wonders about Tax Policy. His complete post:

    I thought the whole rationale for taxing capital gains in the first place was that we want to discourage inefficiently frequent trading.

    If you buy that rationale, then the last thing you want to do is tax unrealized gains. If you don’t buy that rationale, then why tax any gains?

    Unless, of course, you’re more into thuggery than rationales….

    Yeah, thuggery explains a lot.


  • Also Stratego and Monopoly. Ben Shapiro says what needs to be said: Risk Is Necessary for a Healthy Civilization.

    A large percentage of the country believes in nearly religious fashion that all risk can be mitigated, so long as we grant the authorities and experts absolute power. We have been told that we need no longer face health risks, so long as we give the government power to mandate vaccines, mask our children, and lock down our businesses—even without solid evidence that such measures are effective.

    We have been told that we ought to delegate all of our economic policymaking to unelected centralized bureaucracies, which serve as the source of both our monetary and fiscal policy, and that this will insulate us against the possibility of financial difficulty. We have been told that individually planning for the future, which entails risk—delayed gratification is always a risk—should be foregone in favor of a cradle-to-grave government safety net.

    To mitigate risks to myself, the easiest measure is to create an authority that controls everyone. Risk itself is the enemy: someone else might undertake risks, and those risks might have indirect effects that harm me. Better to live in the warm embrace of control by experts than in the chaotic world of individual decision-makers.

    This is the road to authoritarianism.

    Everyone knows (deep down) that a risk-free life is an illusion. What people don't appreciate sufficiently is that individuals vary widely in their risk preference. That makes it very difficult for top-down decrees mandating "safety". (We closely regulate automobile safety features to "save lives", but still allow people to ride motorcycles.)

    I still am willing (sorta) to grant that some level of risk mitigation is appropriate for governments to undertake. (Please do see that my next door neighbor isn't preparing mutant anthrax spores in his basement lab.) But I'm at a loss as where that stops being appropriate. (Please don't legislate that I must wear day-glo attire while walking my dog.)


  • Standing up to academic bullying. Three loud cheers to Trent Colbert, Yale law student, who got called on the carpet for using the term "trap house" in a party invitation to members of the Native American Law Students Association. Here's his story: Why I Didn’t Apologize For That Yale Law School Email.

    Barely twelve hours after I sent the invitation, two discrimination and harassment resource coordinators from the Law School’s Office of Student Affairs scheduled a meeting with me. In that discussion, Ellen Cosgrove, the Associate Dean, and Yaseen Eldik, the Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, repeatedly urged me to issue a public apology.

    I told them I did not want to send out a generic statement and would rather have individual conversations with anybody offended. I was told that things might “escalate” if I failed to apologize. I was told that an apology would be more likely to make the situation “go away,” and it was implied that there would be lingering impacts to my reputation because the “legal community is a small one.” The subtext behind the meetings that followed became increasingly clear: Apologize or risk the consequences.

    They even went so far as to draft an apology for me directed to the Black Law Students Association […] which I declined to use.

    Colbert's invitation and the apology that was written for him at the link. A few days ago I called Colbert's story Kafkaesque. Now I'm edging toward "Orwellian", as in O'Brien's rat mask.

    Anyway, my vote goes to the first 2024 Presidential candidate who pledges to put Trent Colbert on the Supreme Court. I know he doesn't have a lot of experience, but he seems like a quick learner; I'm sure he'll get up to speed with alacrity.


  • New Dr. Seuss book: How the Nimbies Stole Christmas. The great Virginia Postrel documents the collateral damage when America’s Supply Chain Collides With California’s Nimbyism. After an eyes-open tour of the Long Beach Port which noticed fewer than a dozen freight containers get unloaded in a three-hour span…

    It turned out that the main problem wasn’t an absolute space constraint but a local zoning regulation. Long Beach prohibits companies from stacking off-loaded containers more than two high. The law is not a safety regulation but an aesthetic one. City officials decided that stacks of containers more than eight feet high were too ugly to tolerate.

    The situation exemplifies why the formerly can-do state of California has become such a difficult place to build anything, including an upwardly mobile life. In the name of protecting local vistas, a seemingly minor rule got enacted that exacted enormous aggregate costs far beyond the immediate area. The voters in Long Beach gained a modest improvement in the view while the entire national — indeed global — economy suffered from less efficient shipping. (The Port of Los Angeles is two nautical miles from the Port of Long Beach, and the two account for about 40% of U.S. container traffic.)

    It’s a classic example of a well-recognized issue in political economy. The benefits of the policy are concentrated while the costs are dispersed, spread out among tens of thousands of businesses and millions of consumers. Under ordinary circumstances, most of those hurt have no idea what’s happening. Only in a crisis does anyone beyond a few industry insiders recognize the harm.

    Nimbyism: it's all fun and games until someone loses a Christmas.


Last Modified 2021-10-27 9:56 AM EST