Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

September 21, 2005

Think Like a Lobbyist

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:51 pm

Those few times I’ve made the mistake of trying to show liberals that
the news media has a liberal bias relative to the population (i.e., the media is overwhelmingly liberal but the population is about evenly split), economically-aware liberals have always asked me why, if the media is so much more liberal than the public, why doesn’t the market correct this; in other words, why don’t readers and viewers stop buying the newspapers and watching the TV news?

Well, this actually has been happening. TV network news viewership is dropping (except for Fox News, which is supposed to be less liberal — I don’t know personally, since I don’t watch it). And newspaper readership is dropping, too. In fact, newspaper readership has dropped so much that the New York Times Company and Knight-Ridder are cutting jobs.

My question is, how would the those companies’ newspapers report the story if it were someone besides them doing the layoffs? How would they editoralize if, for example, it was farmer or steel workers being laid off? Part of the decline in sales is, rightly or wrongly, blamed on the Internet, and its free sources of information, including blogs. At the risk of giving these guys some bad ideas, Capital Freedom has some thoughts on how a lobbyist for the industry might deal with this problem:

I decided to think like a lobbyist for the newspapers, ignoring any moral objections to manipulating law in my favor at the expense of others, and asking myself: what would a lobbyist write … ?

We must save these jobs! Newspapers are an integral part of history and we cannot let them disappear due to the rise of weblogs and other online news sources! Think of the days as a child, watching your father sit at the table with his newspaper and coffee. Remember clipping articles about your favorite athletes. Consumers are falsely led to believe that the Internet is a good substitute for newspapers. We must do something to save the newspaper industry!

If I were a lobbyist, I’d start proposing a “FAIRNESS IN JOURNALISM” law. Here are two options.

Option 1
Stated reasoning:
How do we know that the information presented in blogs is accurate and well researched? In the interest of protecting the public from misinformation, we should require the leader of each organization that produces articles which may be seen as news to take classes or obtain licenses to ensure that they understand and communicate the news. All they have to do is have one representative from their organization take a course and they can write all they want! It is such a simple step and will ensure that Americans are getting reliable information.

Hidden reasoning:
This law eliminates our competition by reducing the supply of competitors. Although it applies “equally” to everyone, it does not impact everyone equally. This is its intent. From the perspective of the NYT, this representative would be one of many – a small percentage of the workforce. (If 4% = 500 workers, their total workforce is approximately 12,500; therefore one person out of 12,500 accounts for only .008 percent of the NYT workforce). However, let’s suppose that one person from Capital Freedom were required to take the same class. One person accounts for 100% of the “Capital Freedom workforce,” and that workforce has much better things to do with her time. We can easily put Capital Freedom and other blogs out of business!

Option 2
Stated reasoning:
News organizations need to start “giving back to the community.” As the NYT representative, I will be the first to support a law requiring all providers of information on current events to pay a flat $100 fee that will go to help the underprivileged in their community. Any news organization that refuses to pay the $100 is obviously doesn’t care about helping the community and should no longer be allowed to serve as a source of news.

Hidden reasoning:
Let’s suppose we charge $100 flat fee to post any news. For the NYT, this is pocket change – especially compared to the profits that they can make as a result of the law. For a blogger like myself, $100 has to be greater than the psychological benefit I get from maintaining a weblog in order for me to continue it. We would therefore observe a law which disproportionately affects those news organizations designed to generate little or no revenue. A licensing fee has the same effect.

Note that both of these “ideas” — and many more like them — have actually been applied in real life to real industries. Licensed professions have numerous fees and regulations which serve little purpose other than to restrict entry into the profession and thus protect those currently in the profession from competition. For example, in most U.S. cities, taxi drivers must have a “medallion” — a small piece of metal affixed to the car that costs thousands of dollars and serves no purpose other than to limit the number of taxis competing for riders, because there is a set number of medallions in circulation. (Most cities also regulate taxi prices, too.)

Another example: Farmers for certain crops (e.g., peaches, oranges, cranberries, and many others) are organized by the government into government-mandated cartels. It is basically illegal for anyone to start a farm and grow one of those crops without permission of the other farmers (i.e., of the cartel). If you start growing oranges in your backyard and sell them from a fruit stand in your front yard, you can literally be arrested. If you already have a farm and frow more oranges than the quota the cartel assigns you, the additional output can be siezed by the government and destroyed; you can then lose your permission to grow any oranges in future years. This serves no purpose whatsoever except to maintain higher prices for oranges (and products made from them, such as orange juice).

Another example: Lots of people think the bar exam is designed to protect the public from incompetent lawyers, but nearly everyone I know who’s taken the bar exam and worked as a lawyer for a couple of years claims that the material tested has almost nothing to do with what you need to know to be a competent lawyer. Most of what you need to know is not tested, and most of what is tested (they tell me) you do not need to know. The purpose of the exam is to protect lawyers from having too much competition. If you don’t believe this, then explain to me why the passing score on the bar exam in most states is set so that the pass rate matches the number of retiring lawyers plus the change in population. And if you still don’t believe me, explain why lawyers have to pay a couple of hundred dollars a year to maintain their licenses? How does a $200 annual fee to remain a lawyer protect the public from incompetent lawyers? (If it’s a test to see if a lawyer is competent enough to earn at least $200 a year, I’d suggest that a lawyer earning less than that is not doing enough lawyering to endanger the public anyway, so there is no need to “protect” the public from him/her. If the reason the lawyer can’t earn that much is incompetence, then I’d say that public is doing a pretty good job of protecting itself already!)

Global Warming — on Mars!

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:08 pm

Clayton Cramer writes:

I’ve previously mentioned the evidence of global warming happening on Mars, but here’s yet more evidence of it from JPL (a place that I used to work):

And for three Mars summers in a row, deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near Mars’ south pole have shrunk from the previous year’s size, suggesting a climate change in progress.

Instapundit comments:

If only we had ratified Kyoto.

Shouldn’t that be, “If only the Martians had ratified Kyoto”? Or better yet, “This proves that George W. Bush is a Martian!!!!!” ;-)

Clayton Cramer has more discussion and links on the science of all this here.

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