Sunday, February 08, 2009


I've been mulling over this post for a while. My initial response, posted in comments there, was made up of roughly equal parts of snark, genuine offense and a vague sense of humor. Rob Natelson responded with a list of editorial stances he favors for pro-freedom newspapers that I can't quite get out of my head.

None of this is aimed at Evelyn Pyburn or the Big Sky Business Journal. My own labors in the weekly business have made me an admirer of her tenacity, and she is a bulldog on open meetings and open records issues. She also is a committed libertarian on economic matters, which makes her editorials and columns a tad on the predictable side.

Voters consistently and decisively defeat libertarian candidates at the polls, but one might still wonder: Would we be freer people if we elected libertarians? My guess: We would be a weaker, poorer country with dirty, polluted cities, a crumbling transportation system and unlimited access to pornography and marijuana. Might be worth it.

But to Mr. Natelson's proposed editorial stances for a pro-freedom newspaper:

1. Promoting public-private school choice even if you personally think public education is a good idea. There is no serious movement afoot that I am aware of to prevent people from attending private schools or even home schooling. There is a dispute over whether parents with school-age children should get a tax break to send their kids to the school of their choice. Sure, we could all have easier lives if the government gave us preferred tax treatment, but what does that have to do with freedom?

2. Consistently opposing federal pork, even if it’s for Montana. Only vaguely related to freedom, if at all. There is no constituency for pork, except its immediate beneficiaries, who are most of us. And one man's pork is another man's broccoli. If you consider that our freedom derives in part from access to resources, then I guess you could argue that pork diminishes freedom by using resources less efficiently. But it's a thin connection.

3. Favoring a return to a market-based health care system. Odd choice. Our public-private health care mix actually limits freedom in important ways. For example, it ties people to jobs they don't want so they can keep insurance. And for the 50 million or so Americans with no insurance, it means they are just an illness away from financial ruin. I guess our system does mean that we have more choice over doctors we use. But just try to find solid information about who the bad doctors are.

4. Opposing tax hikes, even though the money would go for your favorite programs. Just bizarre. How does it limit my freedom if I willingly pay taxes for programs I favor? I can't build highways on my own, or maintain parks, or fund a library, or raise an army. I have to pay taxes to do these things. And sometimes, like it or not, prices go up. Do you have any idea how much an aircraft carrier cost in 1776?

5. Cutting regulations that prevent people from engaging in consensual conduct, even when you disagree with that conduct. OK, I'm for that, which is why I think gay people should be allowed to marry and Michael Phelps ought to be able to puff on a bong without stirring up a national snit. So Rob and I are both liberals on this point.

Of course, what's really remarkable about the list is what isn't on it. Nothing, for instance, about the freedoms that really do matter: habeas corpus, banning torture, an independent judiciary, open government, the First Amendment, and so on. My guess is that Evelyn is on the side of freedom on most of those issues, as are, in fact, most newspapers.

Maybe more so, even, than most conservatives.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post, David. I've been listening to the ideas of what passes as conservative these days and have become thoroughly depressed. I am so sick of those catch-phrases that everyone uses in what passes as thoughtful discussion: "pro-freedom" (as if liberals, centrists, and anyone else not on the far right is "anti-freedom"); "family values" (as if someone such as I, married for over thirty years to the same man, the mother of two children, and a reliable worker who tends to vote for Democrats, has no such values), "pork" (which, as you say so well: "one man's pork is another man's broccoli"). We hide behind these words; they're shorthand for those who wish to deceive or for those who really don't want to examine their ideas clearly. Peeling away the thick veneer of accumulated connotation might reveal we have far more in common than the labels suggest.


Anonymous said...

My GOD but you're an uppity fellow, Mr. Crisp. Gregg smith would say that you have NO right to criticize someone of robbie's academic stature! I mean, after all, the guy is a law school pervessor, and therefore above petty questioning from commoners. Hell, the wingnuts call O'Bama The One, when in reality, we in Montana KNOW who the REAL one is, the nutty perverssor! (funny how the REAL one only appears on the sycophancy sites!Fancy that!)

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers!

Chuck Rightmire said...

Pyburn's editorials really do come out of right field. They may be carefully crafted, but the facts are also carefully crafted to appear to favor her stances. I also read PERC's material rather carefully a few years ago and used its material in the ag papers until I came across an egregious and what must have been a deliberate attempt to fake a photo in Yellowstone Park. In addition, its findings are also carefully crafted to support its positions. It is in line with Libertarian positions which sound really good until you realize that free market programs are doomed to fail, as are non-government programs, because we always seem to wind up with oligopolistic or monopolistic results when the free market is allowed to run rampant. But then, how would we know? When we had the freeest markets in this country, government was used to prop them up by putting down workers who tried to better their positions. That was no more free market than anything else. Government is there to stand up for its citizens in a variety of ways and, as Thomas Jefferson said, if it doesn't do it, then it's time to change. We have changed to some extent although not as much as Europe has or we wouldn't have some of the crises we have in the country today: health, in particular. And everytime you cite Rob Natelson for any thing he says you are doing the state of Montana a disservice. He is a discredit to our state and to the University of Montana law school. He should go back to Connecticut because he sure isn't the type of Montanan my great-grandparents favored.

Mark T said...

Great post, Mr. Crisp. Too bad Rob never ventures outside ECW. He won't read it.

Mr. Natelson, more than anyone I know except trust babies, is completely insulated from the free market. No wonder he's so fond o fit.

We would be a weaker, poorer country with dirty, polluted cities, a crumbling transportation system and unlimited access to pornography and marijuana. Might be worth it.

Abortion would also be illegal. He can only stand so much freedom.