If I had to come up with a list of ideas that made up the off-brand form of small-l libertarianism I believe in, this notion would be high up on the list: giving the state power to do things you like inevitably empowers it, and encourages it, to do things you don't like. Does that mean we should never give the state power? No. But it means that giving the state power is an enterprise that we should view with great caution, like bringing a handgun or a vicious guard dog into a house with small children. It's possibly appropriate and necessary for mutual protection, but only after sober consideration of the risks and of our capacity to manage them, only after painstaking and deadly serious measures to keep the dog or gun locked up, and only with vigilant continued monitoring. We don't want the dog to bite the kids or the kids to play with the gun. But it is in the nature of the kids to play with the gun given the opportunity and the nature of the dog to bite if teased by the kids, and we'd be reckless fools not to anticipate it. It's also in the nature of state actors to strain to expand their authority and use such power as we give them to impose their vision of The Good Society on others.
Case in point, newspapers.
Only a few nutters on the right or the left want to give the state power to regulate newspaper editorial content. (The nutters on the right are enraged that newspapers committed high treason by questioning the President in a time of war; the nutters on the left are enraged at a list of things too banal and nonsensical to even satirize). Yet plenty of people will swallow honeyed words about how the state can help the struggling newspaper industry, or prevent unfair competition within it, through measures like the Newspaper Preservation Act. Those are such lovely motivations. How could it go wrong?
Well, the state — once empowered to "help" the industry — could use that power to attack editorial content it doesn't like using, say, an antitrust theory. Hence, once the state has lured failing papers to band together to survive under special antitrust exceptions, the state could use the scope of those exceptions as an excuse to dictate whether — in its own view — the "breadth, depth, and accuracy . . . and most attractive mix of news, features, and editorials" has been preserved. I'm not sure what "most attractive mix" means, but there may well be a Deputy Assistant Attorney General For Weather Graphics and Column Width Regulation who used to work in-house at USA Today.
So maybe a newspaper owner, faced with economic ruin and a state eager to wield a red pen, might say to hell with it and stop publishing a dead-tree paper. Not so fast, citizen! Show us your papers, so to speak. Once again the state will use its antitrust power, in the name of competition, to demand that you keep publishing.
As I write this some voices are suggesting that we rescue the dead-tree newspaper industry through tax law. Of course tax law has NEVER been abused to exert control, so this ought to be just fine.
So hey, keep giving the government power. Because they're here to help you. And I'm sure this time they won't put that power to any broader use than you hoped.
(Arizona story via.)
Edited to add: more of the same, from Coyote Blog:
“Since the very public employees they continually criticize are now their owners, we strongly believe that those who currently run the editorial pages should be replaced,” Weber wrote in a March 26 letter to Platinum CEO Tom Gores.
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