Shielding Banality


In Slate, Jack Shafer takes apart Sunday's Washington Post report on Iraq's flat tax—not for being inaccurate, though he does spot a couple of errors, but for its bizarre yet distressingly common approach to anonymous sourcing.

Consider the man identified only as "one economist familiar with the area," who informed the Post that "At the previous 40 percent to 50 percent, Russian people were evading. Now at a lower rate, they are paying because the penalties are so heavy." Comments Shafer: "Who is the Post protecting here with the blessing of anonymity? Is the source going to lose his job because he said Russians evaded their onerous taxes more in the past than in the flat tax present? When did the Post start protecting the right of economists to speak in hushed, off-stage tones about the patently obvious?"

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  1. Chances are the unnamed source is someone who would be highly respected in this country. His comments extolling the virtues of a flat tax would be seized upon by domestic tax reformers.

  2. Jesse,

    The point is that ANY taxation system would be better than the one the Russians had before the flat tax was enacted. In other words, just because the system they have now is better than the one they had in the past, does not mean that everyone should run and implement a flat tax.

  3. No, JB, the point is to wonder why the anonymous economist saying so is anonymous. They couldn’t find a reputable economist familiar with the situation who would say it for attribution?

    I don’t know about you, but given recent events I’ve become really suspicious of anonymous sources.

  4. Jean wrote, “The point is that ANY taxation system would be better than the one the Russians had before the flat tax was enacted.”

    Maybe that’s the point you’re really itching to get across, but I don’t see how it’s related to what Jesse wrote.

  5. Ah, well, apparently I read his write-up too quickly. My apologies Jesse. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  6. I confess. I am the unnamed source.

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