Financial Regulation

Thomas Frank Baffled By Difference Between Public and Private Behavior


In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, house liberal Thomas "What's the MatterWith Kansas" Frank squinted hard enough to perceive hypocrisy in Reason celebrating the proliferation of pornography as "John Stuart Mill's wet dream" in 2001 (thanks, Nick Gillespie!), yet "apparently join[ing] forces with the scolds" in 2010 by writing that "Regulators inevitably download porn, either figuratively or literally" (thanks, Matt Welch!). Since the distinction is apparently elusive, despite me beginning my piece with "we watch porn at work, too," let me spell it out in crayon:

People being free to download porn between consenting adults: Good.
People spending eight hours a day downloading porn at the SEC: Bad. Because we are paying their salary.

See how that works? More Frank:

What we have here, in other words, is a lesson in the eternal futility of government. Federal employees will download images from skankwire-dot-com; as stunted moral creatures, it's just what bureaucrats do. Regulation will always fail; the answer is to quit trying.

What all of this overlooks is the highly advanced concept known as "change." The purpose of federal agencies can be redefined and their personnel changed.

1) I don't think bureaucrats are definitionally "stunted moral creatures," I think bureaucracies (especially those run by the government) are inherently inefficient, and thus far more likely to either tolerate or endure unknowingly employees who don't produce.

2) I don't think "regulation will always fail," nor do I think we should "quit trying." What I meant was what I said: "Expecting regulators to do their job well, let alone magically prevent whatever private-sector outcomes we do not like, is as fantastical as the assertion that George W. Bush was a deregulatory president." It's the kind of thing to keep in mind when commentators are presenting a new regulatory scheme as the kind of magical do-or-die bullet that Bush himself depicted with Sarbanes-Oxley: "No more easy money for corporate criminals, just hard time…. The era of low standards and false profits is over."

And 3) What about that highly advanced concept of "change," including of "personnel," that Frank speaks of? Here's a headline for you: "Agency confirms that SEC porn scandal resulted in zero firings."

Jesse Walker on Frank's ham-handed attacks against libertarians here.

NEXT: Driving While White

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  1. To be honest, in most government agencies I would rather have all of the employees watch porn all day than do their “jobs”. Their jobs usually consist of oppressing people. I would rather they watch porn than do that.

    1. When this story broke, it included the detail that one government employee was downloading porn 8 hours a day.

      They expect us to believe that a government bureaucrat was in his office 8 hours a day!

      1. Can you just imagine the shite-storm that would have resulted if Congress could have demonstrated that folks at Goldman had spent 8 hours a day downloading porn? Or some drug company people? Or someone associated w/ the Tea Party?

        Honestly, I don’t give a shite what lonely bored people do with their time and computers. It’s just the way the press and our fearless leaders are allowed to manipulate (or completely ignore) these individual cases that gets my goat. (No double entendre intended, so… get your mind out of the gutter!!!)

      2. Well, Yeah! After all, he probably has a lot more bandwidth there than he would on his mobile phone or at home. Plus, his mom, wife, significant other, etc. isn’t in the office to get pissed at him.

    2. “1) I don’t think bureaucrats are definitionally “stunted moral creatures,”

      I’m a bureacrat, a definitionally stunted moral critter, and DAMN proud of it.

      You can take away my moral turpitude when you pry it out of my cold, dead, internet-porn-site-clicking-fingers!

      And I prefer to think of what I do (or more accurately don’t do) as malingering for freedom.

  2. And yet still not as dumb as Ezra Klein fumbling with Netflix.

  3. Now that we know there’s an audience within the regulatory leviathan, Rule 34 dictates that we start producing porn for that audience. Who’s in?

    1. Wouldn’t be a natural for that audience?

      1. That would be

    2. Sure, what kind of porn is most likely to attract a mostly government-employee audience? Perhaps it should be set in a Washington D.C. bureaucratic audience. All of the actors must be speaking their sweet love in bureaucratese.

      1. I’m thinking something BDSM themed with many, many complicated rules for both tops and bottoms, long winded and dull repetitive tasks, intensely punitive attitudes and sessions, exceptionally dull and slovenly costumes, and very little actual sex (all penetration would be anal of course). Oh and very little “release.”

        So scratch my first suggestion.

        1. So poorly-written BDSM stories, then?

          1. Sounds about right. Maybe with a political fanfic angle. Oof.

        2. Well, no. Sexual fantasies and role-playing usually involve people doing the opposite of what they do in their daily lives.

          So, I’m guessing turn-ons for bureaucrats would be the exact opposite of dbcooper’s post. I’m going with them dressing like Matt Welch and acting cosmotarian.

      2. I think Futurama already covered this. Fry and Morgan Proctor, bureaucrat grade 19, hooked up repeatedly.

    3. Every scene would need at least three actors: the two primary talents and one dressed as a bureaucrat overseeing the proceedings to make sure everything was done according to regs.

      The money shot would always involve issuing punitive fines for infractions.

    4. And none of that cool, funky 70’s background music. Some sort of slow, heavy, Russian dirge would be more appropriate.

  4. I’m surprised you waited this long to respond to this tool. I was hoping you’d just ignore him, as I try to do when reading the WSJ, but good lord was this article stupid -even by his already subterranean standards.

    I appreciate that the WSJ tries to have him as their “token liberal columnist” but couldn’t they have found someone a little less insane, like say, Andrew Sullivan?

    1. Ouch.

    2. The WSJ has Thomas Frank for the same reason that the NYT has David Brooks: to make their readers feel good about themselves.

      The way this works in each case is totally different, however. David Brooks gives NYT readers the illusion that they aren’t living their lives in a vast liberal echo chamber. Thomas Frank reassures WSJ readers that liberal intellectuals are, in fact, insane assholes.

      1. Me thinks you are being too kind to Thomas Frank.

        1. Including Thomas Frank on the masthead is just one of many ways Murdoch has largely ruined the once-august WSJ and turned it into “USA Today for people who can read.”

          Calling Frank an asshole is inaccurate; that implies he has some idea what he is doing.

          1. I’ll happily disagree with you Frank.

            Speaking from purely anecdotal experiences, I’ve met far more incompetent assholes than I have competent ones.

  5. Really, is there a factory where they stamp out these little liberal government fellating dickwads? Yeah, Tommy give this one the “I don’t get the ‘law of diminishing returns’ as it applies to government regulation chip and a face that will invite…..well, punches to the face! Get it on to the truck right away!

    God I’m tired of these guys!

  6. People being free to download porn between consenting adults: Good.

    So cosmotarians think freedom of porn is actually “good”.

    (As opposed to it being a bad idea for the government to police such things for practical reasons.)

    Nice to know.

    1. Do you trust Obama to inspect your computer’s hard drive? Just asking.

      1. I think the only rational approach at this point is to assume he and his little wizards might be inspecting your hard drive, either now or later. Act accordingly.

    2. Do you think porn is bad? Please say yes, I need some amusement.

      1. Yes, I need some amusement.

        Now give me some porn to amuse me.

        1. Slightly off topic, but is it just me or does mall-cell-phone-kiosk Reason Girl seem unusually attractive today?

      2. No to be too serious or too much of a bummer – and I have to admit that on occasion I feel compelled to check out Anal Milf Slutbags Gone Wild and such, but, more than anything I find porn to be sad – a sad substitute for a fulfilling sexual relationship. I don’t think there is anything morally bad about porn because I don’t think there is anything morally bad about sex, but I do think there is a distinctive depressing aspect to it.

    3. Duuuuuuude…seriously? dude, c’mon dude

      Fuck man, jeez dude.

      You used to be cool dude, I just don’t know anymore.

      1. Capitol You used to be my ex-brother in law didn’t you?!

        1. Maybe, could be. Did your ex-brother in-law drink copious amounts of Old Milwaukee and wave his .357 Python around at taco bell ’cause they gave him mild sauce instead of hot sauce.

          I told that daffy fucking bitch… hot, h o motherfucking t sauce.

          If so, than maybe we are kinda related..
          Do you use paypal, see I could use a few bucks and you know times is hard, and the screen door factory shut down and all…

          1. cap l, your description sounds remarkably familiar…

            Aren’t you the fella that was trying to get someone to buy your cirrhotic Swiss cheese liver?

            And you were complaining about your head “being mush”?

            I also don’t suppose you have a lovely yellow tan and have track marks six ways from Sunday?

            Or is yor excuse you got to sleep with Pamela Anderson?

              1. I’ll need your PayPal account dude, that’ll be $375. 🙂 And I’d like to buy a vowel Pat, a “u” please.

                1. Dang it, I just came here to spange, cause someone told me that libertarians were rich capitalists. But you wily fuckers will bleed me dry yet… Damn you Dr. Giggles! Damn you straight to hell!!

                  *shakes fist at sky*

                  Oh yeah, Stossel is on now. He has
                  Lou ‘I am not a protectionist’ Dobbs on, boy he is a slippery shit.

                  1. Lou ‘I am not a protectionist’ Dobbs on, boy he is a slippery shit.

                    Interesting choice of words on a thread about teh pron. I take it he didn’t use a condom with you? Did you use the warming lube or the kiwi flavored?

                    A Lou Dobbs fling would be consistent with the sophisticated cap l.

                    1. After the therapist handed me the sandwich and asked “Show me on the falafel where he touched you” I ran out and tried to forget about everything that had happened to me. I spent my life moving from one high to the next, hopping from one bed to the next, but the damage had been done.

                      But, as we all know, the past is prelude, and we can no more deny our past than we can deny ourselves.

                      Here is my story…

                      Oh wait, dammit all to hell that was my Bill O’Reilly rape memoir. Fuck, I know I got that Dobbs forced sodomy retrospective around here somewhere.

                      Jeez, these talking heads just all merge into one demon… the horror! the horror!

                    2. Heh heh. You’d better keep refilling that PayPal account cap l. You just bought me a round of golf and an escort.

    4. the government to police such things for practical reasons

      “Practical reasons?” To what are you referring?

      1. Me ‘n dude used to hit all the strip clubs you know, lived it up. Titties, coke, champagne all that shit, and then he found jesus. Now he thinks titties are icky and thinks you should feel icky too.

      2. I meant, “for practical reasons it is a bad idea for police to enforce that sort of thing.”

        1. Dammit, your logic ruined my whole white-trash flashback. I haven’t always been the witty, urbane, and sophisticated capitol l.

          Mea culpa, Mr. Dude.

    5. Saying “People being free to download porn between consenting adults: Good.” is not the same as saying that downloading porn is good.

      It is the same as saying it’s “…a bad idea for the government to police such things…”

      1. I’ll go with “downloading porn is good”

        1. Why do we need to go beyond “Porn is good”? It’s snappy, it’s three syllables and it fits nicely on t-shirts and bumper stickers.

    6. Some people like porn.

  7. He looks like Stephen Colbert after getting really constipated from a stroke. And he writes like it too. Jeebus.

    1. Hate to be pedant, but if he was that constipated, he would have vagalled from the overstimulation of the bowel and most likely had a cerebral hemmorhage secondary to an anyeurism (Cerebral Hemorrhage NOS), which is a type of hemorrhagic stroke. I suspect an usual love affair with Metamucil in this gentleman’s case, which would have lead to toxic megacolon. Progressives tend to have unusual preoccupation with regularity.

      And yes, his writing leaves much to be desired. But then, so does mine:-)

      1. No, I really do think he looks (and writes) like that. He has the stroke victim’s blank stare and tiny constipated frown.

        1. Gems like this one?

          What all of this overlooks is the highly advanced concept known as “change.” The purpose of federal agencies can be redefined and their personnel changed.

          The douchey comb-over, Lennon glasses and pink oxford certainly doesn’t help.

        2. I barely understood what Groovus Maximus said anyway.

          1. Bleeding in the brain from straining to clear an overstuffed shit canal caused by a bulk laxative. 🙂

              1. Shit Happens!

              2. I think you knew that Art, you were just testing me 😉

                1. No, I honestly wasn’t quite sure what you meant by overstimulation of the bowel!

                  1. He was going with gay anal sex, but got chickened out at the last minute and gave an alternate interpretation of all that Latin docspeak.

  8. Sounds like this dude has a LOT of spare time on his hands!


    1. Sure does, man…sure does.

    2. He’s got something on his hands! LOL DUDEZ!

  9. I don’t think bureaucrats are definitionally “stunted moral creatures,”

    Why not?

    They have the option not to be tumors on society. They don’t take it.

    Free will + doin’ asshole stuff = Asshole.

    1. Why do you hate the troops?

      1. Why do you hate the troops?

        I’m so sick of fat ass bureaucrats sitting in their comfy chairs all fucking day using my bullet dodging skills to justify their useless existence. Choke on a ham sandwich, Momma Cass.

      2. Soldiers != bureaucrats.

        Also: shut the fuck up, Tony, you wretched asshole.

        1. Y’all don’t get too upset by the poop flinging cowards like Tony.

          It’s like my father told me when I joined the Army, “Some people are too red to earn their stripes, and too yellow to join the other side. All they can do is spit at you and run away. So in response, hold your head high, feel pity for their shame, and only plant your foot in their ass if they get close enough.”

    2. “I don’t think bureaucrats are definitionally “stunted moral creatures,” is probably the lamest thing I have read on Hit & Run.

      ? is showing common ?? in his reponse.

      1. Not all bureaucrats share the same qualities.

    3. It’s not as though all bureaucrats are pubsec anyway.

  10. Since the distinction is apparently elusive, despite me beginning my piece with “we watch porn at work, too,” let me spell it out in crayon:

    “Me beginning”? Were you raised by wolves?

    1. Matt, you just aren’t having a good week, are you?

      1. On the contrary, I’m laughing ALL the time.

        1. Are you a ninja? I hear they exist to laugh all the time. Or something.

      2. He gets paid (OK, OK, poorly, but still) to post stuff on Reason.

        Of course he’s having a good week. Not as good a job as porn quality control inspector, but still …


      1. I’m sorry, Matt (assuming you even see this ever), I just couldn’t resist.

  11. I empathize with you. HA! Take that Marshall Gill and Tman.

  12. “What all of this overlooks is the highly advanced concept known as ‘change.'”

    No, libertarians love the idea of government agencies “changing”. We just want them to change from something big to something small. Ceasing to exist altogether could also be considered a “change”.

    The problem is, as far as I can tell, the only “change” the government wants is the shiny, clinky disks in my pocket.

  13. Given the Harry Potter look, I’d say he’s attracted to 12 year old girls…

    1. Hey, Emma Watson’s 18!

  14. I’m just baffled by people who refuse to act in their own interests as defined by me, as opposed to themselves. What’s the matter with them? It must be them, right? It can’t possibly be me.

    I mean, sure, there are problems with government, but they can be fixed if we just put the right people in charge. Why haven’t we ever tried that? Why, the idea is pure genius, and will so obviously work that I have to question the ulterior motives of anybody who might possibly doubt it!

  15. Now, for the really sad part, he was listening to Boston’s ‘More Than A Feeling’ and mistook it for Kansas when he came up with the title
    “What’s the Matter With Kansas”, and,yes, I wished that joke came to me around seven o’clock yesterday evening when this thread was fresh.

  16. Does anyone else here think that Thomas Frank bears an uncanny resemblance to Stephen Colbert?

    1. I think he looks like an extremely pussified Robert Downey Jr.

  17. “Thomas Frank’s ham-handed” is redundant.

    I read a few of his pieces in the WSJ, and determined that he really isn’t capable of making a point. What he writes is so transparently stupid, it’s not worth reading.

    He does have one skill: turning real people and real events into straw men.

    That’s all he did here.

  18. Specialized pornography for regulators:

    How about a young single mom on her knees in a back room trying to persuade a bureaucrat to approve life saving surgery for her baby? The dialogue practically writes itself.

  19. Frank Rich is a twit — and he looks like it. If I was going to draw a picture of a mealy-mouthed, dweeby, emasculated liberal, I would draw Frank Rich.

  20. Glad someone reads Tom Frank. Y’know, so I don’t have to.

  21. Never trust a man with two first names.

  22. We should rejoice everytime a bureaucrat goofs off because that means he or she isn’t regulating us. We should give raises to the most non-productive gov’t employees because the non-productivity of the gov’t sector increases the productivity of the private sector.

  23. Thomas Frank, you are the turd in the punchbowl of my daily reading of the Wall Street journal. Kansas is self-sufficient and self-reliant and is therefore conservative and not looking for the graft and hand-outs of so many blue states. I guess you think that’s WRONG Mr. Frank, you asshat! I’m not surprised you can’t understand the proper place for porn.

  24. Well, to all of you who want your gubmint officials to watch porn rather than oppressing us peasants, please send them to

    Of course, feel free to browse yourself.

  25. I find the “Bad. Because we are paying their salary” line baffling. Does Welch think:

    (a) the SEC has important regulatory functions to perform, for which we pay them, and the porn-surfing is a worrisome sign they’re failing to do these functions?
    (b) the SEC has no useful role, but their main burden on society is the salaries they draw?
    (c) the SEC burdens society with unnecessary regulations, but since that’s too intellectually taxing, let’s talk about how we’re paying them to watch porn?

  26. T. Frank, like most “progressive” “intellectuals,” has stuffed Matt Welch full of straw and is proceeding to knock the stuffing out of him. This is typical for his style of argument: invent rationales ahead of time and try to locate facts that prove them out.

    He would be more effective if he would not try to caricature what is evidently a way-too-subtle critique of the problem, namely that (a) moral failings are inherent in ALL men, which is why they should not be entrusted with too much power. And (b) that because men aren’t angels, laws (and workplace rules) should be enforced vigorously and equally.

    But this is obviously way over his head, as one who has already assumes Matt prefers a Hobbesian state to the one that presently persists. What’s the matter with Thomas Frank, anyway? I submit he is just like Zero: someone who only knows the barest outlines of what his political opponents actually stand for and substitutes prejudice, inference and fantasy for the rest.

    In a way, this reification is nothing more than a reflection of what the MFM has been doing for years with Hollywood’s help. If the Wall Street Journal were an honest paper it would fire Frank and hire Mickey Kaus as its in-house liberal. At least Kaus has a sense of humor and intelligence.

  27. Oh, and here’s another nice one. SEC Happy Hour.

    Bottoms up!

  28. A lot of things baffle Tom, including, apparently, how to use a comb.

  29. “1) I don’t think bureaucrats are definitionally “stunted moral creatures,”

    I’m a bureacrat, a definitionally stunted moral critter, and DAMN proud of it.

    You can take away my moral turpitude when you pry it out of my cold, dead, internet-porn-site-clicking-fingers!

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