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.