Donald Trump

New York Times Thinks Businesses Are Dogs That Need Pre-emptive Choking From Government

"Leashes come off" corporations, newspaper warns, unwittingly suggesting why Trump's deregulations might have corrective merit.


The government, as ever, dresses terribly. |||

The New York Times on Monday published a useful if context-lite front-page article on the Trump administration's plans to roll back some federal regulations. Before delving into the policy content of the push, linger for a moment on the Paper of Record's headline, since it reveals much about why the default setting of the regulatory state is to grow forever: "Leashes Come Off Wall Street, Gun Sellers, Miners and More."

If I am understanding the metaphor correctly, financial companies, firearms merchants, and minerals-extractors, in addition to the headline's "more" as enumerated in the full article (telecoms, automakers, pharmaceutical companies, internet service providers, chicken farmers, hunters, and pretty much every corporation that pays salaries or owns property), are the equivalent of dogs, liable to wreak havoc—presumably by biting, pooping, or just roaming around in unsettling ways—unless restrained by a strap, preferably attached to a neck-collar, and controlled by the guiding hand of benevolent government. This from a paper known for being sensitive to the dehumanizing perils of comparing categories of human to animals. And to take figurative language even more literally, the implication of removing a leash is that the dog now runs free. Whatever one might think of either Donald Trump or Wall Street, the whiff of suggestion that the financial industry exists in a regulatory-free environment is flat bonkers.

The unspoken default assumption of the Times article, wince-inducingly familiar to those of us who have either worked for or consumed too much of mainstream American journalism, is that regulations can be assessed not by effectiveness but by virtuous intent. And that intent can be intuited by a selectively curated roster of who's for and against. Here is a typical passage:

Ajit Pai, a Republican whom Mr. Trump recently named as the F.C.C. chairman, has also made clear that he intends to push to roll back or abandon several other major rules, including the landmark net neutrality intended to ensure equal access to content on the internet, as well as efforts to keep prison phone rates down and a proposal to break open the cable box market.

The efforts have been praised by telecommunications giants, like Comcast, but condemned by consumer advocates.

Reading this you'd have no clue that there were consumer-oriented, non-self-interested arguments against net neutrality (neatly summarized in a whole Reason special issue, including a very interesting interview with Pai himself). Instead you're steered without subtlety to a conclusion that need not be troubled by further inquiry into cost and benefit. If evil Comcast is on one side, and "consumer advocates" are on the other, well, 'nuff said.

So: Team Regulation in this article is described variously as "public interest groups," "environmentalists," "labor unions," "consumer watchdogs," "nonprofit groups," and "Democrats." The radicals threatening to rip things up are called "corporate lobbyists," "trade association executives," "industry executives," and "Republicans." The lone exception to this presumed white hat/black hat framing comes when acknowledging that the American Civil Liberties Union took sides with the National Rifle Association (ewww!) in rolling back a late-Obama reg instructing the Social Security Administration to cough up names of people it classifies as having a mental illness to the national gun database in order to deny them the right to purchase weapons. "The Obama-era rules under attack have drawn objections even from some liberal groups," the paper said. The "SMDH" is implied.

At this point you may be asking, don't they have an opinion section for such editorializing? But as Scott Shackford pointed out one week ago, the paper's editorial board even more blatantly airbrushed not just the ACLU but also a bunch of non-conservative mental health groups who supported overturning this midnight regulation:

the New York Times editorial board completely ignored the background and acted like this effort to rescind the rule was a conspiracy between the Republicans and the National Rifle Association (NRA). The headline, "Congress Says, Let the Mentally Ill Buy Guns," should be perceived at this point as a deliberate choice to mislead the reader. At no point at the editorial does it even reference the due process concerns or acknowledge that the ACLU and NRA (and several groups with no connection to gun ownership controversies) are all on the same side here. Democrats who voted with the GOP are dismissed on the basis of being "up for re-election next year."

Reminder: The NYT's new ad campaign is based on the motto, "The truth is more important than ever."

Such a damn good movie. ||| YouTube

Part of media literacy in 2017 is reminding yourself in the mirror every morning, a la Roy Scheider's "It's showtime, folks!" in All That Jazz, that political journalism is not fundamentally about the results or propriety of policy, it's about the emotionally based competition of politics. Even at the most sophisticated level, supposedly journalistic treatments of governance are instead routinely processes of whittling down the facts and especially characters of a story so that you're left with the Obviously Bad Intentioned on one side and the Obviously Good on the other. We expect this reductionist intellectual shortcut from partisans and/or ideologues, but what too many behind the barricades of Respectable Journalism do not yet grok is that the rest of us have (sadly!) come to expect something similar from those allegedly in the impartial/fair information-spewing business. Surely life is more complicated than that Team X wishes unicorns and Team Y welcomes Satan.

What's especially frustrating to those of us with long enough memories is that not only did the political press once entertain the quaint notion that regulations and other government initiatives should be measured primarily on their effectiveness rather than presumed moral virtue, but so did some self-identified political tribes. A half century ago, Charles Peters, a good John Kennedy liberal, became so frustrated at the gap between policy intent and outcome that he launched a magazine, the Washington Monthly, to confront the problem. As I recounted four years ago:

"The government's struggle to reform itself has been the continuing political story of the 1970's," Peters co-wrote in the preface to a 1976 collection of Monthly articles, "but often the story has a familiar ending. No sooner has an agency been set up to save the environment, deliver the mails, cure the sick, or discover new sources of energy than it begins to behave like the many other government agencies, which were created years ago in similar bursts of enthusiasm but quickly crossed the threshold into bureaucratic ossification."

The less rigorous assumption that good people identifying real problems = justification for government activity is so widespread in newsrooms and (crucially!) regulatory agencies themselves—after all, why would you go work for the Environmental Protection Agency unless you sought to use state force on private actors to roll back pollution?—that the result is an almost unbroken trend line of regulatory mission creep and growth. As I (and plenty of others) have written at Reason again and again and again, the push to just do something, often portrayed as high-mindedly non-ideological, is in fact one of the most ideological reflexes in American politics, nearly assuring perpetual government growth. You don't have to squint to see that pathology impacting headlines even today.

This is one reason why so many journalists were apoplectic that President Trump had the gall to nominate critics of federal agencies to head them up. It's as if there's only one acceptable vision for regulatory policy, and that's to step on the gas pedal.

Donald Trump could go down as the biggest deregulatory president in history (as the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Myron Ebell, who headed Trump's transition team at the EPA, suggested to me last week). He also could quickly demonstrate the very real limits to a president's deregulatory ability in the absence of congressional commitment, as Regulation Editor Peter VanDoren recently told me. (Stay tuned for a forthcoming print-magazine feature on the topic.) Potential reform at the Food and Drug Administration alone could end up saving untold numbers of lives. On the other hand, the president's mercantilist notions on trade and immigration could overwhelm whatever positives flow from his deregulatory agenda. We just don't know yet.

One should (and we do) treat the administration's actions on a case by case (by case by case by case by case by case by case) basis. But seeing how even an informative and link-rich New York Times article on deregulation is blatantly framed suggests that the president's aggressive overall skepticism of the regulatory state might prove a long-overdue tonic to an intellectually lazy and policy incurious status quo.

NEXT: Feds Drop Child Porn Charges, Saying the Source of Their Evidence Is Secret

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. This is good article Mort. 12/10 would read more.

    1. The CEO of Starwood was on squawk box this morning saying the same thing. He said capitalism needs to have rails to keep the system in check. He likened the analogy to kids bowling with rails in the gutters.

      He admitted that he can make money when the government passes rules that limit the market place.

      That of course is not capitalism in any way shape or form. It is really fascism because outright government collusion and manipulation of market function. They don’t own it, they just tell their participants what to do. If you pay the lobbyists(i.e. politicians) you get to paly with that advantage.

      1. The CEO of Starwood was on squawk box this morning saying the same thing.

        That I said!??

        Capitalism does need rules. Like contracts are to be honored and property respected. Those are all the rails it needs, baby!

        I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it fascism, just millennia-old cronyism. More barriers, obstructions, rules means more work to be done, diverting wealth to those who do the work. See Bastiat’s… well, just about anything Bastiat wrote.

        1. Not what you said. I was referring to the title of article

          And yes, if all would read Bastiat, Hazlit, and Milton Friedman, free markets are easy to understand.
          Although I can never understand friedmAn’s belief in a functional federal reserve bank.

      2. Only by limiting my competition can I make more money

      3. Let’s be clear here: the CEO of Starwood Hotels needs regulations to keep his crappy company from being driven out of business by innovative companies like AirBnB.

  2. What is wrong with a button-up and jeans??

    1. That is what I am wearing at the moment.

      No one ever accused me of being a snappy dresser…

    2. In Silicon Valley he would be mistaken for upper management in a meeting with the client.

  3. So is the NYT against the First Amendment? Those crazy founders deregulated the press

    1. My thoughts exactly. Call me when the times writes an editorial about its own lack of control and oversight. I know, I know, that’s different…

      1. lately so called journalist have been suggesting that only approved journalist be allowed to write. How do you become approved? well through government regulation of course. may the snake they play with bite them in the ass

  4. “New York Times Thinks Businesses Are Dogs That Need Pre-emptive Choking From Government”

    Best headline ever!

    (Softly moans, fingers nipples)

    1. Fifty Shades of Regulations?

      1. Fifty Shades of Gray Lady?

        1. Will the real Fifty Shades please stand up?

    2. Whew! I need a cigarette. Anyone got a loosie or twelve for sale?

  5. Surely life is more complicated than that Team X wishes unicorns and Team Y welcomes Satan.

    Sadly, for some people it really isn’t.

  6. Government loves to be in the business of picking the winners and losers, because it is both lucrative and gives lots of chances for virtue signalling. And no politician will willingly give that power up…

    1. Aside from the control freakery, it’s the desire to look like a big wig as personified by Hollywood — bark orders, shout, stomp out of rooms with aids fluttering after and dropping papers. That’s what businessmen do, right?

      I knew an astrologer who was smart as a whip and no good as a student. She had studied engineering but didn’t have the patience to study things which had no immediate application. She admitted that she could give a better reading face-to-face without knowing birth date or location, than if she had birth date and location without meeting them — as much as admitted she was really good at reading people and astrology was bunk. I think she liked the books, the formulas and tables and calculator, and the competing theories to take sides with. It’s the same symptoms. I think politicians are jealous of businessmen who run companies and make big decisions, and thus they want all the trappings without any of the experience or background to actually know what they are doing.

      Like Tim Cook, who knows well all the ways Steve Jobs worked, but without any understanding of *why* Steve Jobs made those decisions. His successor will be just as fake and artificial. Same as John Rockefeller — his successors did not have his drive, only knew how to order people around and say teh words and write the memos, not what words to say or write.

      Politicians just skip the apprentice or inheritance step and go straight to imitation.

    2. Ben Franklin lobbied the government to grant him the office of postmaster so that he could deliver his newspaper when the prior postmaster wouldn’t. The prior postmaster had his own newspaper.

      I am not clear from the autobiography as to whether he continued to deliver his rival’s newspaper.

  7. “…and a proposal to break open the cable box market.”

    Good thing we are breaking open that cable box market. As always, that change it right on time.…..row-2016-5

  8. Government is just a word for us all choking dogs together.

    1. I don’t think i like this masturbation euphemism.

      1. “Go ‘way! Choking the Collie!”

        1. More like choking the Chihuahua, amirit? Well, it’s more alliterative, anyway.

  9. Yea where do they get this idea the reigns have been taken off wall street

    Because of that one rule? dodd frank is still around

    1. I thought they were dogs, not horses (and the word is “reins”).

      The reign in Spain falls mainly on the plane.

  10. All regulations should be reviewed by the FDA for safety and efficacy before being enforced.

  11. ‘New York Times Thinks *OTHER* Businesses Are Dogs That Need Pre-emptive Choking From Government’

    NOT the NYT, of course.

    1. Try explaining to the “corporations aren’t people, money isn’t speech” mob that their beloved NYT is a corporation.

      1. I’ve had the same difficult conversation with the League of Women Voters. “But they won’t limit US from publishing our voter guides before elections.”

        1. To me the actual sad thing is that most of those people are right. I asked, “What if they made your favorite activity illegal?” The answer: “They wouldn’t.” That’s the sad reality. What these people like is popular and/or favored by the empowered, so they don’t mind the law suppressing the unpopular and/or disfavored. So the ability of edicts to do that isn’t a problem for them.

      2. And that the US govmint is the biggest corporation and it can legally wiggle the barrel of a gun in your face and lock you in a cage.

  12. This is my proggy friends — we need government to stop evil businesses from being evil. If we didn’t have regulations (“protections”) then it would just be the wild west.

    It baffles the mind that these people think voluntary transactions (markets) are bad yet government force / theft / violence is good.

    Sorta like when they say Walmart isn’t a giant company because people freely choose to shop there. No, Walmart doesn’t succeed because it creates value, it is because people are FORCED to shop there.

    1. Obviously they are forced to shop there because the prices are so cheap! Only an idiot would shop elsewhere. Why are the prices so low? Because they don’t pay their workers a living wage. Also, the workers are forced to work there at low pay because they are the only job around. Telling someone they can work elsewhere is unfair and if every company could do that, then we would be forced to work for free. Anyone who works 40 hours a week deserves free shit. Get with the times or I will steal more money from your paycheck. Actually I’m going to do that regardless so GFY.

  13. I propose regulations on the press to make sure pubs like the nyt arent lying or embellish ing in order to protect consumers!

  14. Democrats who voted with the GOP are dismissed on the basis of being “up for re-election next year.”

    But wait! If, as the gun control folks say, 90% of people want gun control, why would politicians fear being unelected if they vote for it?

    Cognitive disconnect.

  15. The problem with this idea of “big bad government coming in to regulate the internet market” is that the ENTIRE NATURE of our internet market is due to government regulations. The government needs to either get all the way or all the way out on this; what Pai’s talking about can’t work if you’re still going to have an ISP market where they all have government-granted monopolies that guarantee that it’s easier to just gouge their captives instead of actually innovating to keep making money.

  16. Some of the horrible headlines mentioned remind me of the Op-Ed that Mitt Romney wrote before he ran for president again in 2012. It was about the auto bailout, and it was quite fair, but the headline made it sound as if he was telling anyone within that industry to drop dead. It haunted him from day one in Ohio.

    Beware of headlines, period. But if you ever write an Op-Ed, only allow someone to run it if they give you a voice as to what the headline is, because that’s what most people are going to remember.

  17. Democrats who voted with the GOP are dismissed on the basis of being “up for re-election next year.”

    Heaven forbid elected representatives should take into account the preferences of their constituents!

  18. Do You want to get good income at home? do you not know how to start earnings on Internet? there are some popular methods to earn huge income at your home, but when people try that, they bump into a scam so I thought i must share a verified and guaranteed way for free to earn a great sum of money at home. Anyone who is interested should read the given article…

  19. just as Phillip implied I am alarmed that someone can get paid $6887 in one month on the computer . published here………….

  20. I think Wall Street has demonstrated that it needs a lot of leashes, given the current environment of bailouts. Unleashing the financial industry is an epically stupid thing to do (albeit less stupid than bailing them out when they engage in excesses)….

  21. I’m really, really glad to see more Matt Welch articles on Reason. Yeah, it makes me feel old, but we need a little of that old-school stuff around here.

  22. No sooner has an agency been set up to save the environment, deliver the mails, cure the sick, or discover new sources of energy than it begins to behave like the many other government agencies, which were created years ago in similar bursts of enthusiasm but quickly crossed the threshold into bureaucratic ossification.”

    1976. I remember those Democrats. Skeptical of institutional power. Distrustful of the Federal Government. Long gone. Likely never to be seen again.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.