The editor’s opinion from Marketplace, Northeast Wisconsin’s business magazine. (Obligatory disclaimer: Most hyperlinks go to outside sites, and we’re not responsible for their content. And like fresh watermelon, peaches, pineapple, grapefruit, tomatoes and sweet corn, hyperlinks can go bad after a while.)

April 4, 2008

It’s baaaaaaack

You didn’t seriously believe I was going to return as editor of Marketplace and Marketplace of Ideas wasn’t going to return, did you?

In fact, Marketplace of Ideas can now be found both online at (its temporary home) and in the printed version. (“Online” and “On Dead Tree,” as National Review terms their delivery vehicles.) This will help me with one of the challenges of writing the original Marketplace of Ideas, which was the four-week wait between issues. That was one reason many of the columns ran, shall we say, a bit long. (Insert your own snide comment here.)

Before we proceed further, I should give credit to Paul Gigot, Allouez native and editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal. He doesn’t know this, but Gigot, his predecessor Robert L. Bartley (who, like me, got a University of Wisconsin degree without becoming a raging leftist), and their colleagues were mentors to me in how to approach Marketplace of Ideas specifically, and opinion-mongering in general. Back in the 1990s, Gigot pointed out that the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion page was intended to reflect manifestations of a consistent philosophy — “free markets and free men,” or “people” in more politically correct language — instead of the “all opinions are valid” school of opinion page management found in most newspapers.

The result of the latter can be found, for instance, in the pages of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, owned by Journal Communications, whose Journal Community Publishing Group also publishes Marketplace. Back in the 1990s, the Journal Sentinel editorially opposed the Milwaukee school choice program, in which state funds are used to pay for Milwaukee children to attend private schools instead of Milwaukee Public Schools, the worst school system in Wisconsin and perhaps beyond. The constitutionality of sending private money indirectly to public schools was challenged, and the state Supreme Court decided that the Milwaukee choice program was indeed constitutional, since the money went to parents to be used on the private school of their choice instead of being sent directly to private schools.

The Journal Sentinel blasted this Supreme Court decision in their editorial’s headline: “An appalling decision on school choice.” They were wrong, of course (in fact, I’ll argue at some point that private school choice should be available to all children in Wisconsin). Perhaps they realized they were wrong, because less than a year later, the Journal Sentinel’s opinion page began extolling the virtues of the school choice program, without once admitting the error of their previous point of view or why it had changed, even to make the utilitarian argument that, well, now that the Supreme Court said it’s OK, we think so too. (Two words come to mind why that’s a lousy argument: “Dred Scott.”)

In fairness to the Journal Sentinel, the Opinion mongers claim to have a mission and guiding principles on which their opinions should be based. You can decide for yourself whether they actually follow those guiding principles.

Most newspapers with opinion sections (and those that do deserve credit for at least having them) take this kind of ad hoc philosophy; they’re for A, against B, counsel caution about C, and wax philosophical about D, perhaps reflecting the old Oakland Raiders’ philosophy that being right at any particular time is better than being consistent. (Which hasn’t worked too well for the Raiders in recent seasons, come to think of it.) Another group of opinion sections hits the grooved pitch, so to speak — they take such daring positions as favoring downtown revitalization and opposing drunk driving. Both approaches lack a consistent (or as consistent as humans can get) set of principles, or core values, on which opinions can be based.

Philosophies and core values are important, because they serve as a judge of your actions. For this space, the core value is freedom, in its economic, political and even personal dimensions. (Writing that may force me to take a position on drug legalization, which I will write about as soon as I figure out what my position on drug legalization is.) Markets are not perfect, because human beings aren’t perfect. But free enterprise is the best way mankind has devised, and will ever devise, for humans to realize and maximize our universal, “inalienable” human rights “endowed by our Creator” and identified in the Declaration of Independence — life, liberty, and the pursuit (not necessarily realization) of happiness. Economic freedom and political freedom are inseparable — one can exist without the other, but one cannot be maximized without the other.

Even though we are one of the freest countries on the planet, we suffer from a lack of freedom today. Government takes too much in taxes from us so that government can pass laws and regulations that limit our freedoms merely to limit our freedoms. (Yes, that applies to Republican-led government as well as Democrat-led government.) It is a problem for our democracy when a decreasing number of people are paying for government services through their taxes. (That’s one reason why, back in (what I thought was) my last Marketplace of Ideas, I made a modest proposal that only taxpayers should be allowed to vote.)

This column will also strive to point out the difference between government and society, and specifically the things for which government should and either cannot or should not be responsible. For instance, the trillions of dollars the federal government has spent on poverty and on education since the 1960s have produced nearly the same results as zero federal government spending on either would have achieved. Government’s performance improves markedly when it has a few responsibilities (for instance, national defense, road-building and enforcing the law) instead of trying to tell people how to live their own lives, whether those Nanny State efforts come from liberal or conservative impulses.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: To repeat what I wrote about a decade ago, even though I live in the birthplace of the Republican Party, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a card-carrying, dues-paying member of the Republican Party. (To foreshadow a future column, for instance, I believe the mainstream of the GOP is wrong about illegal immigration. The first presidential candidate I ever voted for was a Democratic candidate, clearly the most qualified in the Democratic field in 1984 … None of the Above.) I would argue the Republican Party represents the ideals that maximize freedom and benefit free enterprise better and more often than the Democratic Party, but certainly not all the time. The fact that the GOP supports some of what I support doesn’t mean I support all that the GOP supports.

One more thing to point out: This space reflects the opinions of the editor of Marketplace, and not necessarily the magazine itself, Journal Community Publishing Group, Journal Communications, or any of its other subsidiaries such as the Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin’s largest newspaper, or WGBA-TV (channel 26) in Green Bay. Agree or disagree, Marketplace of Ideas comes from the space between my ears.

You may note that this page is not merely Marketplace of Ideas, but the Marketplace of Ideas Blog, which will give visitors an opportunity to post comments on what they read here. The ground rules for blog responses can be summed up in the words of sports radio talk show host Jim Rome: “Have a take, and don’t suck.” In other words, agree, disagree or suggest alternatives to what you read, either from me or from the posters, but make an argument; don’t engage in name-calling or puerile insults. Those will be deleted by the blogmaster, who doubles as the editor of Marketplace.

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