Thoughts on the NFL abuse scandal

The NFL is being forced to backtrack and install harsher penalties following the outrage of the video of Ray Rice knocking out his wife being released and Adrian Peterson being indicted for child abuse. While the attention has focused on both instances of abuse as well as the response of the NFL, I would like to consider the broader cultural implications of the story.

First, I think the outrage is driven by a certain cultural elitism. When Roman Polanski was arrested for raping a 13 year old child in Switzerland in 2009 after spending 30 years hiding from justice the public outrage was muted. In fact, numerous well known movie and television personalities expressed their support for him.  Despite this, there was no conversation about the moral failure of Hollywood. The NFL is being excoriated in the media, not for defending Rice and Peterson, but for not punishing them harshly enough. Part of the reason for this different treatment is that sports fans and players are seen as unsophisticated. They need to be told how to act while famous movie directors are the kind of people the media enjoys talking to at cocktail parties.

The second point is the blurring of the line between private and public. The NFL, not the police, is expected to punish Ray Rice for assaulting his wife. Or, if the law treats domestic violence too lightly. Then the focus should be on changing the law, not the NFL. That people, especially the liberal elite, are expecting a private actor to punish what is a public crime, especially because the public punishment failed, is somewhat ironic. Especially so because it contributes to the conflation of public and private, a distinction I imagine they would assert they want to keep.

Lastly, from the target of the outrage and the response we can infer several things. First, private monopolies are extremely sensitive to public pressure, though the NFL is especially so because it is in the entertainment business. The NFL changed their domestic abuse policy after the outrage and pressured Adrian Peterson into not playing.  Second, public monopolies such as the police force are not responsive to public pressure. There has been no additional attempt to prosecute Ray Rice in spite of the outrage, though that is probably a good thing as we do not want justice to be swayed by public opinion. Third, those arguing for additional sanctions on Peterson and Rice implicitly understand the marginal benefits of targeting their outrage at the NFL over the justice system.

Strategic leaks, restricted access, and freedom of the press

Freedom of the press usually means no prior restraint.  That is, anyone can publish anything, whether or not the government likes it.  While a lack of prior restraint seems to be a necessary condition for freedom of the press, I am becoming increasingly convinced that it is not a sufficient condition.  It is possible for government to have a significant impact on news by restricting access to reporters who are likely to write favorable stories.  A mild version of this is when disliked members of the press are not invited to news conferences.  A extreme version involves selective leaks to press who will spin a story positively.

The problem was aptly noted by a number of press organizations in an open letter to President Obama.

Over the past two decades, public agencies have increasingly prohibited staff from communicating with journalists unless they go through public affairs offices or through political appointees. This trend has been especially pronounced in the federal government. We consider these restrictions a form of censorship — an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear.

The stifling of free expression is happening despite your pledge on your first day in office to bring “a new era of openness” to federal government – and the subsequent executive orders and directives which were supposed to bring such openness about.

Recent research has indicated the problem is getting worse throughout the nation, particularly at the federal level. Journalists are reporting that most federal agencies prohibit their employees from communicating with the press unless the bosses have public relations staffers sitting in on the conversations. Contact is often blocked completely. When public affairs officers speak, even about routine public matters, they often do so confidentially in spite of having the title “spokesperson.” Reporters seeking interviews are expected to seek permission, often providing questions in advance. Delays can stretch for days, longer than most deadlines allow. Public affairs officers might send their own written responses of slick non-answers. Agencies hold on-background press conferences with unnamed officials, on a not-for-attribution basis.

In many cases, this is clearly being done to control what information journalists – and the audience they serve – have access to. A survey found 40 percent of public affairs officers admitted they blocked certain reporters because they did not like what they wrote.


Sacred Harp 79: ‘That Old Ship Of Zion’

From 1980 in Florida:

And here’s a funny, swung version from Poland, in 2013, the second year of the Polish convention. They get the hang of the tune eventually:

What ship is this that will take us all home,
Oh, glory hallelujah,
And safely land us on Canaan’s bright shore?
Oh, glory hallelujah.

’Tis the old ship of Zion, hallelujah.

The winds may blow and the billows may foam,
Oh, glory hallelujah,
But she is able to land us all home.
Oh, glory hallelujah.

She landed all who have gone before,
Oh, glory hallelujah,
And yet she is able to land still more,
Oh, glory hallelujah.

If I arrive there, then, before you do,
Oh, glory hallelujah,
I’ll tell them that you are coming up, too,
Oh, glory hallelujah.

Questions and answers on private cities

I was just informed my Freeman piece on private cities was reblogged by Don Boudreaux, Arnold Kling, and Isegoria. First off, thanks! It’s fun to see my piece making the rounds, especially as it is one of the first I wrote. Before writing on why private cities haven’t emerged, I’d like to argue that they are going to emerge.

The most promising development is in Honduras. Honduras passed a law allowing ZEDEs (zonas de empleado y desarollo economico). ZEDEs are granted wide degrees of autonomy, being exempted from Honduran civil and commercial law. Currently the Committee for the Adoption of Best Practices is writing a set of guidelines that ZEDEs will have to meet. At least one company interested in Honduras is trying to start a proprietary community.

Beyond Honduras, there are several other countries that have expressed interest in setting up similar zones. There has also been a resurgence in interest cities, with books such as Glaesars Triumph of the CityI think the trend is toward decentralization and one aspect of that will be private cities.

Kling raises three questions as to why there aren’t private cities:


Monarchists and libertarians

There is an odd development in some certain libertarian circles, an embrace of monarchy. The standard argument is that monarchies are more likely to have libertarian policies because the country is closer to private than in a democracy. The monarch has a long time horizon, wanting to maximize the value of his country for his children (first male child?), while the politicians in a democracy have a time horizon of just the next election. While the argument is plausible on its face, it contains many implicit assumptions which, once shown, demonstrate the silliness of the idea.

The piece that provoked my ire is by the Mad Monarchist, writing on libertarian monarchy. He begins with a misreading of history, or at the very least, very misplaced values:

In the past, I have touched on how the very monarchial Middle Ages was perhaps the closest the world has ever come to the totally privatized society that many libertarians dream of.

He does not name any of these libertarian monarchical societies, so I am forced to speculate on what they are. Nevertheless, it shows a very bad misreading of history. The most important event since the neolithic revolution was the industrial revolution. Prior to the industrial revolution man lived in the world of Malthus. Sustained per capita economic growth was unheard of. Any increase in production meant an increase in population, not the standard of living. This changed with England.


How private cities can help the poor

A piece on private cities I wrote was published today in the Freeman. This sentence captures the idea, perhaps the most unappreciated idea in economics:

Proprietary communities offer a solution to a host of problems commonly assumed to justify government intervention. Private property internalizes externalities. Proprietary communities take advantage of that fact by creating private property over land spaces traditionally thought of as public domain. They work by creating a residual claimant in the provision of public goods. That is, proprietors keep as income the rents collected through leases after costs are deducted.

Here’s another important point:

An additional advantage of private cities is that they incentivize institutional change. Institutional change is rare because of the logic of collective action. While the gains outweigh the costs of protecting private property rights, the gains are dispersed and the costs are concentrated. Those benefiting from such change have an incentive to free-ride, letting others agitate for the change.

Poor countries are poor because their governments are predatory. Proprietary communities concentrate the benefits of economic liberalization, increasing the likelihood of success. Honduras is the closest to achieving private cities. About one year ago, they passed a law allowing for ZEDEs (zonas de empleado y desarollo economico). ZEDEs can opt out of Honduran civil and commercial law, bringing in a legal system of their choosing. In order to internalize the gains from such changes, some companies have expressed interest in creating private cities similar to the ones described in my essay.