Neutrality Regulation and the White Hat

by on June 7, 2006 · 10 comments

Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy wasted no time responding to my recent Heritage piece on neutrality regulation, posting a comment on his blog over the weekend. Well, sort of responding. Actually, the piece didn’t discuss my arguments or facts at all. (Chester promised to do that later.) Instead, he focused on the scoop that Heritage has received money from AT&T and Verizon, which he says should have been disclosed. “Hey, Guess Who Helps Fund the Heritage Foundation?” the blog title breathlessly asks.

Hey, guess how Chester found this out? In the Heritage annual report, of course. Where it was disclosed. Along with the names of hundreds of other donors. Other donors that include pro-neutrality regulation Microsoft, as well as Verizon and AT&T. The report also discloses that only about five percent of our revenue comes from corporations of any kind. The rest comes from individuals and foundations.

Yet all of this is skipped over by Chester. There’s a tactical advantage to this. There are times that attacking your opponent’s motives is an attractive alternative to substantive arguments. But I won’t say that he wrote for merely tactical reasons. While not reciprocated, I’ll assume he actually believes what he writes.

Yet this may be the more disturbing prospect. His ad hominem approach represents a nice black-and-white picture of the policy world, one where pro-regulation consumer advocates fight for what they believe is right, and everyone else has somehow been paid off. That view is all too common among many on the left. These erstwhile trust-busters relish their own perceived monopoly on white hats, and won’t suffer competition.

For the same reason, the left insists on painting the whole net neutrality debate as a David-vs.-Goliath struggle, big corporations against “rag tag band” of regulation supporters. (See my earlier posts here and here.) Never mind that big corporations are on both sides–in fact the market cap of the pro-regulation firms is larger than the anti-regulation lineup. That just confuses an otherwise neat story.

Sometimes the argument is taken to ridiculous lengths. One blog, in a piece entitled “The Economics of Morality,” recently posted information on salaries at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (where I used to work), pondering whether that was enough money to cause someone to lie for a living. It apparently is beyond imagining that we actually believe in what we do, just as the left believes in what they do (or that we may be right, which is a whole other question).

Of course, this isn’t to say that there aren’t people out there who advocate for money, rather than principle. But they can be found on both sides of policy debates–no side has a corner on purity.

It is also true that not all those on the left share this cardboard view of the world. But far too many do. The public policy debate is poorer for it. So, too, is the left itself, which increasingly finds itself holding a large–but empty–white hat.

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