Tuesday, April 12, 2005 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

More on Muni Ownership

This debate is quickly degrading into name-calling, with any free-market argument now dismissed out-of-hand as coming from "sock puppets." This is unfortunate, because a lot is at stake in the debate, not the least of which taxpayer dollars.

The king of the sock puppet line, Glenn Fleishman, faults our latest studies on municipal ownership, which is hardly a surprise given his track record on the subject. What is surprising, and disappointing, is that he declines to take on any of the substantive economic arguments presented in the studies by Tom and Adam.

Deeming your opponents' views unworthy because of their disclosed sources of support is convenient for two reasons. First, it relieves you of actually having intellectually to engage the substance of their argument. Second, it appeals to species of moral vanity that holds only you are pure and principled in your views and any opponents are irredeemably compromised -- call this the "Diogenes the Cynic" syndrome. I am honest; my opponents are charlatans. I am sure that position gives one comfort, but it does little to advance the substantive debate.

Glenn does, as he has in the past, acknowledge that we disclose our funders. Yet I suspect Glenn doesn't praise us for that because he views it as a reflection of our intellectual honesty, but rather because it makes it that much easier for him to tar us with the sock-puppet brush. I won several journalism awards in part by highlighting funding in policy debates, but I knew that sometimes organizations are paid to say things, and other times organizations are paid because someone likes what they're saying. All the difference in the world lies in that causal chain. And, not to disparage our efforts in this area, but it is hardly surprising that a pro-market think tank opposes government disruption of markets.

Indeed, PFF makes a poor corporate stooge on this issue. The High-Tech Broadband Coalition, which includes 6 trade associations, is spending serious coin pushing municipal broadband buildouts. Thus, they're on the opposite side of us in this debate. Yet looking at the HTBC trade associations' member lists, I counted 13 companies that are PFF funders, including Intel, the most prominent proponent of HTBC's agenda on this issue. If we write for our funders why are we on the opposite side of Intel and the twelve other funders? I should note it is in Intel's and HTBC's corporate interests to do what they're doing, and I respect them for that; more hotspots mean more routers and more use for Celeron chips. Glenn doesn't write about this money, but I'm not asking him to, because just as PFF scholars don't write their views based on corporate funding, I don't believe the so-called consumer advocates push municipal broadband because they're partnering with corporate interests.

This debate will continue. Corporate money will be spent on both sides. Reports will be issued by both sides. It's my hope that everyone looks critically at the data available and avoids name-calling. That's my view as a taxpayer, anyway.

posted by Patrick Ross @ 6:26 PM | Municipal Ownership