The Nation vs. "The Economists"
By Bryan Caplan
I just got this fund-raising letter from The Nation, alerting me to a dangerous economists’ plot to undermine democracy:
Dear Nation Friend:
I spent 27 years as the Editor in Chief of The Nation, so — as you might imagine — I took it pretty seriously when a corporate-backed postage increase scheme threatened our magazine’s survival.
Last year, I went down to DC to testify on behalf of The Nation against the Time Warner-inspired radical rate restructuring that threatens to put small, political magazines like ours out of business.
Right now, The Nation is still fighting this disastrous annual $500,000 postal rate increase tooth and nail. Teresa Stack, The Nation’s president, has been forced to make DC her second home this year, lobbying to restore the Founders’ vision of a postal service that fosters vibrant, independent political discourse.
It’s a little like David vs. Goliath. Teresa — and whichever Nation and other small magazine people she is able to impress into service — are tenaciously battling against the economists, engineers and hot shot lobbyists of the mega-communications conglomerates.
When the fight is The Nation versus “the economists,” I instinctively side with the latter. But since the fund-raising letter didn’t actually explain the facts, I dug a little deeper:
The new suggested rate system changed from a flat rate per pound, like a stamp for a first-class letter that costs the same no matter how far the letter travels within the United States, to a new piece-by-piece rate, like determining how much the stamp should cost based on how difficult it would be to deliver the letter. The new formula was so complex that most publishers could not initially give Scott exact numbers for their anticipated rate increases, but they knew enough to fear for their continued existence. When the dust settled and the facts came out, the average increase for all of Time Warner’s 127 titles was 10 percent; rate increases for most small-circulation magazines were two or three times that, and in some cases, more than five times as much.
If The Nation was demanding a repeal of the postal monopoly on delivery of first-class mail, I’d be firmly in their camp. But as best as I can tell, they want to keep the postal monopoly, and have the rest of the country subsidize them. And all this to preserve a print magazine that could easily go all-digital. Doesn’t The Nation have any real muck left to rake?