We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

So here we have a newspaper proprietor that declines to spend company money on non-commercial activity, that is entrepreneurial, likes to legally avoid tax, invests in space, and is accused of being a libertarian. This is, I think, very good news.

Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home writes about the news that Jeff Bezos has just bought the Washington Post. I hope Simon is right about Bezos. Is he?

23 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • RRS

    Probably close on Bezos.

    But, but, but as one who spent almost 30 years on the beltway fringe, frequented C street, and experienced the steady “repopulation” of WaPo into its present state (we cancelled our VA subscription about 15 years ago), Bezos faces a real task of carefully re-staffing – and, there are not a lot of human resources to draw on yet, even if he expects some to develop in the coming reactions of the “dreamwalkers” to “Government Failures.”

    Bezos did pick up the Gazette and other papers which function in the ex-urbs and offer him immediate potential. My experience there comes from have begun one of those structures for a client. Could be the “future” of cold print.
    We may be looking at Gannett as a future “non-profit” based in the same area, which could produce some of the staff Bezos will need.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Let us also not forget that Bezos runs a large company that has regular interactions with the US government, both from anti-trust investigators and from portions of the federal apparatus to which his firm sells cloud computing services. I am certain that at some point someone will “gently” remind him of this.

    This may limit his scope for muckraking more than the previous owners, the Grahams.

  • Gene

    Any attempt on Bezos’ part to overhaul the culture and staff of WaPo in such a way as to make it a truly “libertarian newspaper” will be met with intense, persistent and bitter hostility (not to mention likely sabotage) from all those parties (both within the newspaper and everywhere else) that have a stake in maintaining the statism of that institution.

    What would be nice to see, however, is a bargain between the new owner and the newspaper’s editorial powers: Bezos will allow them to stay the course and run the content side as they see fit and in keeping with their historical orientation. But …

    The editor must add additional reporters and other staff as necessary to indirectly add a libertarian flavor to the newspaper. Those additional reporters will have as their exclusive “beats”: 1) unintended consequences of laws and regulations at the national, state and local level, 2) laws and regulations that have clearly passed their sell-by dates and may be in need of repeal, 3) the achievements of voluntary, non-governmental, non-publicly-funded associations of humans, and 4) any other such beats that I haven’t had enough coffee to think of this early in the day. Apart from the requirement that all of those beats must be covered, full-time, and in good faith, by the new personnel given to the editor, the editor will be in charge of managing those people.

    Any chagrin on the part of the current editorial management over these requirements will no doubt be mollified by the fact that the new owner is not eliminating any of the editor’s existing resources, nor is he interfering in the editor’s existing ideological priorities. He is in fact giving the editor additional staff, adding high-paying union jobs and increasing the volume of editorial in the paper. Win-win?

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    I am less interested in what the newspaper might say under its new ownership (Who cares, really?) as to what Bezos may or may not try to do with its business model. The old business model of newspapers was based on the fact that a cluster of semi-related services (that could cross-subsidise one another in various ways) were best delivered together due to the fact that the costs of establishing and running the necessary printing and distribution operations were high. The number one reason why newspapers are now failing is that the profitable bits (most famously classified advertising, but also basic services such as television listings, sports scores, entertainment directories and other things that cost little to provide but which heavily influenced whether people would buy a newspaper and could also attract valuable non-classified advertising) no longer needed physical distribution and have jumped off into the internet. If there is anyone who can take the bits that are left and think about how they can be repackaged into a business model that makes sense, or repackaged as part of a business model that makes sense, it is Bezos.

    Of course, the second reason why newspapers are failing is that their journalism had become lazy, inaccurate, politically biased (including captured by government), and contemptuous of its audience, and many readers chose to go somewhere else when somewhere else came along. That part is something that newspapers, their journalists, and their management haven’t really faced. I am sure Bezos knows it, though, and it will be interested to see how he chooses to deal with it. I don’t think this is his first concern, though. I think he is more interested in the business than the journalism.

    Or it could be that he has bought the paper in order to lobby the government for kinder regulatory treatment of his forthcoming expedition to Mars. I certainly hope so.

  • For the life of me I cannot see what makes Bezos a libertarian.

  • Midwesterner

    Bezos strongest power now is that of issuing apologies and a promise to “clean things up to make sure it doesn’t happen again” in response to the inevitable forthcoming misconduct by ideologues on staff… and then following through by exercising discipline and terminating unethical staff. Unlike the NYTimes (which has achieved zombie status) the WaPo still has the bones of a good news-reporting institution and it is possible that one or two content falsification or suppression incidents will be all that he needs to justify the removal of the worst ideologues.

    Bezos has tact and both political and business acumen. I don’t expect any fireworks, just a quiet shift back to old-school news reporting and away from merely repeating talking points. On balance, I’m very hopeful.

  • bgates

    In 2006 Bezos gave the legal limit to Patty Murray (D-WA), a contender for the title of stupidest member of the US Senate. (She once claimed Afghans were united in support of Osama bin Laden because for years he had built public works projects in that country, including “day care facilities”.) Before entering politics, Murray taught a parenting class at a community college; when the class was cancelled for lack of enrollment, she began to lobby the state to bring her (state-funded, unnecessary) job back. Two years after that, she won a seat in the State Senate; four years later the US Senate, and she’s been there ever since, arguing for government-funded make-work jobs from Seattle to Kabul.

    Nobody to the right of Stalin should accuse a man who supports a woman like that of libertarianism.

  • Mr Ed

    Let me see, a man has spent £160,000,000 worth of his own money on a loss-making enterprise called the Washington Post, which is focused on the District of Colombia, that magnet to Hayekians. It is hoped that he will change it.

    In other news, Bill Gates has bought a snake and it training it to become vegan.

  • For the life of me I cannot see what makes Bezos a libertarian.

    Alisa, these days if you are not in favour of a state CCTV in every room and near total regulation of all social and economic interaction between people, you are a Dangerous Libertarian.

    But yeah, I cannot really see by what measure this supporter of Democrats with room temperature IQs is a libertarian either.

  • jdm

    Count me in as being pessimistically hopeful (or vice versa) about this purchase. My hope will be realized if the Post produces reliable news that covers what needs to be covered and perhaps some things I didn’t know needed covering. I don’t care about the editorials or the other fluff.

    I fully expect my pessimism to be gloating in a few months however… see? tol’ja so.

  • these days if you are not in favour of a state CCTV in every room and near total regulation of all social and economic interaction between people, you are a Dangerous Libertarian.

    Indeed. Not that I have anything against him either, mind you. And so I choose to be hopeful too – makes me feel better:-)

  • PersonFromPorlock

    There is much to be said for waiting and seeing, especially since none of us is being paid by the word.

  • RRS

    Surprisingly there have been no comments yet on the composition of the “readership” of the WaPo.

    The pretense of a “National” readership has been shattered.

    It is possible that Bezos will adapt some of the facilities of WaPo that are now cost centers into income centers as sources for national (and possibly some international) news distribution in competition with and (hopefully possible replacement) of AP.

    As Michael Jennings has pointed out, the former content and service functions of the cold print and coated paper presses, newspapers and magazines, have both fragmented and eroded. They do not attract well-developed or developing minds; not at the levels of management, writers, editors or the press floors. Only the sales forces which secure contract printing in order to keep the presses (and press crews) at effective use levels have been cost-effective.

    Consolidation, a former panacea, no longer makes sense, even if it were available in any meaningful markets.

  • veryretired

    My guess would be that the new owner will try to replicate his success at Amazon by redesigning the newspaper into something similar to his other business—an online enterprise that allows customers to log in and order what parts of the news they’re interested in and skip all the stuff they don’t care about.

    The key is always advertising, and if he can draw eyes to wapo online, the model can succeed. The interesting part will be what everyone does if he dumps all the physical paper producing parts and distribution parts and goes totally online.

    As to his politics, or what the paper’s politics might be, I doubt they are going to be libertarian in any recognizable form. It’s not politics that’s killing the dinosaur media as much it is the younger generations simply don’t bother with them.

    None of my kids, across quite an age span, bother with a newspaper or paper magazine unless they happen to pick one up for a specific reason, or at a doctor’s office. Even at the latter, they’d more often than not fiddle with their smart phone, even though they are all good readers who like books, paper or kindle.

    So, my guess is he saw an interesting business possibility at a bargain price and thought he’d give it a shot.

  • Pardone

    Newspapers should not have any editorial stance. Proprietors who use them as such are usually cowards (using the newspaper as a means to avoid accountability) narcissists (seeing the newspaper as an extension of themselves and their penis) and egotists (wanting to feel big and important.

  • Laird

    That’s nonsense, Pardone. I do find unsigned editorials annoying, but clearly they represent the opinion of the publisher and so can properly be attributed to him. Newspapers have been used as means of expressing the owner’s/publisher’s/editor’s opinion for as long as they’ve existed, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Furthermore, it’s not possible to avoid taking an editorial position on issues, if only in the selection of stories to run, the way they’re written and edited, the headlines used, placement within the paper, etc. I much prefer an honest expression of editorial opinion to the disguised advancement of that opinion through the news section. If you know the publisher’s expressed opinion you can read the news section accordingly.

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa is correct.

    When I first raised an eyebrow about “libertarian” J.B. I was told “supporting Gay Marriage is a libertarian cause – it is YOU who are out of step”.

    And perhaps that is true (although I do not support GOVERNMENT hetro sexual rituals either) – but then……

    Then it came out that he has been giving money to Democrat candidates for years ( big tax-and-spend types).

    And then there was the crawling to Obama……

    Does Jeff B. really believe all this stuff?

    Does he lie awake at night horrified that taxpayers are not being forced to pay for “Gay Marriage” in (say) North Dakota? Or that in his own Washington State government spending is not high enough?

    Most likely NOT.

    Most likely it is Danegelt.

    Pay the left (their favoured causes and candidates) and they will leave you alone.

    But those who pay Danegelt never get rid of the Dane (hat tip to Kipling).

    As for the Washington Post…..

    “Its values are noble and will remain the same” (excuse me while I vomit).

    Present management will remain in charge and…..

    Basically 250 million Dollars worth of Danegelt.

    Let Mystic Paul use my strange powers to look into the future………

    The WaPo will support Chris Christie (or some other RINO) in the Primary contests and then (astonishing shock……) will support Hillary Clinton in the general election.

    But why wait so long?

    There is a election in Virginia in November.

    The WaPo will support the Dem candidate for Governor – even though he is utterly corrupt (as well as a big tax-and-spend type).

    Short version of all the above….

    If this is “libertarianism” it is the “Bleeding Heart” variety.

    By the way – I would be happy to be proved wrong.

    And there are empirical tests (I have already mentioned them).

  • Paul Marks

    However….. (having read Simon’s article now).

    I did not know that J.B. had donated money against the imposition of a State Income Tax in Washington State.

    “But that was self interested Paul”.

    So?

    Nothing wrong with being self interested (as long as does not lead to cowardice – such as the crawling to Obama the other day).

    After all Bill Gates (and other such) fall over themselves SUPPORTING income taxes and inheritance taxes.

    “I am rich – being rich is EVIL, hit me, whip me, burn me……”

    Plenty of people are only too happy to oblige.

  • Paul, what was the crawling to Obama about?

  • Paul Marks

    Inviting him to the Amazon HQ (fawn fawn) – because he is hip and cool (fawn fawn).

    Charles and David Koch would not have invited Comrade Barack to the opening of their latest oil well, or steel plant.

    And Jon Huntsman would not have invited Comrade Barack to the opening of his latest chemical plant.

    Although Huntsman might invite C.B. to a new cancer hospital (which is what Huntsman spends his profits on – he wants to defeat cancer) if he thought it might lead to more private donations.

    And I would give Huntsman a pass on that.

    Not that he needs one.

    Someone who simply refused a dishonourable order (when in the Nixon Administration), and refused to bow down to demands when his grandson was kidnapped (by murderers) does not need my approval, and would not be interested in it.

    Born in a house of made of cardboard – and mentally prepared to go back to that (at any time), if honour demands it.

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  • Julie near Chicago

    Yes but Paul, that is because Charles and David are Eeeviilll, ya see.

    They do oil wells and like that.

    And they are into fracking* as well. /shudder\

    Besides, they wouldn’t invite the Sith to the opening of a new oil well or steel plant. VERY Eeeeeviiillllll.

    . . .

    *You can read the whole dirty story, “How the Kochs are Fracking America,” at, for instance (where else!), ThinkProgress:

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/03/02/436669/how-the-kochs-are-fracking-america/

  • Paul Marks

    Sadly George Mitchell, the man who developed fracking, has just died.

    He refused to patent the process (even though it took him many years to develop) because he wanted it to spread as much as possible – because he understood that fracking was good. He had a moral right to patent the technology – he CHOOSE not to.

    One Texan (the son of dirt poor Greek immigrant parents) had a better understanding of morality than the “great and the good”.