The story of liberty

Atlantic intern Conor Friedersdorf has a terrific piece up on Doublethink on the problem of conservative journalism:

Escaping this ghetto requires understanding why the media slants left. Contra the least-thoughtful conservative critics, there isn’t any elite liberal conspiracy at work. Bias creeps in largely because the narrative conventions of journalism are poor at capturing basic conservative and libertarian truths. An instructive example is rent control. A newspaper reporter assigned that topic can easily find a sympathetic family no longer able to afford its longtime apartment in a gentrifying neighborhood. Their plight is a moving brief for a rent ceiling.

As almost everyone long ago conceded, however, opponents of rent control offer superior counterarguments. Limiting rent degrades the quality of a city’s housing stock, causes shortages as a dearth of new units are built, and spurs a black market where well-connected elites game their way into subsidized flats. A talented reporter, given enough time and space, could craft a narrative that illustrates how rent control ultimately makes poor families worse off. His job is relatively difficult, however, for he can hardly write a pithy anecdotal lead about the hundred families that won’t occupy a non-existent apartment building because a foolish policy eliminated an unknown developer’s incentive to build it.

The right, in other words, has a problem with narrative. The stubborn facts of this world contradict pieties left, right, and libertarian, occassionally forcing each group to revise its thinking. But the core critiques of liberalism intrinsically resist the narrative form. Who can foresee the unintended consequences of government intervention in advance? Who can pinpoint the particular threats to liberty posed by an ever-growing public sector?

He goes on to mourn the lack of dedicated conservative and libertarian journalists specializing in narration. There is some, of course . . . but then I remember that one of my favorite such pieces was written by Michael Lynch, who has now left journalism. I'm keeping my eye on Conor, however.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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