Five Best Thursday Columns

Joe Karaganis on web piracy, Joshua Green on food stamps, Nicholas Kristof on banking, Alan Blinder on the deficit, and George Will on police overreach

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Joe Karaganis in Bloomberg View on Americans and Web piracy Karaganis says SOPA and PIPA, bills that were the subject of widespread internet protest Wednesday, likely won't stop the piracy they are out to prevent but will open the door to more censorship. His public policy organization analyzed Americans' attitudes on issues of censorship and piracy. "We learned that most people want to obey the law. But when values conflict, strong majorities rank privacy, free speech, fear of government intrusion, and yes, sharing among family and friends ahead of copyright protection," he writes. Many Americans, he says, are "casual pirates," and most oppose the various proposed methods of enforcement, including shutdowns of sites that host pirated material. He also notes a trend away from piracy thanks to innovations in paid content streaming like Spotify. "In other words, there is a way to reduce piracy without breaking the Internet or sacrificing civil liberties. It's called business innovation."

Joshua Green in The Boston Globe on Gingrich and food stamps In Monday's debate, Newt Gingrich rehashed his assertion that food stamps cause dependency, implying, as he has before, that they are mostly used by minorities. "But while Gingrich's attacks on food stamps ... are essentially the same ones he and his colleagues were making two decades ago, the profile of the recipients has changed ...  and in a direction that Gingrich should applaud," writes Green. He acknowledges that the number of food stamp recipients has risen, both because of the recession and a widening of availability thanks to Bush administration policy. He says food stamps go mostly to children and the elderly, and that working households make up an increasingly large share of recipients, using this as proof that the program works to encourage and supplement employment, not substitute for it. "[T]he program supports and encourages exactly the type of character-building work that Gingrich says he is trying to foster. A policy wonk and a notorious pedant, he surely understands this."

Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times in defense of young bankers Kristof says college students (and others) have increasingly asked him whether going into banking or making millions in private equity is inherently immoral. "My answer to both questions: no ... By allocating capital to more efficient uses, banking laid the groundwork for the industrial revolution and the information revolution," writes Kristof. He argues that for idealist college kids to abandon the financial industry  to greedier peers would be akin to liberals abandoning the defense sector to conservatives in the wake of Vietnam. He uses poll numbers to show the youth's declining sympathy for capitalism, and writes that without a new generation of financial workers with principles, capitalism will continue to earn a bad name among the younger generation. "So university students would be wrong to mock their classmates who choose Citigroup over CARE. Banking and private equity aren't evil, and I would never urge college students to stay away."

Alan Blinder in The Wall Street Journal on myths about the deficit Blinder says that debate over reducing the federal deficit should be a central part of this year's campaign, but the rhetoric is currently being hindered by several misconceptions. "In that spirit, I'd like to explode four myths now masquerading as facts," he writes. First, he argues that Americans aren't more interested in reducing the deficit now than they've been in the past. Second, he argues the problem isn't acute so long as treasury bonds remain in high demand, so we can borrow now while setting deadlines for deficit reduction to begin when our economy recovers. Third and fourth, he argues the problem isn't a 10-year one but a 20- to 30-year one, and that's because we don't face a widespread budget problem, but an acute problem of exploding health care, which accounts for most of the deficit projections. "So no, America, we don't have a generalized overspending problem for the long run. We have a humongous health-care problem."
George Will in The Washington Post on law enforcement's overreach In two separate but similar recent confrontations, police confronted photographers taking pictures of industrial structures on suspicion of terrorist activities. "From the fact that terrorists might take pictures of potential infrastructure targets ... it is a short slide down a slippery slope to the judgment that photography is a potential indicator of terrorism and hence photographers are suspect when taking pictures," writes Will. He describes both incidents and the threat police made to photographers that they could be put on a watch list. He applauds the ACLU in California for pressing the matter, acknowledging that law enforcement in the age of terrorism creates necessary "tensions" but wonder if these examples constitute overreach. "[D]igital cameras — your cellphone probably has one — are so inexpensive and ubiquitous that photography has become a form of fidgeting: Facebook users upload 7.5 billion photos every month. This raises reasonable suspicions not of terrorism but of narcissism, which is a national problem but not for law enforcement."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.