Five Best Wednesday Columns

Robert Samuelson on tax reform, Jeff Greenfield on the GOP convention, Holman Jenkins Jr. on Wi-Fi, Benjamin Nugent on Asperger Syndrome, and Fouad Ajami on Putin and Syria. 

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Robert Samuelson in The Washington Post on simplifying the tax code In the State of the Union, President Obama proposed several tax credits, including one for businesses that move foreign jobs home. "Manipulating taxes to favor or disfavor particular industries, groups or regions is a source of power that Democrats and Republicans alike are loath to surrender. That's why major tax reform fails, despite routine endorsements from both parties," writes Samuelson. He notes that the White House claims it supports simplifying the tax code, but he looks at the proposed tax credits and argues they will just fuel lobbying over specifics and further complicate decisions for tax payers. He describes a political environment where both parties benefit from designing tax credits for various constituencies. "Tax simplicity sounds good, but — politically — complexity wins hands down."

Jeff Greenfield in Bloomberg View on Republican convention rules In the lull between major primaries and debates, political junkies might want to familiarize themselves with the Republicans' rules for conventions and delegate selection, writes Greenfield. "These rules could determine the party's nominee and help shape the general election campaign," he says. As evidence, he points to the 2008 Democratic race, where Obama's campaign better understood the way delegates were awarded to beat Clinton. Despite losing most of the major states to her by small margins, his bigger victories in smaller states gave him the edge. The rules are different for Republicans, but they provide opportunity for Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul to collect delegates on a district by district basis, lengthening the primary and giving them leverage at the convention. "If those adamantly opposed to Romney wind up with this kind of strength, it means they will have the power to start rules fights or demand the gold standard be included in the platform."

Holman W. Jenkins Jr. in The Wall Street Journal on fracking and Wi-Fi Fracking, argues Jenkins, is the result of drillers and landowners developing new technology to avoid more regulated industry practices. "The mobile equivalent of fracking is Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is free, unregulated spectrum, separate from the regulated spectrum that mobile operators buy from the government," Jenkins writes. He links this parallel to the FCC's decision to prevent an AT&T and T-Mobile merger, for fear a duopoly would lead to a shortage of regulated spectrum. He describes the increasing availability and dependence on free, unregulated Wi-Fi hotspots, which anyone can set up without purchasing from the government. The "fracking parallel" demonstrates that when regulators "lock up" an industry, innovators will look outside the regulations for better solutions. "Unregulated is beating regulated, as it tends to do, for reasons of cost and because, though conflicts do pop up between private actors competing for the same resource, technology and standards-setting have done a good job of keeping up."

Benjamin Nugent in The New York Times on misdiagnosing autism When Nugent was 20, he appeared in an educational video his mother made describing his struggle with Asperger Syndrome. "According to the diagnostic manual, Asperger syndrome is 'a continuous and lifelong disorder,' but [after college] my symptoms had vanished," he writes. He even wrote and published a novel exploring complex social interactions, something people with Asperger Syndrome have difficulty understanding. The authors of the new edition of the A.P.A.'s diagnostic manual are narrowing the definition of autistic disorders, and some have complained that it will leave mildly autistic people untreated, but Nugent uses his misdiagnosis to argue that there are situations in which wrongful diagnosis could be just as harmful. He wonders, he says, if he had been diagnosed years earlier, whether he would have felt able to write his novel. "I don't want a kid with mild autism to go untreated. But I don't want a school psychologist to give a clumsy, lonely teenager a description of his mind that isn't true."

Fouad Ajami in The Wall Street Journal on Putin and Syria We ought to consider the conflict in Syria the last battle of the Cold War, writes Ajami. "The Soviet empire has fallen, but there, by the Mediterranean coast, a Syrian tyranny gives Russia the old sense that it still is a great power." Russia has declared to the U.N. that Syria's sovereignty can't be violated, and while other Arab nations' incentives to China of oil may be persuasive, Russia's supplies will keep it unconvinced. Instead, Putin must defend a fellow autocrat. Ajami describes the philosophical reasons Putin will defend Assad, including his fear of the Arab Spring. He describes other religious and military incentives, too. As a result, "the prayers in Homs for deliverance at the hands of outsiders ... [may] be answered. More likely, the contest will be decided on the ground."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.