The Illinois Policy Institute and Jackson County Transparency
I noticed a story in this week’s Carbondale Times reporting that the Illinois Policy Institute had given the Jackson County website a grade of 21.2 out of 100 on transparency. The story isn’t online yet or I would link to it (I think the Times waits a week or so to put their print stories online, which is smart if you don’t want your ad revenue to collapse). I’ve noticed that the Illinois Policy Institute is getting its name into the news more frequently, so I visited their site.
If you check the Illinois Policy Institute’s FAQ page, you’ll find this:
What is the Institute’s political affiliation?
The Illinois Policy Institute is independent and not affiliated with any political party. People often ask whether the Institute is conservative, libertarian, or whether it falls under some other political label. Labels can sometimes provide helpful shorthand to make it easier for strangers to become better acquainted, but they also can be inaccurate or miss the bigger picture.
The Illinois Policy Institute is dedicated to promoting the principles of liberty in all levels of government. While “liberty” can be interpreted in many ways and applied to many different arenas, we focus specifically on economic liberty and free market principles.
We work with anyone who supports our values on a particular issue, regardless of political or ideological affinity, including Democrats, Republicans and independents.
Terms like “principles of liberty” and “free market principles” sound great. I believe in liberty. And who wants to particpate in an unfree market? That’s like playing cards with a rigged deck, right?
The truth is, these terms are dog whistles to the right wing. For those unfamiliar with the term “dog whistle,” it refers to a type of political communication – a code, really – in which a message that is generic and pleasant sounding to the general public has a second, more specific meaning recognized by people in a political movement. An example: “culture of life.” Sounds good, right? But to people in the religious conservative movement, it means opposition to abortion rights.
The people at the Illinois Policy Institute aren’t interested in personal liberty as most of us understand it. They’re interested in repealing as much business regulation as possible (especially environmental regulation), lowering taxes on the rich, and putting an end to our already meager social safety net. They want to undermine your faith in government in order to accomplish these goals.
Long time readers will know that I’ve sometimes criticized some of the regulations in our city code. That’s because bad regulations discredit good regulations. If you believe in the value of good regulation, you should be an opponent of bad regulation. As others have pointed out, the right wing has a fanatical opposition to all regulation, but there is no equal and opposite zeal for regulation on the left. We don’t want regulation for regulation’s sake.
On the left, we want regulation because there is some harm we want to prevent or some virtue we want to require. If a given regulation either (1) fails to prevent the harm or require the virtue we favor, or (2) produces unintended consequences that overwhelm the gain produced, the proper left response is to repeal that regulation and (probably) replace it with a better one. It is in that spirit that I have criticized some of the regulations in city code – especially many of our zoning regulations.
I want to point out that I didn’t write this post to criticize the Carbondale Times, which I think does a great job with straight news reporting and which seems to have a generally liberal policy on its editorial page. In fact, the Times checked the Jackson County website and found it more compliant with transparency laws than the Illinois Policy Institute claims.
I wrote this post because it relates to an argument I made recently. In Wednesday’s post on the city council meeting, I decried what I see as unwarranted cynicism and pessimism toward the city government (I think I used the term “pathological paranoia”). I wrote this post to draw attention to folks like the Illinois Policy Institute who want to nurture and feed that suspicion so they can achieve their larger policy goals.
That’s really the point I was getting at in Wednesday’s post, though I may have made the point imperfectly. It’s good to be skeptical, but it is not helpful when otherwise liberal people – the folks who should be pushing for positive change – become so cynical and pessimistic toward their governments that they begin to resist any and all change. A solid majority of Carbondale’s citizens have a basically progressive disposition. We should lead with that part of ourselves and try to temper our cynicism so we can make the changes that will build a better community.
Now that I’ve burned through over 600 words, I’ll briefly address the substance of the article: Jackson County’s webpage. I’ve watched the Jackson County website go through several versions over the years. The current site seems inferior to the one it replaced – at least to me. The previous site was more intuitive and seemed to have more information. I don’t know if it violates our transparency laws, but it doesn’t seem like a great site to me.
Comments are welcome.