The Atlantic is at Sea


Free stock photo from Maxpixel

Things that make me go hmmm … The Atlantic‘s editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, adds conservative writer Kevin D. Williamson to the  publication’s masthead. An odd choice, it seems to me. I’m a fan of both the magazine and the writer, and for similar reasons, but they make an odd match.

I think it’s fair to describe Williamson as a “conservative,” although his stated views often wander into libertarian territory. He spent the last 10 years at National Review, where he represented the mildly libertarian fringe of that magazine’s editorial line.

I think it’s also fair to describe The Atlantic as a “centrist but progressive-leaning” publication, although it features some thoughtful civil libertarian material by writers like Conor Friedersdorf.

So yes, a bit strange. But intriguing.

Things that make me go “what?” Goldberg fires Williamson only two weeks later. Not because of anything he’s written there, but because of something he said, in public, years before he was hired.

In theory, anyway. In fact, from where I sit it looks like Goldberg knuckled under to a social media mob  engaged in “no platforming” a writer whose views they don’t want to read, and more importantly don’t want the rest of us to read. That sets an evil precedent.

If Williamson’s publicly stated and well-known opinions didn’t fit The Atlantic‘s needs for some reason, Goldberg shouldn’t hired him in the first place.

Once he was hired, for what the editor-in-chief presumably considered good reasons, that editor-in-chief should have stuck to his guns and allowed Williamson some time to show his stuff before re-evaluating the relationship.

Or, to put it a different way, publications should run per the judgment of their editors, not the whims and tantrums of the Twitterati.

The reason I like both Williamson and The Atlantic is that both of them provide me with things to think about and reasons to think about those things. I probably don’t agree with Williamson more than half the time. Or with Friedersdorf. Or with Garrett Epps, another of my favorites at The Atlantic. But when I finish a piece by any of them, I almost always feel at least a little smarter and more informed on the topic than when I started reading.

Williamson’s firing says that making you think is less important than making you think what the mob wants you to think. That can only create a chilling effect on American political conversation.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Uncertainty is the Root of the Current Market Craziness

English: Donald Trump's signature hairstyle
English: Donald Trump’s signature hairstyle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For months after his inauguration, US president Donald Trump bragged that he was single-handedly producing an economic boom, citing a rising stock market as evidence.

Recently, however, he’s stopped that line of self-promotion. The market has seemingly gone nuts. Sudden one-day drops pare back weeks of gains, followed by a cautious recovery of the lost ground. There’s a strong correlation between those swings and Trump’s mouth, whether he’s making formal policy announcements or just tweetstorming his latest obsession.

To understand the problem, let’s look to the seemingly unrelated fields of economics and physics.

In a 1997 paper on the Great Depression, Austrian School economist Robert Higgs articulates his theory of “regime uncertainty.” Simply put (if I get this wrong, blame me, not Higgs), investors dislike unpredictability.

Investors put their money into enterprises under certain tax and regulatory conditions. When  those conditions  start suddenly changing or looking like they may change, the investors worry.  And when they worry, they get more cautious about where their money is and what it’s being used for. They sell off, move their money into what they hope are less volatile assets, and the stock market takes a hit.

German physicist Werner Heisenberg studied uncertainty too, and likewise named a principle for it. Again simply put (and again, blame me, not Heisenberg, if I get this wrong), there are limits to what we can know about multiple aspects of things. Specifically, we cannot precisely determine both the position and the momentum of a particle at a particular moment. The more certain we are about one, the less certain we are about the other.

Donald Trump resembles one of Heisenberg’s particles. Sometimes we know where he’s at on an issue for the moment, but we needn’t bother trying to predict how fast he’s going to move or in what direction. He may double down, or he may turn 180 degrees.

One minute he’s demanding that regulations be slashed. The next minute, he’s nixing multi-billion-dollar aircraft deals over foreign policy. First it’s tax reform and tax cuts. Then suddenly it’s imposing new taxes — tariffs — on steel and aluminum.

This is not to say that any particular idea or policy he comes up with is bad, although some of them obviously are. What matters to investors is predictability.

If there’s one predictable characteristic of Trump, it’s that he is, and will remain, unpredictable. That unpredictability  can only produce negative economic consequences.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.