Warren Buffett wrote an op-ed in the New York Times earlier this week arguing that rich people like him aren’t paying their fair share of taxes. This provoked a fairly predictable response from right-leaning pundits and politicians: if Buffett doesn’t think that he is paying enough taxes, then he should write a check to the government and rectify the situation!

Jonathan Chait comes to Buffett’s defense:

Obviously this fails to grasp the fundamental collective action problem that’s the entire basis for taxation. You obviously can’t fund the government on the basis of voluntary donations. Buffett and other wealthy people who favor higher taxes on the rich don’t just believe they should pay more taxes. They believe the government needs more revenue.

Seems reasonable enough. But I think it’s interesting to compare this case to others in which individual action to address a widespread problem is rendered more or less futile by the presence of a collective action problem. Global warming is an obvious example. One person deciding not to own a car or take an airplane doesn’t significantly change the amount of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere. Yet at least some people seem to think that this fact does not justify everybody just throwing up their hands and saying, “screw it, I’m not going to change my personal habits to reduce my carbon footprint until there’s a mechanism in place that forces everybody to do so.”

Just last week I stopped for a night at Warren Wilson college in North Carolina, where I spent a night in an “EcoDorm” that had solar panels, non-flush urinals, a system that collects rainwater for the toilets, a special exterior shell to reduce air infiltration, and a bunch of other features that minimized environmental impact. The EcoDorm cost fifty percent more than a typical dorm, and it makes an essentially insignificant contribution to environmental collective action problems. But the students I talked to believed quite passionately in the EcoDorm; the presense of a collective action problem did not let them off the hook for doing their part to protect the environment, and I think that most environmentalists would agree. So why is it that a fair number of people hold this position with regard to the environment while it seems ridiculous that a rich guy like Buffett would have a duty to voluntarily give his money to a revenue-strapped government?

Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller has been putting out a series of hackish smear pieces on the recent Journolist scandal that take quotes out of context to make them seem a lot more worrisome than they actually are.  Pretty much every time one of these articles is published, former Journolist members respond by putting quotes from the Caller’s pieces in the context of the e-mails or threads the quotes were pulled from, usually showing the articles to be egregious misrepresentations of the actual content of the e-mails.

Tucker Carlson posted a response today to some recent criticisms of the Daily Caller.  He addresses the charge that, if the  Caller really isn’t taking quotes out of context, then it should publish the original e-mail threads along with its articles:

[W]hy don’t we publish whatever portions of the Journolist archive we have and end the debate? Because a lot of them have no obvious news value, for one thing…. [W]hile it might be amusing to air threads theorizing about the personal and sexual shortcomings of various New Republic staffers, we’ve decided to pull back.

Plus, a lot of the material on Journolist is actually pretty banal. In addition to being partisan hacks, a lot of these guys turn out to be pedestrian thinkers. Disappointing.

We reserve the right to change our minds about this in the future, but for now there’s an easy solution to this question: Anyone on Journolist who claims we quoted him “out of context” can reveal the context himself. Every member of Journolist received new threads from the group every day, most of which are likely still sitting in Gmail accounts all over Washington and New York. So feel free to try to prove your allegations, or else stop making them.

Notice the false choice that Carlson presents forward here: either continue with the misleading, out-of-context quoting that has defined the Daily Caller’s articles so far, or make the whole entire Journolist archives public.  Well, here’s a sensible alternative: just publish the parts of the archives that are directly relevant to the quotes and claims in the Daily Caller’s coverage.  Would it really be such a huge burden on the reader if full e-mail threads were at least linked to from the Caller’s articles?  You know, e-mails like the ones that former Journolist members have been publishing themselves in response to the Caller’s dishonest reporting?

As for Carlson’s suggestion that Journolisters publish the archives themselves if they think the Caller’s coverage has been misleading… well, that’s exactly what they have been doing (see, for example, Jonathan Chait).  The fact that so many of the Caller’s articles on Journolist have thus far turned out to be misleading after Journolisters put their e-mails in context, and the fact that the Caller refuses to itself publish more of the e-mails, goes to show, I think, that there really isn’t any smoking gun about a liberal media conspiracy in the Journolist archives, and that Tucker Carlson and the Daily Caller are grasping at straws and torpedoing their credibility by serving up bait for the Drudge/Breitbart crowd that will boost the Caller’s traffic.