L. Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal on technology and privacy rights In U.S. v. Antoine Jones, argued in the Supreme Court last week, lawyers argued over whether police could attach a GPS tracking device to the car of a suspected drug dealer without violating his expectation of privacy. "The Fourth Amendment is a rare part of the Constitution that explicitly requires judges to adjust standards to reflect changes in society. What was unreasonable before may be reasonable now," writes Crovitz. He outlines how privacy laws have changed since 1890, when a Broadway actress once obtained an injunction against someone for taking a photo of her wearing tights. Crovitz argues that law enforcement technique should be allowed to evolve along with technology, but admits that the ever-changing landscape makes the law blurry. "As justices grapple with technology, they should be led by the online behavior of Americans, who increasingly value digital technology over privacy," he writes.
Michael O'Hanlon in The New York Times on making the Navy more efficient As America looks to cut its Pentagon budget, leaders should improve efficiency rather than disengage from foreign commitments. "The Navy has figured out how to do more with less in the past ... [A]fter the cold war, seeing the writing on the wall, the Navy got more innovative," writes O'Hanlon. He details the current numbers and positions of much of the Navy fleet before giving an example of the kinds of strategies -- rotating crews by airplane rather than returning ships home -- that would allow fewer ships to do the same amount of work. He admits these kinds of solutions would take time and wouldn't work in all cases, but he uses them to demonstrate the kind of innovative thinking that will allow the U.S. to maintain its commitments in times of austerity.
John Sununu in The Boston Globe on taxing e-commerce companies Walmart and others want to pass a law requiring e-commerce companies to collect taxes from consumers on the states' behalf. "Rather than encumber a growing sector of our economy with an inefficient tax system, states should be searching for ways to streamline and simplify taxes," Sununu writes. He outlines the current system, in which online consumers are supposed to declare purchases to their home state, and argues that transferring this burdensome and complicated system to companies with no physical presence in the states is a bad solution that will create huge headaches for the companies. "The idea that federal intervention is justified because the state isn't getting its fair share from Zappos shoe sales is a bridge too far," he says.
Alan Blinder in The Wall Street Journal on the flat tax The flat tax has once again become a popular solution for simplifying our tax code. "Accomplishing vast tax simplification is unlikely in the extreme; and flattening the rate structure won't make the tax code any simpler. It would, however, make the tax system far less progressive," Blinder writes. Blinder points out the ways that eliminating loopholes would be politically unfeasible. He notes that it is the calculation of what counts as taxable income that burdens tax payers most, not the calculation of their tax rate. So flattening the tax would only eliminate its progressive nature without making the paying of taxes any simpler. A flat tax, he points out, would likely lower the burden of the rich while creating a greater one for the poor. "So the next time you hear the charge of 'class warfare,' ask yourself which class is waging war on which -- and which class is winning."
Virginia Postrel in Bloomberg View on Amazon's new lending library Amazon has created a Netflix-like lending library, allowing those Kindle users who pay a yearly subscription to take out one book per month for no extra charge. "Beyond short-term earnings, however, the lending library is just the latest innovation to raise big questions about the whole publishing ecosystem," writes Postrel. She revisits the history of negotiations on prices for e-books between Amazon and the big six publishers, and notes that none of those publishers are putting their titles in the new lending library. In publishing, she says, people tend to discount the effect of a $1 difference in price, but she lays out research that indicates that these prices differences do matter and make "bundle" buying a good solution. While that's the least preferred solution for publishers, it's one of the best for Kindle users and Amazon. "One thing is certain, however. Publishers are in trouble," she says.