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Writing for the Washington City Paper must be a joyfully simplistic exercise. A little hyperbole here, a reference to right-wing “zealots” there, sprinkle all over with a healthy dose of ad hominem, and, presto change-o! you have a City Paper feature. Such is the case with “Bull Market” (3/8), Garance Franke-Ruta’s philippic on the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

It appears from the article, however, that Mercatus just wants to inject common-sense ideas into the government that are long overdue. For example, one Mercatus policy expert is a former New Zealand politician who helped save that country from the financial abyss opened by the “disaster of socialist economics” (Franke-Ruta’s words, not mine), who suggests applying such principles to the United States by zeroing out funding for government programs proven to be ineffective. Is this such an unreasonable position? Are we to presume that the City Paper supports appropriating more dollars for wasteful government programs? We also learn that the Mercatus Center wants to reform the current structure of energy markets to end the subsidization of consumers who overconsume energy during peak demand hours. Again, what is so objectionable?

Next, Franke-Ruta laments that Mercatus is still taken seriously despite an “experimental” economics program that, as part of its analysis, uses MRI technology to determine how different inputs affect test subjects’ brains. Yet this same research has come within a whisker of meriting a Nobel economics prize. Sounds pretty serious to me.

If the left has any gripes about Mercatus, Franke-Ruta has failed to uncover them. The one Democratic congressional staffer quoted in the article says that Mercatus is an “outstanding institution.” Surely, substantive critiques (if any) could have been unearthed from the City Paper’s extensive Rolodex of liberal nonprofits and members of Congress.

Having drained the well of criticism, Franke-Ruta stoops to lampooning the physical appearance of some of the Mercatus people she interviewed, even making fun of one gentleman’s bald spot. Of course, we should expect little more propriety from the City Paper—which, after all, continues to feature Ted Rall, the cartoonist who recently mocked the grieving of Sept. 11 widows.

“Bull Market,” in the end, is typical of the City Paper’s slam-everything, smashmouth journalism, each article an overproduction of stomach acid perpetually on a mission to consume and destroy something. Last week it was the Mercatus Center. This week, who knows? I can hardly wait.

Adams Morgan