From Michael Moore:
Pres Obama, show some guts & arrest the CEO of Standard & Poors. These criminals brought down the economy in 2008& now they will do it again
When Standard & Poor’s gives a bond rating, it’s expressing an opinion about how likely it is that the bond is sound. The First Amendment protects such expression of opinions, whether about bonds, stocks, companies or countries more generally, politicians, or filmmakers. I’ve argued that the protection is indeed quite robust, but even if I’m mistaken and some negligence-based civil liability may be allowed when people rely to their detriment on negligently produced evaluations, it’s pretty clear that arrests based on such speech are unconstitutional. Even given the normal latitude for hyperbole and imprecision in such a context, it seems to me that Michael Moore’s recommendation calls for (and reflects) more ignorance of the Constitution — or willful disregard for the Constitution — than “guts.”
One other thing to remember: Bond ratings are useful only if one is confident that the rating agency wasn’t forced into giving the rating it gave. If agency managers have to fear criminal prosecution for ratings that governments dislike, they surely will give ratings that the governments like — and then no-one sensible will take those ratings into account. (To be sure, ratings could become less valuable if there are other pressures that make them unreliable. But fear of being arrested for offending the government is a very big pressure indeed.)
Thanks to my father Vladimir for the pointer. UPDATE: I originally planned to include the preceding paragraph, but forgot, so I just added it.