Tag Archive for: FreeSpeech

The Economist Whose Theory Predicted Today’s Calls for Censorship in the 1970s

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase wrote a paper in 1974 that implicitly predicted the increasing popularity of censorship among the intellectual class.

 

After Elon Musk’s offer to purchase Twitter was accepted, the Department of Homeland Security unveiled plans for a “disinformation” governance board. Musk’s purchase is not final, and the governance board is now paused, but the reaction to these events has been telling.

One might expect professionals in the market for ideas would be concerned by a government agency policing speech. Curiously, many groups who historically have defended free speech against interference seem slow (or absent) in response.

Members of the journalism industry have reacted negatively to Musk’s vocal support of free speech. His purchase is “dangerous,” and his commitment to free speech will lead to people being “silenced”.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press attacked Musk for wanting free speech, claiming that this desire was inconsistent with the fact that he has criticized people in the past.

This claim by the AP confused many, as criticism is obviously compatible with free speech.

Time magazine voiced opposition to Musk from another angle, trying to disparage his “tech bro” obsession with free speech

CNN writers crafted the suggestive headline, “Twitter has been focused on ‘healthy conversations.’ Elon Musk could change that”.

At The Conversation, Filippo Menczer, a professor of informatics and computer science at Indiana University, argues John Milton’s idea of the uncensored marketplace of ideas is outdated and calls for “refereeing” of social media. And of course, this refereeing isn’t censorship. Why would you think that?

Another professor writing for The ConversationJaigris Hudson, argues Elon Musk’s free speech push will make speech less free because if harsh language is allowed some people will stop talking. This article when set next to this Washington Post piece and the AP tweet underscores a consistent theme of mistaking free speech for freedom from criticism.

Head bureaucrat of the government’s “paused” disinformation board, Nina Jankowicz, also wishes Twitter would move in another direction. Jankowicz wonders, why not allow verified accounts to edit the Tweets of people using free speech too dangerously?

Although it isn’t uncommon for high-level military bureaucrats like Jankowicz to desire censorship, academics and journalists have long been stalwart defenders of the importance of an uncensored marketplace for ideas. For a long time, universities and newspapers were seen as places where controversial means and ends could be debated publicly. “The truth will out” was the final defense of these institutions against calls for censorship.

This defense of the marketplace of ideas was so universal among the professional intellectual class that it inspired Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase (1910-2013) to write a paper trying to explain why this was so. And, using this same paper, we can see Coase implicitly predicted the increasing favorability of censorship among the professional intellectual class.

In a 1974 paper, Coase, the Clifton R. Musser Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Law School, mused over an interesting puzzle. Professional intellectuals focus tremendous effort in highlighting why the market for goods and services requires regulation. Meanwhile, those same intellectuals often argued that the market for ideas should be free from regulation.

So, why the asymmetry?

To answer this puzzle, Coase first dismissed two popular but wrong explanations for this paradox.

The first explanation is that markets for goods and services can have market failures. For example, if gasoline buyers and sellers don’t have to pay for the pollution gasoline generates, they will buy and sell too much at the expense of those who experience pollution.

However, the problem with this explanation is obvious. There can also be failures in the market for ideas. Even if it’s correct that the best idea will win, it’s obvious that the best idea won’t always win immediately. Pollution in the market for ideas, such as disinformation, is also possible.

In other words, the market for ideas also has market failures. On this criteria, both types of markets should be regulated–or neither.

The second wrong explanation for why professional intellectuals defend the market for ideas from regulation is that unregulated speech is necessary for a functioning democracy. This explanation sounds okay at first, so what’s wrong with it?

Well, the market for goods and services is also necessary for a functioning democracy. As Coase puts it,

For most people in most countries (and perhaps in all countries), the provision of food, clothing, and shelter is a good deal more important than the provision of the “right ideas,” even if it is assumed that we know what they are.

So good ideas being necessary for a functioning democracy can’t be an explanation for why the market for ideas should be unregulated, since professional intellectuals favor regulation for goods and services which are also necessary for a functioning democracy.

The asymmetry remains.

Coase finishes his essay by solving the paradox. Why do professional intellectuals defend the market for ideas against regulation but not the market for goods and services?

The market for ideas is the market in which the intellectual conducts his trade. The explanation of the paradox is self-interest and self-esteem. Self-esteem leads the intellectuals to magnify the importance of their own market. That others should be regulated seems natural, particularly as many of the intellectuals see themselves as doing the regulating.

So, the market for ideas is the market controlled by intellectuals. They see their market as a higher and more important calling. The market for goods and services, in their view, is both less important and more corrupted.

So how does Coase’s explanation here predict the increasing calls for censorship in the market for ideas?

Remember the explanation Coase gave. Professional intellectuals considered the market for ideas as above regulation because they controlled the market.

But times have changed since Coase wrote his article in 1974.

The internet has revolutionized the landscape of the market for ideas. It’s no longer the case that the well-credentialed have the most sway in the ideas market. Recent years have been characterized by creators on YouTube, podcasts, and, most recently, Substack dominating the market for ideas.

Now that the market for ideas is no longer dominated by academia and the journalism industry, members of those groups no longer have the same incentives to stop industry regulation.

In fact, as in many industries, it may be in incumbents’ best interest to regulate competition. After all, if people get their new commentary from Joe Rogan and not CNN, that hurts CNN’s bottom line.

So, although Coase did not foresee the decentralization of the market of ideas in his piece, the logic of his paper gives a clear prediction. If the ones who hold the reins to the market for ideas lose their grip, calls for regulation are sure to follow. And this is exactly what we’re seeing.

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This article was published by FEE, Foundation for Economic Education and is reproduced with permission.

Cancel Culture in Action: Wrecking Peoples Lives in Retaliation

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Let’s face it:  free speech for California’s teachers and educators is dead.  If you are a teacher or guidance counselor in California and make an internet posting that happens to offend students, teachers, and/or administrators who make up the woke mob, you may very well lose your job.  The truth of what you wrote makes no difference to the free speech-haters.  Indeed, the greater the truth, the greater the amount of hatred it’s likely to draw from the mob.  If you doubt this, look no further than the case of Patricia Crawford, formerly a guidance counselor at Rubidoux High School (“RHS”) in southern California.  This case, more so than many, illustrates the total depravity and evil of Cancel Culture.

On February 16, 2017, a host of RHS students skipped school (itself a violation of norms and, technically, truancy) to attend a protest in support of “A Day Without Immigrants.”  The protest was part of a nationwide boycott against President Trump’s immigration policies.  Together with other students who skipped school without necessarily attending the protest, they made up about one-quarter of the entire student body.

RHS was an overcrowded school and, not surprisingly, the absence of one-quarter of the students made it less so.  A teacher emailed the staff about the high rate of absences.  Patricia Crawford emailed back:  “The PROFESSIONAL staff members and SERIOUS students are here today, boycott be darned.”

Later that same day, RHS teacher Geoffrey Greer posted on Facebook that he was uncertain whether the missing workers “had the intended impact or sent the desired message.”  He went on to comment that attendance in the classes he taught was down by 50 percent and proved “how much better things might be without this overcrowding.”  He concluded by stating that “that’s what you get when you jump on some sort of bandwagon cause as an excuse to be lazy and/or get drunk.  Best school day ever.”

Ms. Crawford commented on Greer’s post as follows:  “Cafeteria was much cleaner after lunch, lunch, itself, went quicker, less traffic on the roads and no discipline issues today.  More, please.”  Note the likely truth of these comments:  if attendance was down by one-quarter, it stands to reason that lunch would go quicker and there would be less traffic on the roads.  If students routinely left some trash around, the mere fact of fewer students would imply less trash (with no implication that those who skipped school were any dirtier than their counterparts who chose to follow the rules and attend school).  Discipline issues could be determined based upon the school’s records, but, again, if discipline issues arose equally per capita among those who boycotted and those who did not, fewer students would imply fewer discipline issues.

The Facebook exchanges continued.  Several students responded on Facebook to these two posts, expressing that “many students are taking these comments in a negative way.”  One student wrote that Crawford’s remarks were “very, very disappointing.”  Crawford defended herself as follows:  “Disappointing is to think that some of my students still don’t get it about education.  Staff members who are sympathetic to the cause were at school today.  The kids who care were there . . .   What I saw today was more proof, just like last year, that boycotts, especially of education, aren’t the answer.  It just keeps the ones who need it the most as useful fools.”  Finally, she wrote on Facebook “My post was meant to be snarky.  Get over yourselves.”

It was for this exercise by Patricia Crawford of her free speech rights that the Jurupa Unified School District sought to have her fired.  The stated basis for the dismissal was that she had engaged in “immoral conduct” by writing the things quoted above.  She was placed on administrative leave the next day, February 17, 2017.  In May 2017, the District informed her that it intended to fire her.  An organization named the “Commission on Professional Competence of the Jurupa Unified School District” heard Crawford’s appeal against the District’s decision and ruled in the District’s favor.

If you are shocked to learn that the Commission and the District would regard telling the truth as “immoral conduct,” you will be even more shocked to learn that the District’s and the Commission’s rulings were upheld in the California Superior Court and the California Court of Appeal.  

The new definition of “immoral conduct” for educators in California is this:  anything written on Facebook or other social media that happens to offend the woke mob or the media and draws their negative comments.  Effectively, the woke mob and the media have been given the power to strip California teachers and educators of their guaranteed First Amendment free speech rights.

What is most noteworthy about the Court of Appeal’s decision is that nowhere in the Court’s opinion is there any discussion about whether what Crawford wrote was true.  One reads the opinion in vain for any discussion about whether it was true that the cafeteria was cleaner after lunch, whether lunch went quicker or whether there was less traffic on the roads.  In this new Orwellian world, truth is no defense.  And to be sure, that makes sense in a twisted sort of way.  If you had publicly written in Nazi Germany that Hitler was a murdering tyrant, the Gestapo would pay you a visit and your new home, if you were not immediately shot out of hand, would have been a concentration camp.  Arguments to the Gestapo that it was true that Hitler was a murderous tyrant most certainly would have been unavailing.  Here in California, the truth of social media postings is no more defense for educators than truth was a defense in Nazi Germany.

So if the truth was not even the slightest bit relevant in determining whether Crawford had engaged in immoral conduct, what was relevant?  What, precisely, was the immoral conduct?

The District received 51 emails complaining about Crawford’s Facebook posts, she herself received 10, and nearly 40 people complained at a District Board meeting held on February 21, 2017.  There is no indication any of these emails or complaints addressed the truth or falsity of Crawford’s postings; they appear to have expressed only outrage and anger.  Additionally, Crawford’s postings drew widespread negative attention in the media at the time, and this was considered to have bolstered the case for a finding of immoral conduct.  Crawford’s allegedly “immoral conduct” was making postings on Facebook that (1) were in all likelihood either true or an expression of her opinion and (2) happened to offend students, teachers, and members of the media. 

There was indeed immoral conduct in this case, but it was not the immoral conduct found by the august body of Solons that calls itself “the Commission on Professional Competence.”  The immoral conduct was that of those who had as their objective the destruction of Patricia Crawford’s First Amendment rights.

This is the new world in which we live, a world where the totalitarian Left and their apparatchiks in government seek to ruin the lives of those who oppose their vision of an Orwellian future for the United States of America.  Other parts of their sinister program are to eliminate the Electoral College, pack the Supreme Court, make the District of Columbia a state, bring in hordes of immigrants who they hope will vote for them, and allow teachers to groom young children without fear of prosecution for child abuse.  To say that we fought the American Revolution to get rid of people like this would be an overstatement, because in truth and fact the British who ruled colonial America were not even close to being as evil as today’s woke mob.

What must be clearly understood is that the Cancel Culture’s minions are not merely people with a different point of view, any more than the murderous Bolsheviks or Nazis were merely people with a different point of view.  To the contrary, they are evil human beings who would do much worse things to us if they could.  During the French Revolution, people who spoke the truth like Patricia Crawford were guillotined, and during the Bolshevik Revolution they were shot or sent to the Gulag.     

Although these events occurred about five years ago, it would be a mistake to think things have changed.  Indeed, they have only gotten worse.  The Biden Administration has established a new Ministry of Truth entitled the “Disinformation Governance Board.”  How long will it be before goose-stepping, jack-booted thugs wearing badges and uniforms will knock on your door because of something you wrote on the internet?  Across the pond, Breitbart News reports that the left-wing mayor of Liverpool, England asserts that advertisements on public transit promoting an appearance by the Reverend Franklin Graham constitute “hate speech” and should be removed.  And what do these allegedly hate-filled ads say?  They say “God Loves You Too.”