Bryan Caplan  

Questions for Civil Libertarian Economists

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Virtually all free-market economists are civil libertarians, staunch advocates of freedom of speech, religion, and the like. But in my experience, virtually all economists who eschew the "free-market" label are civil libertarians, too. Economists disagree about whether laissez-faire is the best economic policy. But laissez-faire in the market for ideas/culture enjoys across-the-board support.

This isn't an easy pattern to understand. If you take market failure theories seriously, it's child's play to apply them expression. Negative externalities? Come on - many bloggers write for the sole purpose of offending others! Asymmetric information? Hey, if information were symmetric, what would be the point of sharing your thoughts with the world?

I'm curious about why economists so uniformly embrace civil liberties. But I'm especially curious about why so many non-libertarian economists end up being civil libertarians. So I'll aim my questions at the latter group - but whatever your view, feel free to chime in.

Questions:

1. Are markets for ideas/culture less subject to market failure than other markets? Why or why not?

2. Is well-intended regulation of idea/culture markets more likely to have unintended negative consequences than well-intended regulation of other markets?

3. Is regulation of idea/culture markets less likely to be well-intended than regulation of other markets?

4. Is the average consumer a better judge of his own best interest in idea/culture markets than in other markets?

5. Is efficiency less normatively important in idea/culture markets than in other markets? If so, what normative goal(s) do we satisfy by sacrificing efficiency?

6. Should countries with weak civil liberties liberalize their regulation of idea/culture markets? If so, would you advocate "shock therapy"? Why or why not?

Just so you can't accuse me of having a hidden agenda, let me state my agenda openly. I think that the typical social democratic economist's arguments in favor of civil liberties are much weaker than the typical free-market economist's arguments in favor of laissez-faire for the broader economy. If a free-market economist opposed regulation of the oil industry on the same grounds that the typical economist opposes regulation of religion, the typical economist would dismiss him as a "market fundamentalist."

My challenge, then, is to defend laissez-faire in idea/cultural markets using arguments that you wouldn't be embarassed to make in other markets. Can you do it?


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The author at The Volokh Conspiracy in a related article titled Regulation of "Economic" Markets vs. Regulation of the Market for Culture and Ideas: writes:

    Economist Bryan Caplan poses some excellent questions to liberal economists who want heavy government regulation of "economic markets" but take a lais...

    [Tracked on August 28, 2008 2:13 PM]
COMMENTS (42 to date)
Chuck writes:

The notion of a 'market' for ideas is a metaphor.

No one buys or sells ideas.

People buy and sell books or movies or videos or blog advertising, etc, but not the ideas themselves.

This is a false equivalence, it seems to me.

Daniel Klein writes:

Nice post Bry.

I guess great minds DO think alike, for Coase posed the exact same puzzle in much the same way. See "The Market for Goods and the Market for Ideas," (AER 1974), reprinted in 1994 Essays. In the final paragraph he comes across just like your post, insisting on greater consistency and anticipating how his not-consistently-liberal economist colleagues will respond.

Les writes:

Bryan Caplan wrote: "But in my experience, virtually all economists who eschew the "free-market" label are civil libertarians, too."

It seems to me to be a contradiction in terms for economists who eschew the "free-market" label to be civil libertarians, too.

In fact, it seems to be an anachronism to regard someone who eschews the "free-market" label to be regarded as an economist.

Blackadder writes:

Nice post, but I'm afraid Ronald Coase got there first.

Blackadder writes:

Actually, I think this is of a piece with another oddity that I've noticed, which is that people tended to be more concerned about civil liberties violations when it comes to things like the war on terror than when it comes to things like the drug war. Many of the practices approved in the Patriot Act, for example, had been used in the drug war for decades without raising much of a stink, yet when they were approved for suspected terrorists people started to get suspicious.

My guess is that the difference is largely one of self-narrative. We've all read books about the heroic resistance to authoritarian government, and so it's easy for us to pretend that we are a latter day Solzhenitsyn because we oppose some petty speech restriction. It's harder to convince yourself that you are fending off impending tyranny by opposing building code regulations.

AC writes:

There is a practical objection to regulating ideas and speech. It is very hard to regulate specific odious speech without also chilling a great deal of "acceptable" speech. People will self-censor, and will self-censor the greater the uncertainty. This is why American courts permit facial challenges to ordinances regulating speech -- someone may have standing because their speech has been "chilled" even if they have not been subject to prosecution.

In other words, administrative and enforcement costs exceed the marginal improvement in social well being from banning harmful speech.

Chuck writes:

You guys are really being silly now.

The whole notion that this is a valid question really goes to the heart of how biased you are to theory over reality.

Seriously.

conchis writes:

I would have thought 5. would go the other way. Efficiency being more important in idea/cultural markets relative to distributional concerns would suggest less intervention in them.

7. Is the slippery slope steeper for idea/cultural markets? (though perhaps this is a subset of 2.)

Daniel Klein writes:

Follow-up to my Coase cite:

Stigler's "The Intellectual and the Marketplace" (AER P&P 1963) also raised and addressed the question.

RL writes:

Bryan,

The Coase piece is particularly of interest to libertarians with an interest/background in Objectivism. I recall Rand, in one of her Ayn Rand Letters heatedly denounced the piece, apparently not perceiving it was written as a satire.

Chuck writes:

I was going to try and put my money where my mouth is by answering the questions but I couldn't get them to make sense.

1) What actually is a failure of an idea/culture market? People can't see a movie that they wanted to see? That crazy ideas like libertarianism are still lingering around? ;-)

What is efficiency in an idea/culture market? Is it that people only experience ideas/culture that they find appealing? Is it that they are able to find ideas/culture that challenge them? Is it that movies are all just special effects and no real story?

That kind of thing.

What I think this comes down to is that ideas are essential to thought, understanding, and learning.

Censoring ideas might be analogous to banning food. Well, maybe a better analogy is that it would be analogous to banning the sale of food.

It's really hard to work here because we don't buy and sell ideas and culture, we buy and sell books and attendance at performances and education.

So it seems to me that what you really need to do here is re-ask all those questions but with 'books' or 'movies' in place of idea/culture markets.

It would look like this:

1. Are markets for books less subject to market failure than other markets? Why or why not?

2. Is well-intended regulation of book markets more likely to have unintended negative consequences than well-intended regulation of other markets?

3. Is regulation of book markets less likely to be well-intended than regulation of other markets?

4. Is the average consumer a better judge of his own best interest in book markets than in other markets?

5. Is efficiency less normatively important in book markets than in other markets? If so, what normative goal(s) do we satisfy by sacrificing efficiency?

6. Should countries with weak civil liberties liberalize their regulation of book markets? If so, would you advocate "shock therapy"? Why or why not?

Really has to be that way because regulating books is a lot different from regulating the right to say to a friend that the president is a bad person or that teh gays are destroying the country.

Thaddeus McMonster writes:

A lot of economists may be pro-government not due to efficiency concerns but rather concerns about equality. (or because they are macro-economists, but I don't want to go there). The same dichotomy between efficiency/equity doesn't hold true for civil liberties.

Unit writes:

Should we redistribute knowledge from the to 1% most knowledgeable people to the bottom 90%? i.e. should people that know a lot, or understand culture very well (Tyler?) be forced to pass their knowledge along to others?

Billy writes:

I've always enjoyed Robert Nozick's "Why Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism." I understand that Dr. Caplan's question concerns economists but Dr. Nozick's essay is a great read regardless.

http://www.cato.org/pubs/policy_report/cpr-20n1-1.html

Horatio writes:

1. If we take the view that many market failures stem from our unsuitability for modern life, and that failure is less likely when an activity resembles something we would have done in our precivilized past, then we see failure is less likely for markets in ideas/culture.

2. Probably the other way around. It's easy to get around bans on this or that idea because it's difficult to keep people from talking to each other. Markets in tangible items are more difficult to hide from the government. These markets are forced underground and we get things like gang violence driven by competition over drug markets.

3. Not sure.

4. Yes, for the same reasons as 1. We are better adapted to figuring out who to listen to than what car to buy.

5. Not sure.

6. Yes. Yes. Because it's the right thing to do.


Most government fundamentalists probably do not think about the issues this way. They seek to increase and preserve value for themselves. They can increase the value that accrues to them by supporting politicians that fetter markets and place decisions in the hands of economists, the very economists that supported restrictions on the market. Those economists are also in the business of selling ideas, so they would lose value if government suddenly starting restricting what they could say. Government fundamentalists who are civil liberatarians are just looking out for #1.

aaron writes:

Have you considered that they are civil libertarians because they want markets to be inefficient?

8 writes:

Life in the university system should have shown you that the people who want to restrict the market and those who wish to restrict civil liberties are one and the same. Instead, you have fallen for their propaganda! Just because the professors make a big show over fighting for some civil liberties, does not mean they support them across the board.

Markets for ideas and culture fail, but not as much as government. A failed idea in the market can last for some time, such as racism and anti-semitism. But eventually it is undone by market forces because holding the failed idea leads to losses. Except when government gets involved and enshrines the bad idea, as it does with bad policy. Then the bad idea can continue for a long-time, with lots of rent-seeking by those who benefit. A great example is the culture problem surrounding poverty.

The problem with a bad culture/idea, however, is that it can take over an institution. Once that happens, it is like competiting with a government sanctioned monopoly and very difficult without the help of trustbusters. Thus we see people like David Horowitz appealing to state legislatures to make government funded universities more open to competiting ideas. On the other hand, Charles Murray and others (such as homeschoolers) are using the market to launch assaults on the institutions of public education and higher learning.

Carolyn writes:

This is an absolutely ludicrous metaphor. Liberals (lowercase l) are concerned with the welfare of a people. Impinging upon an individual's right to free speech, religion, sexuality, etc. does nothing to further this goal. If pursuit of one of these civil liberties were to conflict with the pursuit of another's civil liberties or physical safety in a substantive way, liberals and all practical-minded people would understand the need for toning it down. Most economic markets - and not all of course - are necessarily about a power dynamic in which price and quantity are bargained over. Liberals would like to see the resurgence of unions not because we (or all of us) want to see the erection of welfare-reducing tariffs and quotas, but because we want a historically exploited segment of society to be given more power over their wages and marginal products. Free markets are not engines of egalitarianism, and for the most part they are not even engines of efficiency (hence large corporate profit margins). We're not nuts - we just care a little bit more about humanity's material welfare than maybe extracting every last iota of a hicks-kaldor improvement.

Adolfo writes:

GREAT argument!!!!!

Adolfo

eccdogg writes:

For those who think the analogy is off here a few examples.

Violent video games. Do they create externalities by making players more violent. Should they be banned? Taxed?

Gangster rap music. Do the lead people to glorify violence, denegrate women. This could be an externality. Should it be banned?

Murphy Brown/Sex and the City. Do they incourage unsuspecting women subconciously to have children out of weddlock? If they thought rationally they would realize that this is bad for them but we know that people do not think rationally and can be influenced by culture. Certainly some women will not be influenced, but what about the uneducated? Can we protect them through regulation? Perhaps by only allowing the college educated to watch these shows.

Nazi marches should they be banned? Could they create more anti semitism. That is their goal.

Nudity/Lude behaivior in movies. Do they cause young people to have sex earlier endagering thier longterm livelihood?

For each of these an argument similar to the arguments made in favor of regulating markets could be made and be equally coherent and in some cases the stakes are MUCH higher than those for bad market outcomes.

Josh Lyle writes:

Carolyn,
actually, I think the relevant cases comparing the "social" civil liberties with the "economic" civil liberties are closer to the areas you mention than you may think. Decartelization and an end to price fixing in the labor market would do much for those that lack the immense bargaining power of the (relatively) privileged elite that belong to unions. Regulations that clumsily aim at improving material interests of the downtrodden end up protecting established market interests and hurt most those at the lowest strata of the socioeconomic pile. Especially worrisome are licensing schemes that prevent the poor from turning their real skills and capital assets into legitimate business opportunities (as many left-libertarians jeremiads on cosmetology and taxi regulatory regimes have described) and minimum wage laws that hurt those whose labor is already difficult to sell -- like those trying to establish work experience for the first time -- thus forcing these people into the black market. I would like to see more power and respect going to those who are really getting shafted by the denial of their economic civil liberties. Let them sell what they will at a price of their choosing. Surely those hurt by the availability of cheap ride-share level transportation or freelance hair-braiding are no more deserving of the State's heavy-handed protection than those who claim to be injured by their neighbors practicing false religion or speaking uncomfortable words.

Nate writes:

eccdogg,

Your presentation of those questions seems to favor civil regulation.
I would simply like to point out an assumption that made me think twice about each and every one of those questions posed.

It is assumed that some government bureau will know what is best for the individuals and the group as a whole. It is assumed that violent video games have a direct causal relationship with violence in children, and that Sex and the City leads to higher birth rates for those females who watch the show.

I would say that there is much more at stake when putting that sort of trust in an imperfect organization. What if they got it wrong, and regulated away the freedoms that had no externality?

Ned writes:

Bryan, this is clearly a provocation. ;-)

People are not guided by the reasoning of their conscious selves; rather, they have pre-conscious notions that the rational mind tries to defend. Let me tell you what will happen in response to your ‘call to open inquiry’: people motivated by quest for power or by personal insecurity will denounce you for asking ‘ridiculous’ questions, cover their ears and start singing loudly “la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you-la-la-la” (see the posts by ‘Chuck’ and ‘Carolyn’).. No real discussion will emerge, I’m afraid.

You either already know this (you are a cynic, then), or you don’t (you are naïve)… But the post clarifies the mind, nonetheless.

eccdogg writes:

Nate, I agree and I am against regulation in every case. For the reason you mention among other things.

My point is why is a regulator more able to determine what type of mortgage I ought to have that what type of video game I ought to be allowed to play.

It seems inconsistent to say regulators are too dumb to trust and people are smart enough to make decisions that might influence teen pregnacy or school violence but regulators are smart enough and people too dumb to make decisions on thier mortgage.

David writes:

Coase remarks, in the preface to his collection Essays on Economics and Economists, that the lecture in question, "The Market for Goods ..." was "strongly denounced by the American press after it was presented" and that "the question posed in it has been largely ignored by economists." (p. vii)

Jon writes:

Since when do non-libertarian economists call for non-intervention in the marketplace of ideas? Quite the contrary!

Most market failures in the realm of ideas result in the undersupply of valuable ideas due to their large positive externalities, so the efficient intervention is to subsidize idea creation by (1) funding it directly, or (2) creating a social mechanism (intellectual property law) to allow the authors of ideas to internalize their benefits.

Now it's perfectly true that the expression of ideas can sometimes have negative externalities, and we do indeed limit some of these expressions (i.e. speech intended to incite criminal behavior or panic). However, I believe that most civil libertarians base their arguments on a belief in (1) the great positive externalities of ideas, and (2) the difficulty in discriminating between 'good' and 'bad' ideas, or their expression.

floccina writes:

It seems to me that the left is drifting more and more to regulating speak. From my observation the left in the most part does not want to end the War on Drugs but to make drug use a medical issue. Feminists seem to want to control speech through sexual harassment laws. How about hate crimes laws? They want to tell people what to eat and ban certain foods!

It seems that we have reached a point where the left defends all kinds of controls if implemented democratically and libertarians are against the same controls.

aaron writes:

I agree with Jon. Often what we see is protection of bad ideas from the free market.

This probably keeps other markets from performing efficiently. The prevalence and popularity of bad ideas prevent markets from functioning.

This is why I think consumption taxes (carbon taxes) will be a flop. There's too much bad information out there, the common person will not work more effficiently than they do and will change things they already do efficiently erroneously. Problem is what we all seem to know that just ain't so.

Brad Hutchings writes:

The actual "market failure" in speech/ideas may very well be the 1st Amendment. And that may be a very fortunate market failure. Look to the recently resolved Mark Steyn controversy in Canada as far more typical of how modern liberal democracies regulate speech and ideas. While he was absolved of any wrongdoing, there was a burden placed upon him to defend his own right to his views.

Absent the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution, and without the United States being such a dominant world power, I don't even see us having this discussion. Civil libertarians hold free speech as absolute because it's absolute. They have repeated crises of faith which they resolve at the margins (e.g. hate speech, movie ratings, campaign finance). But it's faith that keeps them anchored and without it, we'd be overrun with regulation on speech, just as we are with regulation of the economy.

Grant writes:

Carolyn,

I don't think you interpreted Bryan's (excellent) post the way he intended.

This is an absolutely ludicrous metaphor. Liberals (lowercase l) are concerned with the welfare of a people. Impinging upon an individual's right to free speech, religion, sexuality, etc. does nothing to further this goal.
It can if that speech, religion and sexuality is welfare-reducing, or if welfare-increasing speech, religion and sexuality is under-provided. Should we regulate welfare-reducing ideas? Admittedly, its just has hard to measure welfare from culture as it is from the economy, but Scientology seems like something we could easily argue to be welfare-reducing.

If pursuit of one of these civil liberties were to conflict with the pursuit of another's civil liberties or physical safety in a substantive way, liberals and all practical-minded people would understand the need for toning it down.
If all major religions claimed that all Scientologists were a blight upon the world should we tax Scientology? Doing so would increase welfare. The presence of Scientology would conflict with the pursuit of the civil liberties of billions.

The idea seems ludicrous, but its just the logical extension of economic ideas (minus some public choice and Austrian influence).

aaron writes:

Climatologist are perfectly happy to tax everyone. I'd be perfectly happy to tax Climatologists as they are a blight upon the world.

Carolyn writes:

Grant,

I'm not really following you here. How do you find Scientology to have negative consumption exernalities? Granted, I do think Tom Cruise is a bit of a nutter -- but his beliefs have hardly influenced my ability to pursue godlessness or what have you. Or are you referring to my enjoyment of the current cultural climate? If it's the latter, I think we're at crosswinds here. The economic market dictates an individual's ability to pursue their own freedoms and experience certain levels of material well-being. A completely "free" and "open" economic market in every and any realm does not necessarily grant economic actors full exercise of those freedoms or opportunities because we live in a world where competition is not textbook perfect. Granting basic and commonsense freedoms for civil liberties, on the other hand, does not result in - on most occasions - less-than benevolent power dynamics whereby one will be cowed into a given perspective or action by the strongest individual, coalition, or circumstance. I guess maybe we're misunderstanding each other in that I - and I assume both liberals and libertarians - view the pursuit and satisfaction of economic welfare to be as basic a freedom as speech or religion. And in certain markets - particularly the one for labor - the only way to safeguard that freedom is by ensuring it - through regulation.

Bryan Caplan writes:

I'm gratified by the volume of responses, but does anyone want to directly answer my six specific questions?

Grant writes:

Carolyn,

I was referring to the fact that externalities are basically subjective and therefore arbitrary.

More bluntly, if religion X is harmful (to society as a whole, not necessarily you), why not regulate it?

Jon writes:

I am not a civil libertarian; I am not a libertarian of any sort. However, in answer to your questions:

1. Are markets for ideas/culture less subject to market failure than other markets? Why or why not?
My understanding is that markets for ideas are more prone to market failure than goods markets because of the greater externalities involved.

2. Is well-intended regulation of idea/culture markets more likely to have unintended negative consequences than well-intended regulation of other markets?
Very likely. It's generally more difficult to track the sources and consequences of ideas, which is in large part responsible for the difficulty their originators have in internalizing their full consequences, leading to the higher uncaptured externalities mentioned in #1. This likely also makes their regulation more prone to error because of the difficulty in discriminating between "good" and "bad" ideas, and calculating the optimal regulatory program.

3. Is regulation of idea/culture markets less likely to be well-intended than regulation of other markets?
I don't believe so.

4. Is the average consumer a better judge of his own best interest in idea/culture markets than in other markets?
No.

5. Is efficiency less normatively important in idea/culture markets than in other markets? If so, what normative goal(s) do we satisfy by sacrificing efficiency?
No.

6. Should countries with weak civil liberties liberalize their regulation of idea/culture markets? If so, would you advocate "shock therapy"? Why or why not?
Yes and yes. Ideas have very little marginal cost to produce and are generally non-rival. Liberalizing idea flow will allow the rapid influx of ideas, which ought to greatly increase productivity in short order.

Renato Drumond writes:

"1. Are markets for ideas/culture less subject to market failure than other markets? Why or why not?"

Yes. The effect of an idea depends on interpretation. Yes, it's objective, but hard to determine.

We can say that, even when negative externality is produced, on the same time a lot of positive externality is produced too.


"2. Is well-intended regulation of idea/culture markets more likely to have unintended negative consequences than well-intended regulation of other markets?"

Yes, see the point 1.

"3. Is regulation of idea/culture markets less likely to be well-intended than regulation of other markets?"

Yes, because if someone advocates regulation of an idea, it hits a direct competitor. You can say the same is true about other markets, but here we have a peculiar characteristic, which is that regulation is demanded by someone who is acting on its own market(for example, publishing a book that defends the ban of other books).

"4. Is the average consumer a better judge of his own best interest in idea/culture markets than in other markets?"

Yes, because it's really boring to read a book that you don't like, while in other markets you can truly enjoy a service without noting other secondary and harmful effects.

"5. Is efficiency less normatively important in idea/culture markets than in other markets? If so, what normative goal(s) do we satisfy by sacrificing efficiency?"

I think that free expression is a normative goal on the market of ideas, but I don't know if efficiency is less important here than in other markets.


"6. Should countries with weak civil liberties liberalize their regulation of idea/culture markets? If so, would you advocate "shock therapy"? Why or why not?"

Yes. I tend to say 'yes', because it's more easy to make a reform that its opponents are incapable to compreend all the (good)consequences. But could say 'no' if we think that this kind of transition would be weak to sustain.

Chuck writes:
"4. Is the average consumer a better judge of his own best interest in idea/culture markets than in other markets?"

Yes, because it's really boring to read a book that you don't like, while in other markets you can truly enjoy a service without noting other secondary and harmful effects.

This is why I didn't feel like I could answer the questions.

On the one hand, idea/culture markets are about entertainment, like "27 dresses" or "Talladega Nights". There's not so much by way of consequence to this.

On the other hand, they are also about our identity (in terms of what we believe) and, well, ideas, like Communism and freedom. There's a lot of consequences to those things.

So, what really is a failure of the 'idea/culture' market? Bad ideas like Fascism or bored entertainment consumers?

Again, if one talks about food, the 'food market' could fail by not delivering kiwi's to Canada or it could fail by not producing enough food.

Tom Papworth writes:

I'm not sure that my basic answers (Yes, Yes, No, No, Yes, Yes) conform to any particular pattern that on their own would indicate my philosophical bent, so I have sprinkled my response with plenty of hints as to my view of markets in both ideas and products. Suffice to say that I’m not afraid of using the arguments below to apply to freedom in any sphere.

1) Yes. Market failure is an over-used concept, but there are less likely to be negative externalities in ideas than in other goods because ideas (as opposed to actions informed by ideas) cannot impact upon unwilling others.

2) Yes, but only in scale. All intervention has unintended consequences, but intervening in ideas undermines the very fabric of the free society, which is based upon the free exchange of ideas which are then tested against one another. In additoin, under every product or service is an idea.

3) No. The “mean wellers” are always inspired by a sense of their own contribution to the greater good, even if they are painfully deluded.

4) No. "The average consumer" is always a better judge than the conservatives who believe they know better.

5) Efficiency is never the goal of any market. Markets are about experimentation. Even markets in production focus on quality as well as efficiency (the difference between Capitalism and Communism was not between Skoda and Ford but Skoda and Ferari). The point of markets is that ideas or methods can be proved in the white heat of competition.

6) Every country should liberalise every market. However, liberalising the market for ideas (i.e. establishing civil liberties) is surely easier and so can be achieved in a short time.

J.V. writes:

Bryan:

I don't think your argument works, even from the very start, where you wrote the following:

Virtually all free-market economists are civil libertarians, staunch advocates of freedom of speech, religion, and the like. But in my experience, virtually all economists who eschew the "free-market" label are civil libertarians, too.

This is untrue. Let's call it the paradox of the minority freedom-seeker, for want of a better term.

A minority freedom-seeker claims to seek freedom for all people, but they are really just trying to signal insincerely to the rest of society that they are a willing teammate to advance the cause for all humanity. But the truth is that they only seek freedom for their own minority point of view. Such folks would gladly dump all the other minorities straight overboard if they attained tomorrow the freedom they sought.

Those who seek religious freedom are really only seeking it for minority religions, in order to keep society imbalanced and the majority rulers on edge. You will never find a non-free-market civil libertarian defending a majority viewpoint, under the supposed assumption that the majorities can take care of themselves, but really because they want to keep the majorities under check.

The answer to your question, Bryan, is that civil libertarians who are not free-market advocates are tokenistic anti-majoritarian anarchists moreso than civil liberties as such.

(Full Disclosure: I am of an ethnic heritage that is trying to get the world to recognize a human tragedy that befell my ancestors some decades ago. My co-ethnics are always attending rallies for other ethnicities who have the same concern. But this is insincere. If we were to gain recognition for our tragedy, you can rest assured that we would stop caring about the other similar tragedies.)

VentrueCapital writes:

Bryan, I agree that almost every free-market economist wants a free market in ideas. I would not be surprised, however, if a large minority of non-free-market economists -- just as with other leftists -- want politically-correct government intervention such as laws against "hate speech" or against pornography that degrades womyn.

I'll play devil's advocate -- or cranky middle-aged-guy -- and answer your questions in a deliberately provocative way.

I'll start by defining some terms:

Efficiency in the ideas market is having good ideas and not wasting time listening to bad ones, which then have to be thought through and discarded -- or, even worse, are accepted! "Good" means "socially useful" and/or "beneficial for the holder" and/or "true."

Efficiency in the culture market means having good movies/books/magazines and not bad ones. "Good" culture is entertaining and/or uplifting, i.e. inspires attitudes, beliefs, and behavior which are beneficial to society as a whole and/or to the holder, and/or are true.
"Bad" culture is dull and/or unpleasant, so it wastes the audience's time; and/or causes social harm by increasing violence or promoting unmutual ideas such as racism, sexism, and other forms of intolerance...or promoting other ideas that are irrational and socially harmful, such as the Four Fallacies you mention in The Myth of the Rational Voter.

1. Are markets for ideas/culture less subject to market failure than other markets? Why or why not?

I agree with your follow-up post, that culture (i.e. entertainment) might have less market failure but ideas definitely have more.

2. Is well-intended regulation of idea/culture markets more likely to have unintended negative consequences than well-intended regulation of other markets?

I don't see any reason why it should. Sure, there are disadvantages to reducing competition in the realm of ideas, but there are also disadvantages to reducing competition in the realm of goods and services, and I don't see why one should work even worse than another.

3. Is regulation of idea/culture markets less likely to be well-intended than regulation of other markets?

How do you define "well-intended"? Is a tariff or subsidy or other government program -- such as agricultural subsidies -- that is popular with the public because they think it has good effects, but is really supported by lobbyists because it gives unfair benefits to their clients, "well-intended" or not?

What about a government program which rounds up gays and puts them in concentration camps, so they can't contaminate others by convincing them it's okay to be gay? Or a similar program which puts HIV-positives into camps so they can't contaminate others by having consensual sex without warning them? Would you call those "well-intended" if the people who advocated and voted for them, and those who run them, are sincere? Was the Fugitive Slave Act "well-intended" if it had no hidden agenda, but instead was openly about racism and oppression?

4. Is the average consumer a better judge of his own best interest in idea/culture markets than in other markets?

Culture (entertainment) maybe, ideas no. Read The Myth of the Rational Voter to see why. :-D

5. Is efficiency less normatively important in idea/culture markets than in other markets? If so, what normative goal(s) do we satisfy by sacrificing efficiency?

When we interfere with the free flow of ideas by eliminating bad ideas we actually increase efficiency by reducing time spent listening to, evaluating, and (in some cases) believing them.

The only downside would come if the regulating is done by people who disagree with you, me, and other right-thinking people.

6. Should countries with weak civil liberties liberalize their regulation of idea/culture markets? If so, would you advocate "shock therapy"? Why or why not?

I'm against "shock therapy" because the average consumer can't handle it. First, the drastic increase in choices will cause problems, just as the "shock therapy" in Albania resulted in pyramid schemes that seduced over 60% of the population. Second, exposure to hard-core pornography, violent video games, and other forms of culture that /I/ /d/o/n/'/t/ /l/i/k/e/ will inspire all sorts of bad behavior unless the populace has first been /b/r/a/i/n/w/a/s/h/e/d/ immunized by "good" culture such as books by Tolkien, Lewis, Heinlein and Asimov.

Laurent GUERBY writes:

Virtually all free-market economists are ... hypocrits.

Since unfortunately most support Intellectual Property which is of course gigantic state interventionism in an otherwise free market (for ideas and works).

Bryan, what's your position on Intellectual Property?

Are you really pro free market?

Thanks!

For reference:

""" Just to illustrate how great out ignorance of the optimum forms of delimitation of various rights remains - despite our confidence in the indispensability of the general institution of several property - a few remarks about one particuilar form of property may be made. [...]

The difference between these and other kinds of property rights is this: while ownership of material goods guides the user of scarce means to their most important uses, in the case of immaterial goods such as literary productions and technological inventions the ability to produce them is also limited, yet once they have come into existence, they can be indefinitely multiplied and can be made scarce only by law in order to create an inducement to produce such ideas. Yet it is not obvious that such forced scarcity is the most effective way to stimulate the human creative process. I doubt whether there exists a single great work of literature which we would not possess had the author been unable to obtain an exclusive copyright for it; it seems to me that the case for copyright must rest almost entirely on the circumstance that such exceedingly useful works as encyclopaedias, dictionaries, textbooks and other works of reference could not be produced if, once they existed, they could freely be reproduced.

Similarly, recurrent re-examinations of the problem have not demonstrated that the obtainability of patents of invention actually enhances the flow of new technical knowledge rather than leading to wasteful concentration of research on problems whose solution in the near future can be foreseen and where, in consequence of the law, anyone who hits upon a solution a moment before the next gains the right to its exclusive use for a prolonged period."""

The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, 1988 (p. 35) Friedrich von Hayek

somercet writes:

I am a conservative/libertarian Republican:

1. Are markets for ideas/culture less subject to market failure than other markets? Why or why not?

No more or less. A flat-earther will do fine farming under Ptolemaic heavens, but will not become Columbus unless they change their ideas. Markets for food produce quick feedback; bad ideas can zing you generations later (while good ideas, such as esoteric maths, can gather dust for centuries until some scientist discovers that some old math paper is a perfect model for his or her new facts).

2. Is well-intended regulation of idea/culture markets more likely to have unintended negative consequences than well-intended regulation of other markets?

No. But it has the same time slippage above.

3. Is regulation of idea/culture markets less likely to be well-intended than regulation of other markets?

Oh, hell, no.

4. Is the average consumer a better judge of his own best interest in idea/culture markets than in other markets?

Over time, yes. I've noted that the recent transgender fad has produced kids who have some very weird ideas; e.g., they mistake Freud's universal bisexual potential as "Everybody's bi" and read a lack of interest in same sex relations as some kind of failure. Nothing could be farther from the truth, IMHO: straights simple out number gays overwhelmingly. (Being bi, I am a minority of a minority, heh.)

They have all examined the facts and arrived at the same erroneous positions, for much the same reasons that leeches and falling off the earth were taken seriously. No villainy here, just honest, clumped mistakes.

Only time will change these kids' minds, but they will make us miserable hearing about the eeeee-evil, heterosexist patriarchy. Blegh.

5. Is efficiency less normatively important in idea/culture markets than in other markets? If so, what normative goal(s) do we satisfy by sacrificing efficiency?

No. Some advantages: a universal language, say, can be an incredible advantage (or universal translation for you Canadian- and Euro-bums, heh). Laws are ideas made into rules and backed by force. 50 American states are enough, 5000 would be terribly destructive, 1 unified, national government with a unified legislature/executive would be scary.

In the absence of ethnic uniformity, cultivating patriotic enthusiasm for American liberties by pledging allegiance to the flag and the Constitution and teaching our history seems entirely sensible. (I await the cries of the cynics and the babies over this point with Christian patience. ;-)

6. Should countries with weak civil liberties liberalize their regulation of idea/culture markets? If so, would you advocate "shock therapy"? Why or why not?

I think shock therapy is severely overrated. What markets want is predictability. Pass a law that sunsets the restrictions over time so people can learn and adapt.

Please email if I typed anything confusingly, I am awake at 5:30 AM here. ;-) Thanks. (FYI, this light grey on white text scheme KILLS my eyes.)

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