Power & Market
In today’s political discussion, one of the fundamental principles our society is built on has been on the defense: private property rights and the protection of such rights. Just take the current debate about the housing shortage in Germany as a prime example. A very prominent policy proposal is flat-out expropriation of housing. Another one is the limitation of ownership of residential apartments.
Ideas such as these are not only supported by extremists. An activist group in Berlin collected over 77,000 signatures for the expropriation of private real estate corporations in Berlin. No worries, the appropriate vehicle for something like this already exists by the way: the German capital city already has an expropriation authority (Enteignungsbehörde).
Some proposals are less obvious, though they have the same basis. Rent control or the prohibition of “luxury renovations” seem harmless – but they are still major intrusions in one’s property. After all, these policies would result in the owner, in the legal sense, without real power or control over his own property.
Opponents of those policies correctly emphasize that housing in public ownership will lead to a state of disrepair, as it happened back in East Germany and as it still does to this day in socialist countries. The reason is that if the government has its hands in the housing sector to such a large extent, an imbalance of supply and demand will occur. And, as Mises and Hayek have shown, if too much tinkering with market prices fails, the price system will ultimately fail as well, leading to chaos, or that state of despair. At this point, socialists will point to a central planning board as a solution, but that would be no more than a “pretense of knowledge.”
However, the fundamental problem, of course, is the attack on private property itself. Property rights have not been created – they are a result of human action. Property rights developed over time through the interaction of people. Through a bottom-up process, this institution came into being organically, as Carl Menger, the founder of the Austrian School of Economcis, put it. It was not someone deciding top-down that we shall have property rights now. It came into being because people who accepted and protected property rights had an advantage over others, and so those others adopted the same approach.
The reason property rights have to be in place is scarcity. If the world was a utopia without any scarcity, private property would not be necessary. In such a world there would be no conflict between people over goods and services. There would be no necessity of an economy at all, as there would be no reason to trade. You could just have whatever you want. But the real world is characterized by scarcity. In the real world, not all dreams come true and human wishes stay unfulfilled. Some people have certain desirable goods, while others don’t.
At this point, there are two options: a Hobbesian anarchy, where everyone fights it out with hands and fists (or worse) who “owns” what – owning it only until someone else, someone stronger, comes along again. Or, you safeguard ownership, so that property is protected and the owner can be assured that he or she will own whatever he or she owns for longer, ultimately having the option to cultivate, to further develop the property – or to trade it for something else. Thus, property rights are at the basis of a genuine rule of law.
Without property rights, distrust and violence gain the upper hand. But with property rights, a peaceful order can emerge. It is this that Berlin’s expropriators seemingly have not realized yet.
The “War on Cash” which remained largely under the radar for years with few having noticed this assault on physical currency by governments around the world, other than the libertarian movement. This is no conspiracy theory, it has already occurred to a small extent.
Some prominent economists, including Rogoff and former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, have advocated phasing out high-denomination paper currency to discourage tax evasion and other forms of corruption. India and euro area countries have done just that in recent years: the Reserve Bank of India withdrew the 500 and 1,000 rupee bills from circulation and stripped them of their status as legal tender in 2016, with disruptive effects, while the European Central Bank stopped producing and issuing the 500 euro note in early 2019.
A recent paper by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows how the $100 dollar bill is now the most widely circulated US note. The truth is, 80 percent of $100 bills are held outside the US, and 60 percent of all physical notes are as well. Economist Kenneth Rogoff from Harvard University claims that the major reason for this is criminal activity such as money laundering and human trafficking. But there is something I noticed when reading more about it:
With increasing digitalization of payment systems in recent years, Kyriakos-Saad says, concerns about traceability could be a factor. But it’s incorrect to always associate cash with corruption, he says. “There’s this lingering desire for privacy, and desire for anonymity, which can be entirely legitimate.”And this anonymity is precisely what makes cash usage patterns so challenging to understand.
This seems obvious enough, at least to libertarians. But the report it goes on:
Rogoff adds that there may be another factor at play: “Underground demand for paper currency has been surely rising in part because interest rates and inflation are exceptionally low.”
But why the dollar? Other countries have currencies used abroad. “We think that the significance of foreign demand is unique to the dollar,” Judson said. “Other currencies are also used outside their home countries, but as far as we can tell, the dollar has the largest share of notes held outside the country.”
The dollar’s role as the dominant international reserve currency may be the key, according to Rogoff. “The dollar is now the only global currency; the euro has stalled, and the renminbi is decades away from challenging,” he says.
We look at interest rates as the opportunity cost of holding money in physical form. When interest rates rise, that opportunity cost rises since we can earn a higher return by keeping it in an account at our banks. When interest rates fall, that cost falls as well. This is important because these economists also propose using negative interest rates in the future. So, with both the elimination of cash, particularly large denominations, and negative interest rates, what does this mean for holders of those dollars?
Will they lose out? Or is this an opportunity to actually profit from holding physical currency at a time when our digital dollars held in our bank accounts will be devalued, taxed, and siphoned away with bank fees in which we cannot escape since we cannot withdrawal physical currency by law? And if interest rates are an opportunity cost of holding physical cash, then those who possess these high denominations of dollars will likely have more buying power than those who rely strictly on digital transactions. Perhaps physical dollars and digital dollars will be recognized as two distinct mediums of exchange. If that’s the case, then perhaps there is a great benefit to holding some cash instead of electronic deposits.
There is a lot of confusion about the term "free market economics." It is not a matter of advocacy, but a description of what's studied. Just like labor economics is not a matter of standing up for working class interests, but a study of how labor markets work.
So free market economics is a study of how free markets (would) work. It is a positive theoretical study, not ideology. So, for instance, Austrian economics is free market economics in this very positive sense, and for good reason: in order to understand how an economy (specifically, markets) functions, one must first establish which processes are innate to markets and how they work. Only after this has been established can one introduce (theoretically) exogenous influences such as institutions (including but not exclusively interventionism).
Whoever starts with the present economy as-is finds himself in a problematic situation, because it is impossible to then separate what effects, outcomes, and orders are due to markets per se and which are due to other influences.
Markets (actually, economies) are inherently endogenous (causes are human action, which are influenced by the effects). This is also why a study of markets and economies cannot be studied inductively, because the result is just one big blob of interrelated data points.
Economists have understood this for centuries, which is why economics proper has always been primarily a study of theory.
To put it differently, there are no pure market economies in the world that one can study empirically to establish economic regularities to then apply on mixed and control economies.
In this sense, ALL economic theories must to some sense be free market economics: in order to study how economies work — what the effects of added or removed influences will be, etc. — one must first understand the pure mechanisms of what 19th century scholars called the "economic organism" (the economic aspect of society).
One can perhaps criticize economics on the ground that there are no pure economic mechanisms, that there is no economic aspect to human behavior. But experience (my own as well as economics' more than quarter-millennium-old) shows that such critiques are predominantly ideological and not theoretical.
The fact that economics proper is "free market" in the positive sense is no stranger than natural sciences using controlled experiments to separate true causes. It's just that economics is more difficult, because there is no way of constructing such experiments to capture the true workings of a complete economy, including the profit-and-loss system, real entrepreneurship, accumulation of capital etc.
To criticize economics proper, one must do better than to use one's own ideological biases to create misinterpretation of theory as ideology.
Formatted from Twitter @PerBylund
The regular occurrence of traffic jams in major cities is not an immutable fact of urban life. Private roads show us the path out.
A shortage occurs when the price of a scarce good is set below the market-clearing price.1 If the state monopolized milk production, produced a fixed quantity of milk every year, set the price of milk at zero, and distributed it on a first-come first-serve basis, the result would be an anarchic rush to attain as much milk as possible, without consideration for the milk needs of others. A shortage would occur.
The state, for almost all of the highways and streets it controls, has set the price of this essential, scarce good at zero. Traffic jams are a manifestation of shortages in the road supply. Treating a good of which there exists a finite supply as though it existed in infinite abundance (had a price of zero) is incongruent with reality, and we should expect it to cause problems.
If prices were allowed to adjust to demand, the price of using a given highway would increase when more people want to use it and decrease when fewer people want to use it.2 The result would be that people would think twice before driving at a costly time. Those who needed most to use the highway at a time of high demand would be willing to pay the price,3 while those who were willing to wait would adjust their behavior on the margin. When demand and hence prices for roads are highest, more people would go to the close bowling alley instead of the far away movie theatre, the closer restaurant instead of the farther one, or do something at home instead of going for a drive. They would be more cautious to schedule their errands before or after peak hours, instead of during them. As a result, the number of cars driving during peak hours would be reduced, mitigating traffic jams.
Employers would also react to priced roads by altering their employees’ hours. Employers would seek to schedule their workers’ shifts such that their commutes are during cheaper, lower demand hours, lest the employer need to pay higher salaries to offset the inconvenience of more expensive, slower commutes to attract employees of the same quality. The result would be more staggered commute schedules, such that fewer people are driving to or from work at any given time, reducing traffic.
Some businesses like restaurants and movie theaters would not react much, because:
Most restaurants, for example, are busiest during breakfast, lunch, and dinner time, and perhaps, in some cases, after show closings, for late-night meals. In other words, restaurants suffer from congested traffic, a peak load problem, during these times. But, were a restaurant management seriously to propose that its customers stagger their meal times ‘in order to reduce and spread out the rush hour peaks,’ it would be laughed right out of business in a trice. Its competitors would have a field day.4
However, other businesses would be more capable of beginning their employees’ shifts a few hours earlier or later than the bulk of other employers:
. . . if a price reduction is offered for off-peak travel, all employers will be tempted to accede to the wishes of their employees for cheaper travel. The ones who actually give in and reschedule their work forces will tend to be the ones whose employees’ productivity is increased to the least degree by working the same hours as the general labor force.5
The result would be social coordination of road use. Those industries which least need their employees working at a particular time would most strongly react to road prices by scheduling shifts to provide the cheapest commutes. If omnipotent, caring Martians were to dictate to every industry when their employees’ shifts should begin to both maximize workplace productivity and minimize traffic, the result would be the same as under a system of private roads.
Not only would the currently existing roads be rationed according to prices instead of the current free-for-all, the ability to make money from providing roads would lead to the widening of existing roads and the creation of new roads altogether when demand points to new profits to capture, “Privately-owned roads and bridges would have tolls set by supply and demand, just like prices are set in any other market. Infrastructure in need of repair or expansion would get it, whereas wasteful boondoggles would be minimized with private money on the line.”6
Likewise, road owners hoping to lure potential customers to choose their routes instead of rival routes (intra-market competition) or to use their routes more often instead of staying at home and driving less altogether (inter-market competition) would wish to make their roads as safe, uncongested, and attractive as possible. This means wherever currently there is a stop-sign that should be a yield sign, a 45 MPH speed limit that should be a 65 MPH speed limit, a traditional intersection that should be a roundabout, or any other change in road design and rules, private road owners would be driven by self-interest to adjust in order to maximize safety and traffic flow.
Contrast this with the current system under which certain government run intersections are infamous for being dangerous and accident prone. Why do political actors allow these preventable series of tragedies to persist rather than adjusting the designs and/or rules of those intersections? The overseers of government run roads are chosen democratically, rather than by the market. Whereas the private owner of a road bears direct legal and financial responsibility for its safety, mayoral, gubernatorial, and presidential elections, occurring once every four years, seldom depend upon the candidates’ positions on individual intersections or roads:
The dollar vote occurs every day, the ballot box vote only every two or four years. The former may be applied narrowly, to a single product (e.g., the Edsel) while the latter is a ‘package deal,’ an all or none proposition for one candidate or the other. That is, there was no way to register approval of Bush’s policies in areas 1, 3, 5 and 7, and for Clinton in 2, 4, 6, and 8. People were limited to choosing one or the other in the last presidential election.7
Mayor Jones and Governor Smith may go through their entire election campaigns and reigns without giving a thought to death-trap intersections under their jurisdictions that could stop killing people if only some signs or speed-bumps were added. With privatization, each road would have a special caretaker, an owner, whose livelihood and freedom depended on the quality and safety of their product.
Road privatization launches a triple-attack on traffic. First, prices for road use allow coordination in when and how much travelers use particular roads. Second, the road supply is increased through construction of new roads and expansion of existing roads. Third, entrepreneurs seeking to improve their services would optimize the designs and rules of their roads. In severe traffic, how often have our thoughts turned to state-enforced population control, when we just needed to know that keeping the price of a scarce good at zero causes shortages?
- 1. The market-clearing price is the price at which there is a willing and able buyer for every unit of a good produced, and visa-versa.
- 2. Uber’s surge pricing works similarly.
- 3. If roads were privately provided, the state would no longer need to collect taxes to finance roads, and so society could use the money saved in taxes to pay for tolls, or anything else.
- 4. Walter Block, The Privatization of Roads and Highways, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009, p. 60.
- 5. Ibid., pp. 60-61.
- 6. Robert P. Murphy, “A Gas Tax Hike is the Wrong Way to Fund Highways,” Mises Wire, 2018.
- 7. Walter Block, The Privatization of Roads and Highways, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009, p. 196.
"Progressive" politicians like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Elizabeth Warren are becoming more fashionable, and it follows that attacking big business is back in vogue. “Political and academic progressives expand their frenzied attacks on ‘wealth’ and on the alleged transgressions of ‘big business,’” writes Dominick Armentano, Professor Emeritus in Economics at the University of Hartford.
What is it about human nature that drives these attacks? Perhaps we must look to Ludwig Von Mises for an answer. But first, we can get a general idea of how the anti-big-business impulse remains so popular by looking at the work of economist Tyler Cowen.
In April, Cowen published his latest book, Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero, documenting how “Most young Americans hold highly critical perspectives on capitalism.” Indeed, the Harvard Kennedy School produced a report on young adults, revealing 51 percent did not support capitalism. Furthermore, 33 percent endorsed socialism as an alternative.
Clearly, that 33 percent is ignorant to the Two Reasons Why Socialism Repeatedly Fails;
1) the impossibility of economic calculation without true market prices, and
2) the lack of an incentive to produce only what consumers actually want.
Nevertheless, support for socialism endures, and we don’t have to look further than our TV screens and Twitter to observe what may be the one of the key points of origin of this critical narrative against big business. Yet this negativity is driven by more than radical rhetoric from the left-wing media. The very nature of media coverage has an effect.
Cowen adds, “Virtually all media outlets have a significant bias toward negative news of all kinds, including news about business. So scandals, corruption, and abuse of workers all receive much more publicity than the normal, everyday massive successes of America’s major corporations. “Corporations had another stellar day producing things and keeping people employed,” just isn’t a great news headline.”
Furthermore, big business is blamed for the failings of big government. We need look no further than the Occupy Wall Street movement. As the angry masses protested on Wall Street, a more appropriate place to fight for freedom was a short walk away: three blocks north of Wall Street at 33 Liberty Street sits a brownstone building — the home of the Federal Reserve.
Yet, there was little interest in addressing the outsized role of the Federal Reserve in manipulating the global economy. This blind spot for the role of the central bank illustrates just how wrongheaded are many leftwing approaches to diagnosing the source of our economic problems.
Protestors would do well to consult Austrian Business Cycle Theory which helps explain how the stock market crash and economic downturn were attributable not to "big business," but largely to a prior bank credit expansion by the Federal Reserve and the Fed-regulated banking sector.
Yet, anti-capitalist agitprop spreads through social-media like typhus through the Gulags, even though it is private capital and private business which has made social media possible.
This sort of thing is nothing new. As Ludwig Von Mises wrote, “All people, however fanatical they may be in their zeal to disparage and to fight capitalism, implicitly pay homage to it by passionately clamoring for the products it turns out.”
I periodically explain that a European-sized welfare state can only be financed by huge taxes on lower-income and middle-class taxpayers.
Simply stated, there aren’t enough rich people to prop up big government. Moreover, at the risk of mixing my animal metaphors, those golden geese also have a tendency to fly away if they’re being treated like fatted calves.
I have some additional evidence to share on this issue, thanks to a new reportfrom the Tax Foundation. The research specifically looks at the tax burden on the average worker in developed nations.
The tax burden on labor is referred to as a “tax wedge,” which simply refers to the difference between an employer’s cost of an employee and the employee’s net disposable income.…The OECD calculates the tax burden by adding together the income tax payment, employee-side payroll tax payment, and employer-side payroll tax payment of a worker earning the average wage in a country. …Although payroll taxes are typically split between workers and their employers, economists generally agree that both sides of the payroll tax ultimately fall on workers.
The bad news for workers (and the good news for politicians) is that average workers in the advanced world loses more than one-third of their income to government.
In some cases, such as the unfortunate Spanish household I wrote about back in February, the government steals two-thirds of a worker’s income.
So which country is best for workers and which is worst?
Here’s a look at a map showing the tax burden for selected European nations.
Suffice to say, it’s not good to be dark red.
But that map doesn’t provide a complete answer.
To really determine the best and worst countries, the Tax Foundation made an important correction to the OECD data by including the burden of the value-added tax. Here’s why it matters.
The tax burden on labor is broader than personal income taxes and payroll taxes. In many countries individuals also pay a value-added tax (VAT) on their consumption. Because a VAT diminishes the purchasing power of individual earnings, a more complete picture of the tax burden should include the VAT. Although the United States does not have a VAT, state sales taxes also work to diminish the purchasing power of earnings. Accounting for VAT rates and bases in OECD countries increased the tax burden on labor by 5 percentage-points on average in 2018.
And with that important fix, we can confidently state that the worst country for ordinary workers is Belgium, followed by Germany, Austria, France, and Italy.
The best country, assuming we’re limiting the conversation to rich countries, is Switzerland, followed by New Zealand, South Korea, Israel, and the United States.
By the way, this report just looks at the tax burden on average workers. We would also need estimates of the tax burden on things such as investment, business, and entrepreneurship to judge the overall merit (or lack thereof) of various tax regimes.
Let’s close by looking at the nations that have moved the most in the right direction and wrong direction this century.
Congratulations to Hungary, Israel, and Sweden.
I’m not surprised to see Mexico galloping in the wrong direction, though I’m disappointed that South Korea and Iceland are also deteriorating.
P.S. The bottom line is that global evidence confirms that ordinary people will be the ones paying the tab if Crazy Bernie and AOC succeed in expanding the burden of government spending in America. Though they’re not honest enough to admit it.
Originally published at International Liberty
Over a year after reform advocates first began predicting swift legislative victory, the recreational use of cannabis remains illegal in New Jersey. When Governor Murphy and Senate President Sweeney agreed on a $42 per ounce flat tax in February, legalization supporters once again hoped for quick adoption of New Jersey Assembly Bill 4497 (“A4497”). Once again, the much-publicized March 25th vote was called off due to lack of support. Now legislators have a limited window to act before the state budget deadline on July 1st.
Hopes for reform have ebbed and flowed since Governor Murphy was elected on a platform including legalization within his first 100 days. Despite his party controlling both the Senate and Assembly, the Governor has only been able to expand the medical program since taking office. That executive action doubled medical marijuana enrollment in just six months.
While the media has spilled considerable ink analyzing the political drama, actual details of the bill itself have received considerably less attention. A4497 attempts to incorporate lessons learned from other legalization regimes in Colorado, Washington, and California. Some critics argue certain provisions in the bill are too ambitious. Others wish the bill would go even farther. These disputes will need to be resolved before the ongoing 18-month saga finally comes to a vote in Trenton.
What’s in the Bill?
A4497 generally employs a vice-regulation model common to most legalization regimes. Individuals would be permitted to lawfully possess up to one ounce of marijuana. The bill would establish a Cannabis Regulatory Commission. This powerful, five-person regulatory body would have overall authority to regulate and control the cannabis industry. Three members would be appointed by the Governor, one by the Senate President, and one by the Assembly Speaker. The commission would make bi-annual reports to the Governor and legislature.
One of the controversial elements of the bill are the much-debated expungement provisions. As currently written, nearly all cannabis-related offenses would be expunged. The only offenses not subject to expungement would involve possession of over five pounds or within close proximity to a school. Disorderly persons convictions may also be expunged. Drafters considered this provision significant because many cannabis offenses are pled down to this lesser offense. The bill would also prohibit law enforcement from using the smell of cannabis as probable cause or reasonable suspicion of a crime.
The language of the plan would allow for an “expedited” but not an automatic expungement system. A robust expungement program would be an immense logistical process and opponents suggest the legislation lacks adequate planning for its implementation. Other critics worry expungements could potentially extend to more serious offenses including weapons.
The bill proposes a Cannabis Control Commission to issue four tiers of licenses. Of no small controversy is the promotion of participation by disabled veterans, women, and minority licensees. Some supporters are insisting on stronger “social justice” provisions to require numerical set-asides for these groups. As written, the bill seems to consider participation by these groups as a non-binding goal. 15% of licenses would go to minorities, 15% to disabled-veterans, and 25% to “micro-businesses.” The bill does not include a cap on the total number of available licenses. “Impact Zones” are defined based on crime, poverty, and cannabis arrests and receive preferential access to licenses.
Four tiers of licenses cover every step of cannabis production including growers, processors, wholesalers, and retail establishments. Licensees will be required to pass a mandatory background check and obtain a Labor Peace Agreement from the union in order to operate. As a practical matter, this will likely result in a requirement to exclusively hire union employees.
Over 60 New Jersey municipalities have already passed ordinances prohibiting cannabis sales within their city limits. These municipalities would need to take further action within 180 days of legalization. Beyond this 180-day window local governments cannot prohibit retail establishments within a five year opt-out period.
Also noteworthy in the bill is the proposal of Cannabis Consumption Areas. These may be authorized by local governments and would attach only to Class 4 licenses (retail establishments). Cannabis Consumption Areas could be indoor or outdoor, but the consumed cannabis must be purchased on the premises. Beyond these areas public use would be prohibited, although delivery would be allowed. The bill is silent on dram shop liability.
The bill attempts to limit most employment discrimination based on cannabis use, including hiring and firing. In particular, employers would not be allowed to consider previous cannabis arrests. However, the bill would still allow employers to consider cannabis use if deemed reasonably related to the requirements of the job. Nothing in the bill would require an employer to amend their drug free workplace programs. The bill would also prohibit discrimination in the issuance or denial of mortgages arising from cannabis use. Cannabis-use could not be the sole basis for child custody decisions, although it could still be considered among other relevant factors.
The bill includes provisions regarding labeling, packaging, and advertising. Labels would need to include warnings, as well as information about THC levels, weight, serving size, growth method including pesticide information, and strain.
Finally, A4497 contains a safe harbor provision designed to comply with federal laws and the Supremacy Clause. The bill explicitly states it does not compel violation of any federal laws.
Where Does the Bill Go from Here?
“Marijuana prohibition has failed,” said Sen. Nicholas Scutari, one of the chief architects of the bill. “It is time to end the detrimental effect these archaic drug laws are having on our residents and make adult use marijuana legal.”
There is no proposed date for a vote, but supporters are hoping to bring it to the floor before the end of May. New Jersey currently spends about $127 million a year enforcing marijuana possession. Reform advocates often point to an ACLU study which indicates minorities are roughly three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses in New Jersey.
Legal cannabis is expected to become a billion-dollar industry in the Garden State.
Most economists, while recognizing the great 19th-century French liberal Frédéric Bastiat as an outstanding economic journalist and a master polemicist for free trade and other liberal economic policies, have summarily dismissed him as an economic theorist. These include economists from Mises and Hayek to Schumpeter and Marx. Lately some economists have begun taking a second look at Bastiat’s work in economic theory.
Right now there is a stimulating online conversation going on about Bastiat's contributions to economic theory in his treatise Economic Harmonies. The conversation marks the completion of a draft of Liberty Fund's new translation of Economic Harmonies and is led by Dr. David Hart, the Academic Editor of Liberty Fund's Bastiat translation project and the leading authority on Bastiat and his work. It is part of the series “Liberty Matters: A Forum for the Discussion of Matters pertaining to Liberty.” Besides David and me, the participants include two prominent academic experts on Bastiat, Professors Don Boudreaux of George Mason University, and Guido Hülsmann of the University of Angers.
The contributions to the discussion are lively, concise, accessible to Bastiat fans of all ages and backgrounds, and well worth reading.
Individuals from all corners of the political spectrum have been stirred up by the recent banning of various figures including Alex Jones and Louis Farrakhan. Some have praised these bans for providing good constraints on what they deem "fake news" or “hate speech.” Others have attacked these bans for being influenced by nefarious motives that are contra free speech. The debate regarding the extent to which social media sites may regulate speech has been going on for years now. Perhaps it is time for a reassessment.
The Fallacy of "Social Media Homogenization"
One of the biggest fallacies people fail to avoid in these debates is that all social media sites are homogenous goods. The successful entrepreneur understands the importance of differentiation in marketing their product. For it is differentiation which allows the entrepreneur to narrow down his market and attract consumers. Just as in any other market, the social media titans, Facebook and Twitter, have developed very differently from each other, and each have their own distinctive features. Facebook has developed best for allowing like minded people to connect with each other, while Twitter has become a bully pulpit for various figures in the political and pop culture world.
It would thus be wrong to compare all social media sites, as if they were the same. The various consumer ends each social media site serves to satisfy determines its overall development. Many different factors will influence these ends. Among one of these factors is the extent to which speech is regulated.
If a given social media site aims to assist individuals and firms in networking with each other, they will likely not have any role in the market of sharing controversial opinions. Conversely, the social media platform which aims at giving a voice to those on the fringes of society will likely have no interest in entering the market of business networking. If we step back and look at the bigger picture, it is a fallacy to paint all social media sites with a broad brush stroke. Each one of them serves a unique purpose, and this purpose has a huge impact on how the site will develop in the longer run.
So perhaps the solution does not lie in calling for state interventions — boldly proclaiming that social media sites are ruthless monopolies trampling on free speech. Perhaps a site like Facebook is not meant for the sharing of controversial opinions, or genuinely serious discussions. Perhaps it serves the market of people who want to connect with each other through shared interests and friendly banter. Perhaps the initiation of controversial discussion is irrelevant and disruptive to Facebook's purpose. Perhaps the sentiments of Farrakhan and Jones don’t fit in the environment which Facebook is trying to create.
The market has offered solutions to this already. Where the “networking social media site” is lacking, the “controversial opinion sharing site” will compensate. Gab is a good example of this. The site claims to be a bastion of free speech and individual liberty, and has become a platform for many controversial figures who identify with the so called “far right.” The differentiation of various sites can of course be based on different premises. There could perhaps be the “leftist social media site” on the one hand, and the “right wing social media site” on the other.
By advocating for repercussions from social media platforms which practice censorship, we are merely treating the symptom of a much more fundamental problem, (i.e., government intervention). Rather, we should be advocating for the splintering of all governmental partnerships with firms such as Facebook, among others. It is these economic interventions which fundamentally stymie voluntary freedom of association, and replace it with a militant, state enforced censorship.
Those who are truly against censorship will let the market gradually filter it out. One has to support the property rights, and consequently, free speech of his political enemies in order to uphold that of his. Thus we must advocate for a system in which the state doesn’t take sides, nor try to fix the consequences of interventionism through further intervention.
Just as in the physical realm, individuals associate with those whom with they have shared interests, they do so in the realm of the internet. Market mechanisms have allowed for the exercising of this freedom of association, and state intervention only blurs the lines. Let the “safe space junkies” and the “rugged individualists” go their separate ways.