My Answers to My Questions for Civil Libertarian Economists
By Bryan Caplan
Since people are starting to respond to my actual six questions, I thought I’d return the favor:
1. Are markets for ideas/culture less subject to market failure than other markets? Why or why not?
For pure entertainment, probably yes. The “If you don’t like it, don”t watch” argument is very powerful. While it’s possible for someone to be outraged by the very existence of “offensive” material, I think this is largely cheap talk.
For ideas and culture with policy implications, though, I’d reverse my answer. The economic biases I discuss in my book, for example, are the main thing that prevents poor countries from switching to pro-growth policies.
2. Is well-intended regulation of idea/culture markets more likely to have unintended negative consequences than well-intended regulation of other markets?
I’d say well-intended regulation is less likely to have negative consequences than it is in other markets. Price controls – the classic example of policies with unintended consequences – aren’t very relevant for idea/culture markets. Censorship is basically isomorphic to prohibition, which does have well-known unintended consequences, especially decline in product quality. But in idea/culture markets, the decline in product quality is usually less serious. Alcohol prohibition gets you rotgut liquor that kills and blinds; censorship gets you low-quality printing (e.g. samizdat).
3. Is regulation of idea/culture markets less likely to be well-intended than regulation of other markets?
Maybe. Regulation in idea/culture markets is often aimed at “enemy” groups, such as rival ethnicities and religions. However, regulation in economic markets is also often aimed at “enemy” group, such as “the rich” and “foreigners.”
4. Is the average consumer a better judge of his own best interest in idea/culture markets than in other markets?
For entertainment, yes. For policy, the opposite is true.
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?
My gut reaction is to say “yes,” but I think that’s just because I’ve grown up in the U.S. National prejudice aside, I don’t see the difference. In both cases, as I’ve said before, it’s worth sacrificing efficiency to respect liberty (not “equity,” which really has little to do with idea/culture 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 favor shock therapy in idea/culture markets. But I’m a lot more comfortable with instant liberalization when the status quo protects bad policies ideas against good ones, rather than vice versa. I would have been eager to press a button to instantly abolish Soviet censorship. But in 1950, I would have been pretty worried about legalizing Nazi expression in Germany. In the end, though, I would have pushed the button.