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.


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?