Martin Wolf on Freedom of the Press
By David Henderson
[Libertarianism] is hopeless intellectually, because the values people hold are many and divergent and some of these values do not merely allow, but demand, government protection of weak, vulnerable or unfortunate people. Moreover, such values are not “wrong”. The reality is that people hold many, often incompatible, core values. Libertarians argue that the only relevant wrong is coercion by the state. Others disagree and are entitled to do so.
Because government must protect weak and vulnerable people, it cannot trust them to judge ideas. Therefore government must judge ideas for them.
Government must protect us against externalities and must provide information. One of the biggest areas of externalities is in ideas. If a Karl Marx or and Adolf Hitler advocates certain ideas and those ideas take hold, millions of innocent people will die. That’s why government must subsidize education and make sure that certain ideas are not taught. Truth standards for the press, enforced by government, are a way to protect people against the carelessness or malevolence of others or (more controversially) themselves. All these, then, are legitimate protective measures.
The above is a mix of arguments and claims that Martin Wolf of the Financial Times made and arguments and claims that he didn’t make. What he argued for was a great deal of government restriction on people’s freedom. What he didn’t argue for is a great deal of government intrusion on freedom of the press. But I wove together his arguments for reducing certain freedoms with very similar arguments for reducing freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and, indeed, freedom of thought. The externality issues here seem just as huge.
I’m guessing that he wouldn’t advocate such restrictions on freedom of the press, speech, or thought. But why wouldn’t he? I would love to hear his answer.