First, Happy Cinco de Mayo.

Now to the content.

Backpage: A Blueprint for Squelching Speech

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Reason, April 29, 2024.


From the beginning, this prosecution has been premised on a bogus rationale (authorities yammer on about sex trafficking though none of the defendants are charged with sex trafficking), overreaching in its scope (attempting to hold a web platform accountable for user-generated speech, in contradiction to Section 230), offensive to the First Amendment, and relentless in its attempts to handicap the defense. So it’s a treat to see a judge slap prosecutors down a notch, even if it comes very late in the game (after two trials and after one defendant taking his own life) and even though it may not make much of a practical difference for Lacey, Brunst, and Spear (who face imprisonment for the rest of their lives even with the acquittals).


In this case, Backpage banned explicit offers of sex for money (which is illegal in most of the U.S.) but allowed adults ads more generally, since plenty of forms of sex work are legal. Providing a platform for protected speech should itself be protected, of course. But in a truly Orwellian fashion, the government argues that the very act of forbidding explicit prostitution ads was a way of encouraging prostitution ads, thereby facilitating prostitution in violation of the federal Travel Act.


Biden Administration Again Delays Decision on Banning Menthol Tobacco

by Jeffrey A. Singer, Cato at Liberty, April 29, 2024.


Aside from criminal justice concerns, singling out menthol tobacco for a ban lacks a basis in scientific evidence. A 2022 research paper in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found menthol smokers had no greater difficulty quitting smoking than non‐​menthol smokers. Furthermore, according to FDA research reported in the Journal of Nicotine and Tobacco Research, there is “evidence of lower lung cancer mortality risk among menthol smokers compared with non‐​menthol smokers among smokers at ages 50 and over in the U.S. population.” Perhaps that’s because menthol smokers tend to smoke fewer cigarettes per day, according to a Vanderbilt University study that also found “menthol cigarettes are no more, and perhaps less harmful than non‐​menthol cigarettes.”

A disproportionately high percent of black smokers smoke menthols. My guess is that Biden is getting increasingly nervous about losing a significant portion of the black vote.

I posted about this in November 2022.

Income Inequality Matters

by Roger Koppl, ThinkMarkets, March 26, 2013.


Income inequality matters. Let me say that again so you know I meant it: Income inequality matters. This statement may be surprising coming from a self-described “Austrian” economist and a “liberal” in the good old-fashioned pro-market sense. It shouldn’t be. It should be one of our issues. The surprise should be that we pro-market types have not spoken up more on this central issue, thereby letting it become associated almost exclusively with more or less “progressive” opinion.

This indifference to income distribution is all the more mysterious because pro-market thinkers generally support a theory of politics that tells us to watch out for ways the state can be used to create unjust privileges for some at the expense of others. We should expect the distribution of income to be skewed toward the politically powerful and away from the poor and politically weak. In a representative democracy “special interests” engage in “rent seeking” to get special favors. Those special favors enrich some at the expense of others. That’s what they are meant to do!

Roger makes a good point but overstates. The excerpt above makes it sound as if he thinks most of the inequality in the United States is due to government. I think that’s unlikely, although much of it is: think about the middle-class homeowners in California who are millionaires because the severe government restrictions on building housing have made their houses worth ore than $1 million.

But also a huge amount of inequality is due to people having very good ideas and cashing in on them. Think Jeff Bezos and Amazon, for example. That inequality matters too, but not in the way that Roger focuses on.

Now, if Roger were discussing world inequality, he would be absolutely right. The biggest source of worldwide inequality is restrictions on immigration.

Marx and the Continuing Influence of Socialism

Speech by Ben Powell, Hillsdale College, November 6, 2023.

In the next few days, I’ll post about this speech on my Substack, “I Blog to Differ,” along with some highlights. It’s very good.