Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Raising the Cost of Public Discourse

I'm reading Arthur Okun's book from 1975, Equality and Efficiency, and yesterday I came across this:

If speaking out on public issues had a price tag, citizens might be more thoughtful before they sounded off--and perhaps that would improve the quality of debate. [p. 7]

I was struck by how different current opinion is on the topic. Social media makes it easier than ever to contribute your political ideas to the debate, and efforts to raise the costs associated with certain political opinions via shaming or doxxing seem like bullying, not like picking up garbage in the city park.

Okun seems to take it for granted that raising the costs will improve the quality, but the only thing we can definitely say is that raising the costs will weed out the less-committed, which is not the same thing. Who are the people more willing to pay a price for expressing their views, the level-headed or the insane? Well, when was the last time you had someone on the street try to sell you a self-published collection of purely rational thoughts?

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