Sunday, January 19, 2014

Let's Nationalize Salon

I occasionally worry my contributions here at EE are excessively preening or self-congratulatory. Regular readers will recognize an element of smug satisfaction when I write of the analytic superiority of Smithian sympathy, when I go out of my way to take others' arguments at face value, to assume sincerity.

I assure you that this is not part of a tiny campaign to demonstrate my moral superiority. I find this habit useful for the singular reason that I absolutely, resolutely refuse to believe that the large bulk of humanity, and more specifically, the loud intellectual elite that rouse their rabble, are in the regular habit of uttering craven lies all the live-long day. It flies in the face of even a moment's reflection to conclude that ordinary citizens bear vituperative intent in their notions of what's best for civil society.

With this in mind, I beg of you to refrain from assuming of me too much conceit when I attempt to lend Fred Jerome the benefit of the doubt when he forwards a proposal to nationalize the media.
Imagine a world without the New York Times, Fox News, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and countless other tools used by the 1 percent to rule and fool.
Easier done than said. State media is an actual thing that actually exists. The USSR, Mao's China, and the Cuban press are but a few examples. Naturally, I assume that when Mr. Jerome invokes the "1 percent" he means the top observations of the GINI curve for wealth and not for political authority. Otherwise, statements like this strain credulity:
In a socialist society run by and for the working people it represents, the mega-monopolies like Walmart, Halliburton, Exxon-Mobil, and the corporations that run the tightly controlled "mainstream media” will be a thing of the past.
 Replaced instead by a vision of the "democratic media", where presumably all voices can be heard on an equal footing. That's pretty good for me. has 8,000 subscribers on Feedly (I still miss my Google Reader), but we've got 72. I'd be thrilled to have Mr. Jerome's readers sent my way. But that's obviously not what he means. Instead:
But what will the media be like in a socialist USA? There is no blueprint, but in a society that has erased corporate control, the articles in newspapers and magazines and online will not be filler between ads for teeth whiteners and weight-loss pills. There won’t be TV commercials for Coke, cars, or million-dollar condos. There will be no private corporations to create and sponsor the news.
Agents of the state will have the authority to silence "private corporations" who "create and sponsor the news." I assume that in Mr. Jerome's imagination, this censorious authority will munificently refrain from exploiting their privileged position for their own ends. Instead, we shall enjoy a flowering of multiple voices sponsored by the various "labor unions, tenants’ organizations, or citywide parent-teacher associations" of our fair nation. Evidently, these voices are now silenced, my own humble counterexample here at EE notwithstanding.

But here's the moral intuition, right here. Old school socialism:
To be sure, there will be no shortage of economic news in a socialist society. Some news will still come from local and national governments that set product-distribution quotas or help to negotiate them, sponsor trade and international exchange with other countries, and—if the world is still partly controlled by capitalist powers—organize defense against economic (as well as cultural, and possibly military) assaults. But most news reports in socialist media will come from working people themselves.
It's not clear to me that this author has spent much time talking to "working people themselves," because if a factory worker is especially good at filtering, sorting, editing, and creating compelling content, she may well be in the wrong line of work. Let's not focus on that though. Let's even ignore the murderous undertones of organizing defense against military assault.

Actually, let's not ignore that. I think that's actually where the moral intuition is. According to Mr. Jerome's model of private production, concentrated wealth is de facto coercive. And furthermore, it's coercive in a way that the ability to strip individuals of their possessions, deprive them of their liberty, and ultimately execute capital (pun not intended) punishment is not. In Mr. Jerome's political economy, BATNA disparity is a worse offense than the insoluble problem of production in a socialist economy.

I do vanity searches for "euvoluntary" pretty regularly, and the term shows up from time to time. Once in a while I'll come across a sentiment along the lines of "if it ain't euvoluntary, it ain't voluntary." This is fascinating on many levels, not the least of which is that communist-leaning folks read Munger (and hey, maybe me too, who knows?). If you ask me, the Jerome model is consistent with this sentiment. Because of the editorial process, journalism is not especially euvoluntary.

It takes a special kind of reasoning to move from that mundane observation to "therefore our duly elected representatives owe the constituency the duty to muzzle the paper hounds of the popular press." I too take great issue with the venom spewed by large news organizations. My solution is to share my thoughts with you here rather than silencing the analytically vapid dirty laundresses on cable news channels. I endeavor to practice euvoluntary exchange to the best of my limited ability. I seek neither dominion nor violence. By my estimate, the finest answer to the hogwash on TV and in print is to offer better content. If I'm a good enough writer, the readers will come. If I fail the market test, so long as no one is forcing your eyeballs elsewhere, it's infantile to assign the blame to organizations who are better than I at attracting attention. Shutting them down by force is institutionalized envy. I have little enough interest in encoding virtue into the function of the state. I have no interest whatsoever in wedding the coercive authority in society with one of the more base vices.

h/t to FiSH for the link

Happy birthday, Lysander Spooner! When the dead rise from their graves, yours'll be the last corpse I torch with my homemade flamethrower!


  1. New idea: Let's have every country's public media outlet run by a different country. The BBC can be run by Japan, PBS and NPR can be run by Germany, NHK can be run by France, and so on.

    1. Ooh, I hope the US gets Suriname. I've wanted to visit ever since I read Papillion as a boy.

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  3. "Let's even ignore the murderous undertones of organizing defense against military assault."

    Was economic and/or cultural supposed to be in place of "military"?


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?