Economics of Free Speech

Has anybody out there done work on the economics of free speech?

Consider the following argument against free speech and in favor of some sort of censorship:

When speech is free speakers run no risk and pay no price for making a speech act, so irresponsible actors can use their speech to compete with responsible actors and make the issue impossible to decide. so for example a person has a disease and two doctors are competing to get the contract for his treatment. doctor A spends a lot of money on research and determines that a particular medicine has a good chance of resolving the condition. doctor B spends no money on research and just says some worthless remedy, say sugar pills will cure the condition. They both say what they want with no repercussions or consequences because speech is free i.e. Dr. A says “Take medicine” and Dr. B says “Take sugar pills”. The patient is uninformed and unable or unwilling to get informed quickly. Over time Dr. B will drive Dr. A out of business because he does not have the costs of researching what treatment actually works. And,obviously, he can claim after the fact if the patient dies that it was not his fault or it didn’t happen because speech is free.

What is the free market response to this?

Is a certain level of norm-based truthfulness necessary for a free market of ideas to operate?

Or is there a way to work in individual actors doing detective work and then sharing their findings, so that the market itself imposes a cost for lying?

But how could you tell the difference between real snopes and fake snopes created by a lying agent?



4 thoughts on “Economics of Free Speech

  1. Well Dr B will go out of business because his patients die and nobody goes to him. Then eventually the Dr A type will bootstrap themselves back into practice and it’ll be fine, as everyone will remember the lying Dr B’s…everyone of the current generation who experienced it, anyway. See, the free market works! *attempting a poker face*

  2. Aside from the medical example (which is commercial speech), there is much hue-ing and crying about how “free” speech is if there is any cost at all. Speakers forget that just because your speech may be legal, it doesn’t mean people won’t respond negatively and private actors may ban your speech in their ambit.
    Your speech may be free, but that doesn’t mean people will still like you.

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