The Irony Of Conservative Complaints Of Censorship
Conservatives have maintained control of the economic narrative for centuries, and Twitter is a useful distraction.
Pick your favorite news source and you’ll see a headline telling you that the Republicans are really upset that Trump has been banned from Twitter and Facebook. To the extent that Trump does not advocate the use of force or violence, I disagree with the ban. I don’t believe in cancel culture, and I would rather see him spouting off on Twitter so that I know what’s going on with him.
But as this article in Politico notes, Republicans have some mixed feelings about the ban. Obviously, they are unhappy that conservatives are getting the short end of the stick on social media, and truth be told, they are building their own alternatives. Unfortunately, their Luddism has allowed liberal techies to build social media solutions for the first-mover advantage. Google, Facebook, and Twitter are all on the Left Coast. There is a bit of irony that none of the tech giants that conservatives complain of originated in “Red States”.
I think it’s important that those who complain about “censorship” get the facts straight about what is really happening before they make a big mess of the 1st Amendment. The 1st Amendment restrains Congress, not Twitter. What passes for censorship in the confirmation-biased minds of conservatives is actually content moderation, as defined by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. That section of the Act protects social media companies from litigation arising from user content. It is not a free pass. That section protects *all* website owners, regardless of whether they are a publisher or not. Conservatives who complain about Section 230 are wrong about it. If conservatives get their wish to repeal Section 230, they are going to expose millions of small businesses to litigation. I guess conservatives in Congress have lots of friends in the donor class who are lawyers.
It’s worth noting that Parler arose in competition with Twitter. Parler has had to contend with “free speech”, too. Parler has had to learn content moderation in a big, big way, very fast. To wit from Mike Masnick at TechDirt:
Should Parler ever actually grow bigger, it might follow the path of every other social media platform out there and institute more thorough rules, policies, and procedures regarding content moderation. But, of course, that makes it just like every other social media platform out there, though it might draw the lines differently. And, as I’ve said through all these posts (contrary to the attacks that have been launched at me the last few days), I’m very happy that Parler exists. I want there to be more competition to today’s social media sites. I want there to be more experimentation. And I’m truly hopeful that some of them succeed. That’s how innovation works.
No social media site is immune. They all must contend with content moderation or people will begin to fill their forums and feeds with really uncomfortable material that most of us do not want to see or read.
But there is another form of censorship that conservatives don’t like to talk about much. Trump has touched upon this one a number of times, and even I was paying attention. Trump has on numerous occasions pointed out that the Democratic Party has been really unfair to Bernie Sanders. He notes how they shut Bernie out of the primaries twice. He is well aware of how the press treats Bernie. I think all of us know that Bernie ran as a Democrat because the mainstream media don’t care for populist progressives running on a third party ticket or as an independent. But that same mainstream media gave tons of free exposure to Donald Trump during his campaign because he ran as a Republican. I don’t see any conservatives complaining about that kind of media bias.
There is another kind of censorship that conservatives don’t complain about because it goes their way. I have to say that conservatives seem to have a very selective memory. They have no problem with “censorship” when it confirms their bias. But they sure do get bent out of shape when their sacred cows are gored. So what kinds of censorship do conservatives really like?
Conservatives really like it when classical economic theories are censored. They really like “Austrian economics” and how wonderful that school of thought is. But even then, their bias ignores history. Consider the words of economist and historian Michael Hudson in an interview (YouTube here) about how ancient civilizations found it in their survival interest, to cancel debts on a periodic basis:
The German firm Springer just published a Handbook of Money and Credit, in which I wrote the lead article on the origins of money, showing that the barter theory was made up by right-wing Austrian economists who hated governments acting in the public interest. Almost all the mainstream monetary theories are by right-wing anti-socialists claiming that government can play no positive role at all. Their conclusion is that money is best without government, and should be left to the private banks. The idea is that they would plan society better. So basically the libertarians, the free-enterprise boys, advocate a highly centralized economy — much more centralized than Soviet Russia, much more centralized than China. They want everything centralized in Wall Street or the City of London, that is, in the banks. They want the banks to be in charge of everything. They say that all this is all for the best. (emphasis mine)
Here, Hudson notes that almost all of the mainstream economic theories originate from the right-wing school of thought, not the left-wing. And note also that the right-wingers got the history wrong about the “barter theory” of money. Money was created by the ancient governments, not by people who got tired of bartering. The most interesting aspect of Hudson’s comment is that modern conservatives want to concentrate control of the economy into Wall Street. You know, the banks.
Elite conservatives don’t like to talk about how they want their bucket under the spigot to resell the goods later. If only middle-class conservatives actually knew what they were fighting for, we might have an honest discussion about public policy and where the power should be distributed.
To further the point of conservative efforts to censor progressive policy discussion, economists at Evonomics have noticed that the subject of land has almost completely disappeared from the discourse about how economies work. They note with interest that the problems that classical economists were trying to solve. They note that one of the most interesting solutions for the taxing problem has been swept under the rug. They noticed that the landowners did not want their wealth arising from a natural monopoly to be taxed away. In his article, How Land Disappeared from Economic Theory, Josh Ryan Collins, Ph.D. writes:
The classical economists feared that land-owners would increasingly monopolise the proceeds of growth as nations developed and desirably locational land became relatively more scarce. Eventually, as rents rose, the proportion of profits available for capital investment and wages would become so small as to lead to economic stagnation, inequality and rising unemployment. In other words, economic rent could crowd out productive investment.
Notice the phrase “crowd out”. I hear that a lot about budget deficits. Conservatives will wax poetic about how the federal budget deficit will crowd out other forms of borrowing and that interest rates will rise. Hasn’t happened yet. I’ve NEVER seen that happen. Ever. But isn’t interesting how NO ONE talks about the way that land rents affect the economy. I guess they figure that asset inflation, you know, when land prices rise because interest rates are low for no particular reason, means that people can borrow more money.
The point of this departure is that when elite conservatives talk about tax cuts, they’re not thinking of ordinary people like you and me. They’re thinking that with lower taxes, their profits will increase. Their profits come from higher land rents, higher land prices, and interest paid on debts. Elite conservatives want to financialize *everything*, tacking their fees wherever they can. If your middle-class taxes are lower, more money is available for the top 1% to extract from you.
I saw my 401k statement the other day. I noticed a finance charge of $3.60 per month for just holding my money and “managing” the investment portfolio. Now multiply that charge times 12, then times tens of millions of people. That’s real money, but conservatives don’t talk about how those fees crowd out other investments.
Paying 29% on your credit card? That won’t crowd out other investments in the economy. Still paying off that student debt? Hey, that’s economic activity that will grow the economy! Did your rent go up this month? Don’t worry. That won’t crowd out other economic activity. Did your ISP jack up your rate this month? That won’t have any negative effect on the economy. Did your bank charge you $7 to maintain your account when the balance got too low? You contributed to the economy! Elite conservatives are awfully quiet about how all that affects the economy. But the government deficit? That has got to stop! Your grandchildren will pay taxes to pay off that debt!
That is censorship that conservatives will not complain about because it goes their way. And I don’t mean middle-class conservatives, I mean the top 1% conservatives. Any conservatives below the top 1% arguing against the federal budget deficit might as well be a convenient pawn for the well-heeled polo players out there.
When I see a man on TV telling me how low my deficit could be, I think that he can’t be a man because the income he derives is not from work like me. He’s depending on monopoly and privilege, not industrial production of something that I need. So be wary of the people claiming censorship, for they may not have your best interests in mind.