Saturday, October 28, 2017

Guest Post: Free Speech Leads to Tolerance and Prosperity

by James Devereaux

J.S. Mill was an early advocate for our current view of free speech. He wrote, “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

Such a rule is likely rhetorically supported in many liberal democracies, and beyond as Greg Lukianoff from FIRE notes, however there exist variations to the rule. European countries permit more restriction on speech and have adopted, by convention or individually, some form of prohibition on hate speech, no longer allowing it, unlike the American system. Hate speech as a category has always been difficult to define and is hued in ambiguity, but generally, it limits speech aimed at people based on race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion, sex, and sexual orientation. The United States has advocates intent on including this as a form of unprotected speech, a category which has been previously unrecognized.

Additionally, information from Pew shows a stronger culture of free speech in the United States when compared to other regions, reflecting the few narrow exceptions to free speech legally permitted now.

free speech press freedom internet

Not only is the United States an exception in terms of legal protections for free speech, a product of the First Amendment, but it embraces concepts of free speech to a greater degree than most of the rest of the world. This indicates a culture of free speech which is partially rooted in the legal protections but not solely.

To further illustrate the point that the U.S. is quite exceptional in regards to free speech, consider this survey which found the U.S. at the top of 38 nations.

free expression survey
What we see in the United States is not only a strong legal presumption in favor of speech but strong cultural and political acceptance of free speech as well.

The Consequences Thereof
I suspect John Stuart Mills got it right, or his version is close enough, as a matter of what speech policy yields the best outcomes. Consider this 2016 Pew Survey from their Global Attitudes Survey.

diversity Global Attitudes Survey

Among the polled countries, the U.S. didn’t just come out ahead, it came out far ahead with only seven percent saying that growing diversity makes the U.S. a worse place to live. This is not reported enough, in my opinion, despite the limited use.

At the very least one should be dubious, in light of this contrast, when claims are made that the U.S., unique in its level of speech protection and tolerance, should adopt the European model of speech laws.

The contrast in attitudes regarding tolerance is so stark that even the least tolerant in the United States appears to match more closely with the most tolerant in other countries. Consider the ideological analysis below parsing out how diversity is viewed within similar groups.

ideological right diversity

Though much in society, both the good and bad, is multi-factorial and difficult to parse, it appears that broad protection of free speech either does not impact tolerance or it does not increase intolerance, at least when compared to other regimes (this comparison is limited, and temporal comparisons would help draw a more certain conclusion). This may appear counter-intuitive, but I suspect two things occur that help increase tolerance as people are exposed to various types of speech, including offensive speech. First, they see the consequences of offensive or inappropriate speech and adjust their behavior accordingly. Second, they are exposed to various views and are better able to compare them against the alternatives.

The benefits of speech also extend to economic activity and human welfare. Many have extolled the value of speech in economic growth and human flourishing. From science to the exchange of ideas, to the changing view that commerce should be pursued rather than shunned- as it, as well as finance, were once viewed as second-rate economic activity, the ability to converse has been central to human progress.

Deidre McCloskey argues that rhetoric and dignity help explain the Great Enrichment, the period wherein real income, per head “increased, in the face of a rise in the number of heads, by a factor of seven — by anything from 2,500 to 5,000 percent.” No such event in history compares in terms of human flourishing. That this coincided with a rise of traditional liberal values, free speech included, appears to be more than coincidence.

Here the Great Enrichment is graphically represented from Tyler Cowen and Alex Taborrock’s Principles of Economics.

economic growth GDP per capita

This should amaze you.

That speech is tied to economic development has an intuitive appeal when considering that much of wealth creation is done via communication. From prices to ideas, economic activity is often tied to speech, not only to find benefits but to avoid costs. Whether to find wares, move resources, or spur innovation, speech is crucial to economic growth and prosperity.

Sliding Away From Free Speech
There is a serious concern regarding the future of free speech in the United States. College campuses have become the battlegrounds for much of this cultural battle over how much speech should be permitted. Students and activists on the left and right use the Heckler’s Veto to shut down speech with which they disagree, creating an illiberal turn in our free speech culture.

This attitude appears to be spreading beyond a few activist groups. A 2015 survey found that 40% of Millennials would support bans on certain types of offensive (but currently protected) speech. This in contrast to the, somewhat ironically, low levels of support from the Silent generation, which suggests that about 12% of those polled would support bans on offensive speech.

millennials hate speech

I do want to be careful to not overstep here in concluding too much from this data. First, I think that since the concerns of the time, the so-called topic du jour, changes from one generation to another it seems likely that what once was considered a speech taboo is no longer relevant and no new taboo arose to replace the outdated one for older generations. Combined with other variables such as the perspective of having seen the positive benefits of speech, such as the end to the draft, perhaps attitudes drift towards more speech tolerance as time goes on.

Nonetheless, these illiberal anti-speech attitudes have been confirmed more recently by Brookings, where free speech was shown again to have unusually low support from college-age adults, not only endorsing bans on speech but demonstrating support for heckling and interrupting a speaker with whom you disagree.

Which again turns us to the culture of free speech. Free speech is as much a cultural phenomenon as it is a legal guarantee. Make no mistake, I believe the fact that the United States is foremost in speech protection and tolerance is closely related, a reflecting glass of sorts, where our moments of speech antagony are met with the protections of the First Amendment allowing us to culturally realign with the underlying message and expand tolerance towards each other and diverse, even wrong, ideas.

However, an illiberal cultural development is possible. We have seen it time again with free trade. Despite the overall benefits, we continue to find anti-trade attitudes bubbling up into our politics and policy, pushing away long-term economic development to alleviate the fears that a few may lose employment. Same is true for the Luddites among us who insist that efficiency and prosperity is a poor trade-off for a static employment regime and scarcity, and wage war against automation.

It is to our benefit to remember that speech brings varied, hard-to-replicate benefits to ourselves and society. Recently, the great American classic, To Kill A Mockingbird was banned in a Mississippi school district as the racially tinged language “[made] people uncomfortable.” It is hard to argue this book has not brought net benefits to many, including myself, despite the fact that it may induce discomfort. So it is with speech. Indeed there are downsides, but they are far outweighed by the benefits, which stretch unseen into our relatively prosperous lives.

Reprinted from Medium

James Devereaux is an attorney.  All views are his own and not representative of employers or affiliations.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Repost: Jeff Flake, Donald Trump, and Edmund Burke

Last week Tuesday, at a fundraising reception for his reelection campaign, Jeff Flake and I briefly reminisced about our – well, his – early days in Washington a quarter century ago, when we were both policy wonks working on African issues.

Rick Sincere Senator Jeff Flake fundraiser Never Trump David Boaz
Rick Sincere & Jeff Flake
Those were simpler times. George H.W. Bush was President. The Cold War had just come to an end, and the West and its liberal values had won. We were riding a tide of prosperity buoyed by the Reagan administration’s economic policies and the 1986 tax reforms. Jeff had not yet run for public office but I had tested the political waters in a special election for the Virginia House of Delegates.

Jeff Flake went on to bigger and better things: president of the Goldwater Institute in Arizona, Member of Congress, U.S. Senator and chairman of the Africa subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Earlier this year, he wrote Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle, borrowing a title from Barry Goldwater's 1960 book.

Today he stunned us with his announcement that he would retire from the Senate because of the debasement of the Republican Party and government institutions by their putative “leader,” Donald J. Trump.

He explained his decision not to seek reelection to the Arizona Republic by saying “there may not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party."

In an eloquent and hard-hitting speech on the floor of the Senate – which became the lead story on today’s edition of All Things Considered on NPR and no doubt flooded the headlines and airwaves of Arizona news outlets – Flake laid out his reasons for retiring and made it clear that Trump is a cancer eating away at the body politic. If anyone deserves blame for the destruction of the Republican party and its values, it is Trump.

What was once the party of Goldwater, Ford, and Reagan has become listless, boneheaded, and petulant.

But those are my words, not Flake’s. Here is what he had to say to his colleagues in the Senate today:

It must also be said that I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics. Regret because of the indecency of our discourse. Regret because of the coarseness of our leadership.

Regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our, I mean all of our complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end. In this century, a new phrase to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order, that phrase being the new normal. That we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue with the tone set up at the top. We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals, we must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country. The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution the flagrant disregard for truth and decency.

And more:

Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.

And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit and weakness. It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up? What are we going to say?

Mr. President, I rise today to say: enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal. With respect and humility, I must say that we have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it.

Read the whole thing here, with its citations of James Madison and Theodore Roosevelt. Watch it here.

Make no mistake – talented, wise legislators like Jeff Flake depart the Senate and political life because a blowhard in the White House has no sense of propriety, or empathy, or humility, and no understanding of the Constitution or the rule of law or the limits of his own authority. This bodes ill for the Republic.

As I write this, I am still shaking in anger and sadness. Edmund Burke wrote that the “only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” When sinister forces like Steve Bannon and his orange-rind puppet gleefully sideline good men like Jeff Flake, evil triumphs.

This has been reposted and slightly adapted from an article on Bearing Drift published October 24, 2017.

From the Archives: At UVA debate, Creigh Deeds calls libertarians ‘Republicans with guts’

At UVA debate, Creigh Deeds calls libertarians ‘Republicans with guts’
October 27, 2011
11:28 AM MST

“Libertarians are Republicans with guts,” said incumbent state Senator R. Creigh Deeds when asked how he plans to earn the votes of libertarian-minded constituents in his bid for reelection to the 25th district seat he has held for a decade.

Deeds, a Bath County Democrat first elected to the General Assembly in 1991, spoke to the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner moments before the start of a debate with his Republican challenger, Albemarle County tax attorney TJ Aldous. The October 25 debate, sponsored by the University of Virginia Student Council, was the only such head-to-head event scheduled during the 2011 election campaign.

No special platform

Creigh Deeds libertarians Republicans Virginia politics
Explaining his view of libertarians as “Republicans with guts,” Deeds said that “They honestly believe in less government but also less service because lots of people want the services [but] they don’t support efforts to pay for services all the time."

As to how he’ll win the votes of this portion of the electorate, Deeds added that he does not have “any special platform for any certain group of people. I try to speak truth about what I think we ought to be doing in government.”

He believes, he said, “that government is a tool to be used to level the playing field and give everybody an opportunity to succeed, an opportunity to advance, [and] an opportunity to live the American dream -- not a promise that they’re going to live the American dream or a promise that they’re going to succeed, but an opportunity.”

Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party

Related to that, Deeds said he thought the Occupy Wall Street movement, and its offshoot, Occupy Charlottesville, was born of its members’ frustration.

“It’s frustration with the system,” he said, “the political system and the economic system.”

Deeds pointed out that “the Tea Party is the other side of that,” having its origins in “that same sort of frustration.”

The Tea Party, he went on, “launched in one direction” while “you’ve got the Occupy group in the other direction.”

At the same time, he said, “there’s significant crossover” between the two movements.

Deeds added that, “to a large extent, the Occupy movement is looking for direction but I think it’s grown out of frustration that a lot of people feel in our political and economic systems.”

Getting to know new voters

Creigh Deeds Nau Hall UVA Virginia General Assembly 2011
Creigh Deeds
Since the decennial redistricting, Deeds has represented portions of Albemarle County that until earlier this year were represented by Senator Emmett Hanger (R-SD24). He said he has spent the last several months becoming acquainted with his new constituents.

“I’ve spent a lot of time knocking on doors out in Crozet and [its] environs,” he said, “getting to know people out there and getting to know the countryside and the issues that they’re talking about.”

The people there, he said, are “basically talking about the same kind of issues everybody else is talking about.”

Summing up his experience with the new parts of the district, he concluded: “I’ve really felt at home in Crozet and Free Union and that area.”

Elections to the Virginia General Assembly will take place on Tuesday, November 8.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on October 27, 2011. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.