Almost predictably, when Democrats take control of a legislature in a state, the governor’s mansion, a chamber of the U.S. Congress or the White House, the first volley of political rhetoric is that the party of big government is back. They will tax, grow regulation and otherwise hamper business, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation. In short, the accusation is that the economy will be weakened as the private sector is restricted by big government.
But what if one day we woke up and some, or perhaps most, of those former free market, small government supporters became hostile to the free market because the market did not produce the type of product that government officials and politicians preferred?
At almost every level — local, state and federal — government is weighing how much more influence and force it should exert against technology companies and products. The motivation? A populist rush to regulate so called “big tech.” Why? Largely based on incomplete and erroneous information, some believe that the “conservative viewpoint” is being systematically curtailed online. Regardless of the facts or previously held public policy principles, some have decided that the use of big government is just fine when the desire is to settle political scores. Some have even been hypocritical enough to argue that big is bad, and yet propose even bigger government as the solution.
One common idea has been to regulate the content that users are allowed to post on a web site that allows comments or to have government direct companies to only moderate certain content. Either way government censorship is effectively insinuated into private communications. In particular, some have proposed that a government agency should certify that a company is not political or religious and if not then force them to accept any posts unless government deems certain posts, certain speech, to be offensive.
Others try to dodge the constitutional problem of government regulating speech by proposing that a private right of action should be created so companies can be sued and have a trial by jury. This is merely big government hiding behind its citizens. Of course, the law, and its enforcement, is still an act of government whether or not a censorship agency was set up. And the courts themselves are in fact the third branch of government.
Yet other proposals have tried to force private sector behavior with tax policy, providing tax incentives to companies that censor online content. Such Pigouvian taxes are intended to coerce behavior that is deemed favorable to the tax man. The correct market view is that taxes are a means to raise money for government, nothing more. Taxes only become a tool of oppression when used with the purpose to change behavior.
In Texas, the legislature is considering a bill championed by its sponsors as a “free speech bill.” They do Orwell proud.
The proposal seeks to force social media companies to promote certain speech even as it forces them to not allow other speech, that is social media platforms will face penalties for moderating harmful content. Who decides what is acceptable speech? Government.
Commonly asserted in Texas amongst policy makers is that social media companies are the “new town square.” Then they ask, should not all viewpoints be fully allowed to be expressed there? The town square analogy is at best imperfect but even taken on its face the question ignores the value of the rights to speech of the social media company. This is not about freedom of speech but rather government deeming if free speech is ok.
But worse, the end result of this folly will be to discourage platforms from moderating anything as a Good Samaritan. The Texas legislature would knowingly unleash extreme violence and pornography and other inappropriate or harmful content as web sites and apps retreated from the potential liability for trying to moderate such material. In the end will be a future less safe for kids, less safe for free expression, and history tell us this anti-American approach of government approval for speech, will deliver a future less safe for religion and conservatives.
Private business is ideally suited to understand what is best for their customers, and customers are best suited to seek out and interact with the products and services that best suit their needs. Government interference in that exchange is not just unwanted, its odious to anyone who prizes individual choice over government control.
Social media reflects the best of us and, yes, the worst of us. Social media is the full spectrum of our citizens. Shortcuts to obtain political ends that trample the guaranteed rights or freedoms of those citizens should never be acceptable. Such shortcuts are certainly not conservative.
Leading by principle however is persuasive, especially so when populist fervor makes it hard to do. Showing others how to act by standing tall and being a leader is the way through.
Conservatives used to believe in free markets, private property, individual liberty and lesser government. That is a pretty good recipe for innovation and innovation has served the nation and Texas well since Eli Whitney and before. Hopefully whether right or left politically, enough Texans still support an innovative, economically thriving U.S. and will turn away from such nakedly partisan heavy-handed government schemes now and in the future and the end the ovation of government.