Wednesday, 7 January 2015

A Simple Model of Free Speech

In light of the very tragic and gruesome attack on Charlie Hebdo Magazine today, in which at least twelve people are dead because a few others have taken offence at drawings, I wonder how great the expenses are, which the government will incur in protecting cartoonists and others from people who prefer to kill  rather than talk, before free speech begins to be restricted. Here is a simple model:
  • Protection is costly, so ceteris paribus, the more protection is needed, the more appealing prohibitions on free speech become.
  • People will tend to speak more freely when they do not pay the full cost associated with the protection which they want when peevish murderers are out to take their lives.
  • So, governments limit the freedom of speech in order to economize on protection costs.
I am not aware of any outright limitations on free speech which have coincided with greater protection costs, but hints of that come from the barring of Robert Bruce Spencer and Pamela Geller from travelling to the United Kingdom. Mr. Spencer and Mrs. Geller are essentially unwelcome in Britain because of what they say. This model is upsetting because it hints that free speech is only possible while the nitwits are sufficiently mild-mannered.

Here is how free speech might be made to last even among plenty of world-record holders in cantankerous behaviour: Privatize security and law. Under a system of private law, individuals would pay providers of legislation a fee and if they desire legislation which is costlier to enforce that fee would be higher than if they desire cheap-to-enforce legislation. Other individuals might desire different legislation. The providers would work out agreements amongst themselves which outline how disputes between their clients should be settled, etc. This is all in David D. Friedman's valuable book The Machinery of Freedom, the first edition of which is available for free from his website.

Under this system, if an individual behaves in a way which others decide to find sufficiently annoying to want to kill him, he would demand additional protection services and because his protection agency has to agree with other protection agencies on terms to be upheld in times of conflict (since conflict is a lot more costly than peaceful bargaining), the threatened individual will tend to pay the full social cost of being annoying (or funny, really).

Sure, some individuals may decide to keep their mouths shut (and thereby not be so funny anymore) rather than pay more. If the sentiments among the humourless nitwits are strong enough, it might be that speech is highly restricted. However, speech remains free in the sense that it is accessible, albeit at a price. Of course, the more popular is one's humour, the likelier it is that one will pay that price. I can't imagine that the humourless murderers would really force up the price of free speech for a long time, though. If one take a look at the world and compares to how it was hundreds of years ago, one gets the impression that the murderers in Paris today are getting increasingly rare. This of course proves nothing, but one may hope the long-run trend continues.

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