Go Arianna!

by Don Boudreaux on April 1, 2011

in Complexity & Emergence, Current Affairs, Dinner Table Economics, Hubris and humility

Here’s a letter to the Los Angeles Times:

I’m in the odd position of agreeing with the Huffington Post.  Michael Walker criticizes that popular on-line publication for its policy of not paying $$$ to its contributors (“Why should writers work for no pay?” April 1).  Arianna Huffington replies that the abundant exposure that the site she founded (and now owned by AOL) provides to aspiring pundits is itself sufficient compensation.

Ms. Huffington is unquestionably correct.  Because her site is only one of thousands of venues to which pundits can peddle their prose, and because many lesser-known pundits continue to eagerly write for the HP without expecting money from the HP, the HP clearly provides ample value to its contributing writers. Tit for tat.  Voluntary trade with mutual benefits.  All parties to the transactions gain and no one loses.  Works out nicely; it truly does.

A lesson here that I hope Ms. Huffington and her colleagues will take to heart is that third parties, even when well-intentioned, are poorly positioned to assess the merits of – and to second-guess the detailed terms of -  capitalist acts among consenting adults.

Donald J. Boudreaux

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Methinks1776 April 1, 2011 at 8:51 am

You expect them to learn from this? Now you’ve gone too far.

Don Boudreaux April 1, 2011 at 8:54 am

Hope springs eternal? Nah. Methinks you’re correct.

Methinks1776 April 1, 2011 at 8:58 am

My hope drowned in the spring long ago :(

Pfloyd April 1, 2011 at 9:09 am

Couldn’t get Uncle Sam’s anchor off your neck in time either, eh?

Trapper_John April 1, 2011 at 9:22 am

This is the kind of worker exploitation that unbridled, unregulated capitalism brings. Clearly writers for HuffPo should bond together and come after their “employer” for such sub-standard compensation–you can’t eat “exposure” and “publicity” doesn’t shelter you from the elements. Normally, I’d suggest congress pass a law to take a little money from every worker’s paycheck to facilitate and pay for the collective bargaining and requisite lawyer fees, but they aren’t paid so we’ll just have to take it from their bank accounts. This is a small price to pay for solidarity. These writers perform a valuable public service; don’t they deserve the right to bargain collectively?


Ike April 1, 2011 at 9:39 am

If my eight-year-old submits an item to HuffPo, will the LA Times call it a violation of child labor laws?

vidyohs April 1, 2011 at 9:47 am

I suspect that should HuffPo decide to pay the writers we would see the hypocrisy of the predominantly loony left writers revealed even more clearly……you know they would not share (redistribute) that pay with the other unpaid contributors.

Capitalism for me, but not for thee!

Mesa Econoguy April 1, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Pay is usually commensurate with value created.

From what I have read of said publication, zero value is created, and I therefore agree with the resultant market signal of $0 wage input.

vidyohs April 1, 2011 at 11:18 pm

You get no disagreement from me, amigo.

CRC April 1, 2011 at 10:13 am

Bu…buu…but…the MINIMUM WAGE!

Methinks1776 April 1, 2011 at 10:45 am

When was the last time Ian Fletcher wrote anything worth a bid as high as the minimum wage?

BV April 1, 2011 at 12:19 pm

One of my favorite videos of all time:

tdp April 8, 2011 at 11:49 pm

As if you needed to trap Pelosi to make her sound incoherent.

Robert April 1, 2011 at 10:33 am

I thought this was an April’s fools joke then I remembered big govt advocates like the HP are on higher moral ground then us free market people. Shame on us… ;)

John V April 1, 2011 at 10:37 am

But one must ask:

What would Huffington say if someone else was the target of this criticism or in some abstract sense?

I smell a little potential hypocrisy.

Seth April 1, 2011 at 10:44 am

It’s telling that Walker didn’t ask any HuffPo writers why they willingly choose to provide content for free.

John V April 1, 2011 at 10:54 am

Leftists are not known for “the economic way of thinking”.

JohnK April 1, 2011 at 11:49 am

Leftists are not known for “the economic way of thinking”.


JohnK April 1, 2011 at 11:50 am

darn it! bold works. italic works. strikethrough (the economic way of) does not.

Seth April 2, 2011 at 3:56 am

That’s true.

But, I’m not sure I’d go as far to say that including viewpoints from some of the people on who’s behalf you are writing for is necessarily the economic way of thinking.

Rather, it’s an omission of a basic point that even high school comp. teachers shouldn’t let their students get away with, not to mention opinion editors of major newspapers.

MIchael E. Marotta April 1, 2011 at 11:12 am

Well, I am not a regular Huffiington Post reader. I knew about it from references, of course, and I have followed links to articles. Most commonly for me, Craig Wright occasionally links to HuffPo (as you call it). To me, that validates Craig, who, though a libertarian, is more interested in facts where they can be found, than in canned ideology.

I was impressed with the sale to Google, of course, $300 million worth of free articles would seem like a South Seas Tulip Festival or something. I do find it interesting that Google bought that and not this. I find it ironic that libertarians are such poor marketers while the big bucks are to made selling an anti-selling ideology.

Maybe it comes down to the non-capitalist but individualist idea that some people are not for sale. Ayn Rand embraced Mises but not Hayek whose observations on entrepreneurship would be an interesting read to fans of The Fountainhead.

MIchael E. Marotta April 1, 2011 at 11:16 am

MEM: “I was impressed with the sale to Google, …”

The sale was to AOL, of course, my error. I do note that AOL is a service I had but left, even as they promised certain opportunities for free. It just was not worth it.

Ryan Vann April 1, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Nobody likes a salesman. Even Russ Roberts had a podcast investiagting his own suspicions of being misled by a carsalesman. Anyway, I wouldn’t tally up libertarians fringe status to poor marketing so much as distrubution channels.

Frank33328 April 1, 2011 at 12:38 pm

The real effect here would be the restriction of opportunities for new writers. If HP, or any outlet, can be force to pay for services that some are willing to provide voluntarily in exchange for an opportunity to get exposure, then the consequence will be the fewer new writers will be able to get exposure. This benefits the better known, entrenched writers who now profit by restricting the field for their potential competitors. Kind of like a tariff on imports…..

Rugby1 April 1, 2011 at 12:42 pm

This reminds me of last year. Wasn’t there a call by Obama (and others) to force corporations to pay interns? I could be wrong on this but it just seems inherently odd that people are under the assumption that the “average joe” does not think for himself when enterting into a volunatry transaction. I have written contributing pieces to school newpapers, and other nerdy sites and I never expected to be paid, considering I benefited by heightening my writing skills, gained more exposure, and of course worked out that I would not be paid beforehand!

Robert April 1, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Maybe they thought that their leftist content is not worth anything and were happy to see someone post it.

Peter April 1, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Does this make AOL subject to the laws that apply to unpaid internships? It amounts to the same thing: one party gets a contribution to their product, and the other gets experience and exposure in lieu of monetary compensation.

Ryan Vann April 1, 2011 at 1:42 pm

While I personally wouldn’t agree to an unpaid internship, the marketing arrangement involved in a guest article or talk show appearance makes a lot more sense to me, and is something I’d agree with. My main issue here is why does this rationale even need to be cheerleaded? An ambivalent nod seems sufficient. Anyone who isn’t insane understands how these arrangments can be mutually beneficial.

SheetWise April 3, 2011 at 7:35 am

“Anyone who isn’t insane understands how these arrangements can be mutually beneficial.”

That seems to exclude a lot of legislators.

SheetWise April 3, 2011 at 7:38 am

Can anyone controlling this site explain why tags such as underline, strike, and blockquote are restricted? It’s as if you were intentionally limiting the range of expression — and it’s annoying.

Tim April 2, 2011 at 7:45 am

“Capitalist acts amongst consenting adults.”
That’s an excellent way to put it.

Harold Cockerill April 2, 2011 at 8:14 am

Walker compares two situations that are not analogous. People that have comedic talent and will draw paying customers are a small fraction of the poulation. There is a virtually unlimited supply of people willing to blather online and few can be enticed to pay directly for even the best of them.

As an aside there was a link on the Times page with Walker’s column to a column about the collapse of Detroit. The writers ended with the question of what was the country going to do about Detroit. I’m pretty sure if the government at least had paid less attention to Detroit it would be better off now. It seems to me the government paying attention to anything is the kiss of death.

Frank33328 April 2, 2011 at 9:14 am

I don’t think the analogous point rests on the relative scarcity of comedic abilities versus writing ability. Even accepting the premise that good comedians are harder to find than good writers, the point remains that both were willing to provide a service for no directly apparent compensation.

James April 2, 2011 at 10:16 am

Does the IRS know that all this untaxed bartering is going on? ;)

SheetWise April 3, 2011 at 7:45 am

Are you suggesting that these authors actually gained by their submissions, and that this gain could be translated into monetary units — even if they were not contracted in such a way?

The real question is — who gained? BTW- Russ and Don, the check is in the mail.

N. Joseph Potts April 2, 2011 at 10:35 am

Writers working for no pay represents cheap competition against Michael Walker. No WONDER he’s squawking!

SEEMS to me this is a matter strictly between HP and its writers. But NO-O-O, Michael Walker wants LAWS, and ENFORCEMENT thereof.

Freedom is poison to such people.

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