Regulation of comments

by Russ Roberts on October 11, 2011

in Uncategorized, Weblogs

I recently wrote that I am not fond of the tone of some comments but the costs of moderating comments is too high. Cameron Murray comments:

Nice to hear your view about how a highly regulated environment can improve quality. I wonder how many readers catch the irony.

Here at the ‘commenting free market’ we are finding outcomes most people don’t like, and looking at models of regulation that work.

The real world comes with all sorts of people too – perhaps regulation can provide beneficial outcomes more often than you think.

My house is a highly regulated environment. There is central planning. I don’t expect food to show up. I have to go to the grocery. I replace light bulbs that have burned out. I don’t expect them to replace themselves. I wash my clothes. I don’t expect them to wash themselves. We have lots of rules in my house. People eat together rather than whenever they want to. I sometimes ask my children to turn down the TV. There is a lot of sharing and egalitarianism in my house. That is not ironic given my views on public policy. Public policy and private policy are different and should be. There are important distinctions between a public and private environment. The incentives and tradeoffs and returns from regulation and planning are very different.

This blog belong to Don Boudreaux and me. The comment section has a publicness to it. But we are in charge of it to some extent. We can delete comments. We can ban people. We can set rules. We sometimes choose to do these things and sometimes do not. It would be bizarre to argue that we are inconsistent because we follow the conventions of grammar or civility in this private environment in ways that we would not want police to enforce in a public environment via the state.

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Miko October 12, 2011 at 12:05 am

The irony, I assume, is that Murray is arguing against a position that absolutely no one holds?

Seeing as those who oppose governmental regulation typically point to the market, consumers, etc. as regulating agents, it’s a pretty silly straw man to begin with. The real question isn’t “high regulation vs. low regulation,” but instead “which method of regulation will lead to good regulation?”

Looking at how the market responds to shabby products and the like, it’s clear that the market provides a high level of regulation and in many cases does an excellent job of increasing quality as a result.

Looking at how the government responds to lobbyists and special interests, it’s clear that government provides a high level of regulation and in many cases actually makes things worse than they would be in a state of absolute chaos.

Seth October 12, 2011 at 1:12 am

Great point. This discussion itself is evolving customs in the commenting behavior, which are forms of regulation.

Just as all the ‘centrally planned’ customs in Russ’ home likely emerged from years of trial-and-error are now ‘regulation’.

It’s just that Murray doesn’t appear to see regulations like that. He counts only legislation.

Corey October 12, 2011 at 12:12 am

If the message boards here had pricing information they would work.

Find out how Slashdot allows comments to be voted up or down. Those who find fun in reading the trolls, the misinformed, the incoherent, and the repetitive can go right ahead and lower their standards and do so. Those of us that value our time can improve quality by not rewarding asshats.

You say millions of individual, independent decision-makers set prices and provide the information that makes trade work, well, do it! Let us click +1 / -1 on each comment as we read it and after a while the signalling will be clear, and the trolls can go bother a different group of commenters.

Nickolaus October 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Just playing devil’s advocate — but might such a system in this type of blog lead to getting rid of opposing viewpoints? I suppose it depends on how the readers use it.

EDG reppin' LBC October 12, 2011 at 6:55 pm

No. It will discourage poor arguments based on ad hominem attacks, circular logic, and appeals to emotion. Opposing viewpoints who can mount a good argument would be encouraged and rewarded with lively discussion.

Darren October 13, 2011 at 5:08 pm

This type of system would be useful, but only if the ability to approve or disapprove were given to select posters that had shown themselves to have good judgment and could be trusted not to abuse the power. If everyone had the same weight, it would likely be used to suppress opinions one disagreed with.

Gil October 12, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Libertarians would argue that opposing views are wrong views and there can never be justification for theft and thuggery, period.

Jake S. October 12, 2011 at 12:21 am

Confusing/conflating ‘institutions’ and ‘orders’… how cute.

Jake S. October 12, 2011 at 12:24 am

Seriously, what would Hayek himself have to say on this point?

Did Cameron think this would be a “gotcha!” type comment?

Anotherphil October 12, 2011 at 8:39 am

Did Cameron think this would be a “gotcha!” type comment?

Of course he did.

But Russ and Don proposing to limit managing the use of their message board-as either owners or custodians of PRIVATE PROPERTY-is editorial discretion, not state regulation (there’s no bureau of cafehayek in the fed apparatus, yet).

Steve_0 October 12, 2011 at 12:26 am

I don’t remember anyone recommending regulation or a moderator.
We believe in markets. Let there be a natural market. No one is calling for top down control.

The existing system is a tragedy of the commons. No costs, and all sizes are 64 oz. slurpee cup.

Dan J October 12, 2011 at 12:26 am

It was a good challenge, though.

But, absolutely, there is a huge difference between self regulation, regulation of family and household, or of private property compared to some dictates from the ivory tower on public policy or behaviors.

Dan J October 12, 2011 at 12:28 am

Personally Refusing to use tobacco compared to you or any other forbidding my use of tobacco are two different worlds.

Seth October 12, 2011 at 1:14 am

What’s the equivalent to “Personally Refusing to use tobacco” in this comments discussion?

Fred October 12, 2011 at 8:28 am

Not responding to trolls?

Seth October 12, 2011 at 11:56 am

That misses that it is their site. They can forbid guests from smoking in their home if they so choose.

Fred October 12, 2011 at 12:32 pm

When I was a smoker I chose not to smoke indoors, even if it was permitted.

Fred October 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm

If guests voluntarily choose to refrain from responding to the trolls, then there would be no need to ban them.

They’re like attention starved pets. Ignore them and eventually they will find someone else to annoy.

Seth October 12, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Fred – I commend your courtesy and agree with you about trolls (though I think ‘troll’ is a subjective determination that we will not all agree on).

However, my point was that I don’t see how Dan J’s analogy applies here. This is the hosts’ property. They can set the rules.

Justin October 12, 2011 at 12:39 am

Miko and I had the same thoughts. The free market is not free of regulation. The choice to trade and the cost of trade is the regulation.

Corey also makes a good point that voting systems help to regulate the comment economy.

If we say that the person writing the comment is a producer and the person reading it is the consumer then we can think about some interesting things. I think, in the comment market, it is cheaper to produce than to consume, especially if there is a producer (or more) who is trolling with low quality goods. The consumers don’t know they shouldn’t read it until they’ve already begun reading. A voting system lowers the cost of consuming (for people who come in later) because others have already signaled which comments are high quality and which are low quality. The voting system makes it easier to decide which comments to read, that is, which products to buy, or, whether this trade is of value.

The voting system doesn’t discourage trolls other than they may think no one will read their comment. Perhaps, along with the voting, the comment form could increase the cost of writing (addition of increasingly difficult captchas) for people whose comments have low averages.

indianajim October 12, 2011 at 4:32 am

A word that comes to my mind when reading your comment is “reputation”. If we think of what transpires at a blog as barter (exchanges of ideas), then it is perhaps easier to understand that evolving emergent reputations are important so that the efficiency of exchanges can increase over time.

Fred October 12, 2011 at 8:32 am

A homebrewing forum I visit has ‘Karma’ for users.
Don’t like their comments and ‘smite’ them.
Like their comments and ‘applaud’ them.
But that, like anything else, can be abused. I once made a comment that someone didn’t like and he dug through the archives to ‘smite’ every post of mine that he could find. I went from double digit positive ‘Karma’ to double digit negative in one day thanks to one person.

indianajim October 12, 2011 at 11:30 am

Good point about the potential for abuse; reminds me of Hayek’s quote that “the curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

Matt N October 12, 2011 at 1:19 pm

There needs to be a cost associated with assigning Karma. Karma in this case is analogous to fiat currency with no intrinsic value backing it, and which — it sounds like anyway — can be legally printed by any member of the community!

Doc Merlin October 12, 2011 at 12:47 am


This is one of the big confusions of the left. They seem to conflate public and private actions.

Gil October 12, 2011 at 9:05 pm

As if to say public actions = reptilian overlord actions.

Chucklehead October 12, 2011 at 12:53 am

I respect your property right to do as you wish. I find all the comments interesting, even if they are maddening. No one is forced to read them. I do wish you could add a edit function so we may correct our own errors.
I tell my kids, the biggest imbecile in the world knows something you don’t, and life’s greatest challenge is to find out what that is.

Methinks1776 October 12, 2011 at 7:50 am

and life’s greatest challenge is to find out what that is.

I’m not sure any of that is true, but you must be mindful of costs. It is often too expensive to go round after round with an imbecile only to discover that he knows three words of Sanskrit you didn’t know.

Anotherphil October 12, 2011 at 8:45 am

Perhaps “rational ignorance” applies to data mining imbeciles. You might find a”glory hole” (homage to the TV show about Au), you will more than likely spend a lot of time excavating pyrite.

Chucklehead October 12, 2011 at 11:43 am

It is meant to teach them something of local knowledge, humility, conceit, and the pretense of knowledge. Besides, once they become dismissive of imbeciles, they won’t talk to me anymore.

Methinks1776 October 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Ha ha ha ha !!!!!

Paul Andrews October 12, 2011 at 1:21 am

“Central Planning”:

of a small operation – easy.

of a large enterprise – hard, but doable.

of a large, complex economy – impossible.

Will October 12, 2011 at 7:31 am

Which is why one of the great tragedies of the last century has seen the decline of the federalist system. Our country is a political unity of several smaller governmental units with clear limitations on what the national government can do. Those limitations have been eroded based on the belief that the federal government is the answer to everything. The less a politician is affected by his or her own policies and regulations the less likely they will be good policies. That is why private actions regulated by private parties are usually effective (such as regulating a house hold, blog or business). The worst amendment to the Constitution was the one that made Senators elected by the general public. State governments no longer have voice in the federal government and federalism has is dying as a result.

Darren October 13, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Those limitations have been eroded based on the belief that the federal government is the answer to everything.

That’s mainly because people in California, for example, feel compelled to tell people in New York what they should do.

Gil October 12, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Since 95% of business startups are gone in 5 years then central planning of a small operation is impossible for most people.

dsylexic October 12, 2011 at 1:23 am

the confusion between public and private life is pervasive.
children see egalitarianism practised in their families and when they grow up believe that the govt is similar to their parents and that is why the same rules that apply at home should apply everywhere and no wonder there is so much benefit of doubt given to states/ need not be a parent-hating psychopath to understand however that with strangers and those with whom we dont have direct contact,t.he price system is the only system that works.
we dont need a price system inside the house.
i hope russ or don can spend some posts explaining this.and WHY people,especially young people are attracted to socialism

Darren October 13, 2011 at 5:14 pm

People should be able to choose how ‘social’ or ‘egalitarian’ the society they live in is. Instead, we have a desire to force a one-size-fits-all approach on everyone. A sense of responsiblity is good, but it can be taken too far.

Brad Warbiany October 12, 2011 at 1:29 am

Brad Delong has a “highly regulated” comment section.

I don’t think that’s led to a higher-quality comment section.

vikingvista October 12, 2011 at 1:29 am

Sometimes in conversation I self-censor. I wonder if Murray would accuse me of hypocrisy because I oppose government censorship. I’m pretty sure that because I give to charity, he’d consider me a hypocrite for opposing the welfare state.

Stone Glasgow October 12, 2011 at 7:29 am


The Other Eric October 12, 2011 at 9:27 am

It’s worse Vike, your gift to charity is ‘really’ you trying to subvert the welfare state.

– Can I say how much I love that a post about blog comments has generated a philosophical discussion.

Richard Stands October 12, 2011 at 10:10 am


LowcountryJoe October 12, 2011 at 1:45 am

The real world comes with all sorts of people too – perhaps regulation can provide beneficial outcomes more often than you think.

Is just me? Is anyone else seeing the Cameron Murray gotcha attempt unraveling with what’s been bolded?

I’ll concede that there should be some minimal regulation in place to punish people who intrude on someone else’s rights. But with all sorts of people, why over regulate when there are so many different thoughts and views which do not jive and aren’t all that critical? Why can’t more like-minded people get in groups to self-regulate while they leave the non like-minded people mostly out of their collective plans.

Perhaps there’s already too much regulation and all but a few of the regulators and other statist-minded thinkers see the benefit in forcing others to accept someone else’s preferences.

No, Cameron Murray, in the real world incentives matter and so does liberty.

Brad Hutchings October 12, 2011 at 2:19 am

The charge of hypocrisy for wielding the ban hammer is silly. There is one key value you can promote, and that’s tolerance. People will come here who disagree with the main premises of our hosts. We shouldn’t be rude to them in discussions with them. Nor should they be rude to us. But we really should go out of our way not to be rude to them. And there are a few regulars here are regularly pretty rude to George and Daniel. George has a pretty thick skin to keep coming back, and Daniel is smart enough to hold his own here. Any time I read them, I’m pretty sure I’ll disagree, but it is possible to spar nicely and respectfully, and that’s what we should do.

I hate to say this, but if I were the host here, and the tone of comments was gnawing on me, I’d lay down some rules of overly personal engagement (e.g. don’t or you’re gone) for the protagonists, and I’d drop the ban hammer on a few of the people who tend to agree with the premises of this blog.

One other thing I’d add… Calling someone a troll doesn’t solve anything, regardless of who does it. All it does is claim some abstract moral high ground and absolve you of having to take anything the person identified as “troll” says seriously. Far better to just identify the 5% or 10% that the “troll” says that’s worth addressing and focus the discussion on that.

ilango October 12, 2011 at 3:25 am

I am a regular reader of the blog but new to the comments section as I get the posts on a feed reader.

As I am a relatively young student to the different thoughts of economics, I am still undecided on the issues of great contention like government control. However, this seems to be a great chance to experiment with both ways of regulating the comments section, and see which method works better.

As Corey suggested, a voting system like Google plus comments would be a kind of market regulation in improving the quality of comments.

And for the proponents of government control, Russ and Don could try heavily moderating some of the posts to see if this is a better way to improve comment quality, albeit with heavy cost to their time. Moreover, some of the dissenting commentators may eventually stop reading the blog altogether

Since it is a relatively small economy, my guess is that the second option will yield better results for comment quality in the short term, but in long term Russ and Don would get so fed up that they open up the market again with zero regulation.

Just a suggestion from a young reader. Can it be tried?

Greg October 12, 2011 at 3:59 am

I think “regulation” in this context is the wrong use of that word in this context. I think if we were to re-phrase it as “disposal/use of private property” it would make more sense. I mean I stack my books on a shelf, that is my private use of my books and my shelf not me “regulating” my books.
Cameron Murray did a clever thing with words (maybe unintentionally). I think this is called sophistry, in this particular case I think this is called straw-man argument, describing a position which the opponent does not actually hold and then attacking that position.

Anotherphil October 12, 2011 at 8:49 am

Moreover, some of the dissenting commentators may eventually stop reading the blog altogether

Its not dissenters that are a problem, it’s the “trolls”.

I’m beginning to wonder who pays them? A certain palindromically named “billionaire” perhaps?

Methinks1776 October 12, 2011 at 9:25 am


J. W. October 12, 2011 at 4:27 am

I’d call it equivocation. Murray uses the word “regulation” in two different senses: the first use denotes maintaining order (in this case, of one’s own property, the blog) and the second denotes passing legislation and other governmental activity (perhaps with the intent of maintaining order)–or so I think, based on the way that the comment is phrased.

J. W. October 12, 2011 at 4:28 am

Whoops, that was supposed to be in response to Greg’s reply to ilango.

vidyohs October 12, 2011 at 6:38 am

On the previous post by Russ on this subject, Richard Stands, makes the observation that, “Muirduck’s comments are stupid and wrong headed, but not offensive.”

I find Richard Stands to be consistent in his intelligent presentation of ideas and in his debate, and that comment is no exception……with the caveat that one is viewing a comment from muirduck as an isolated incident only, as a newcomer might.

However, what does become offensive is the repetition of the lie over and over through thread after thread.

It is much like the village idiot sticking his head in the door of your shop twice a day, every day, and in the presence of God and all your customers saying, “Hey Richard Stands, you really need to do something with your hair.” The statement by the village idiot taken alone is not offensive, the constant repetition of the act in public will become offensive quickly.

Brad Hutchings October 12, 2011 at 12:47 pm

The discussion would be improved a little bit if you and others resisted the urge to name call. Just use “muirgeo” or “George” if he’s introduced himself to you that way. Basically, pretend you’re on the basketball court. Pet names that are positive might be OK. Pet names that are mocking are not, and will probably get you an elbow to the face.

vidyohs October 12, 2011 at 1:05 pm

The discussion might be improved even more and come more to the point of the underlying contest if you and others understood that we mock not the man, but the loony left caricature which he makes of himself by choosing to spew garbage out of the broken side of his brain. It is the caricature which is mocked and reviled, at least for me it is. I have never challenged the bona fides he possesses, or must possess, to be a doctor of long standing, nor have I derided the intelligence and education it takes to become a doctor. I acknowledge those points freely. But, none of that matters when it come to the other side of the break in his brain that causes him to make of himself a ridiculous caricature of the proto-type socialist radical.

kyle8 October 12, 2011 at 6:42 am

It is just another of the very typical strawman arguments of the left. ie:

If you believe in a more or less deregulated marketplace then that means you believe in total caveat emptor, in allowing anyone to pollute the environment in any way they choose, you believe in making toddlers work in dangerous mills with open machinery, and you even like shouting fire in a crowded theater.

Gil October 12, 2011 at 9:11 pm

What’s wrong for those who believe in those things provided no private property was harmed, toddlers learning valuable work skills and like getting banned from private theatres?

anthonyl October 12, 2011 at 8:23 am

This forum is a free-for-all. There are no or little consequences in calling someone names or trolling. In a free market there are consequence for low quality. You might lose profits. Low quality has it’s place in a market if for no other reason than to reveal higher quality products. Sometimes I just need or want a lower quality product for a cheaper price. I choose to come to Cafe Hayek because it is unmoderated and there are trolls and it’s exciting and there are various levels of thought or non-thought as the case may be. People get mad at each other we try hard to make the case for a truth we believe with whatever ammo we can find in our sometimes inadequate depot. I hope no one would act this badly in public and I doubt anybody on CH would.

muirgeo October 12, 2011 at 8:37 am

Indeed, we are debating the future look of the society our children will inherit. If that’s not reason to be passionate I don’t know what is. If we can argue and get through things this way it sure beats war. And indeed many a war has been fought over these concepts and ideas. Best we fight it out verbally and at a distance over coming to blows. In the end the reasonable ones all want the same thing… a secure, fair and civilized future for us and our children.

Anotherphil October 12, 2011 at 8:53 am

If you were interested in fairness, you wouldn’t be a statist-because the business end of centralized government-the federal tax code-is the antithesis of fairness.

Gil October 12, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Hence as Steve_O points out that without a pricing system there’s becomes a Tragedy of Commons where those who despoil something don’t have to pay any price for it.

Steve_0 October 13, 2011 at 3:40 am

Thanks Gil.
I also want to point out that if my memory serves, I’ve both been quite angry and quite magnanimous in trying to make bridges with Muirgeo. There have been specific instances where I’ve tried to (if this were a bar, or library, or physical space) “hold up my hands” and say “Wait everyone, he has said something I agree with, and deserves treating with some validity”. But, it always manages to descend into chaos.

There’s been a long history of bad blood. In all honesty, I don’t think Muirgeo seeks at all to be understood, or to understand. I’d like to see him work out a focused idea with one or two of the long-standing, well known cafe patrons, and see how it develops. It’s hard to do when someone jumps in and throws a stink-bomb. It’s also hard to do when he reflexively acts rude.

Regardless of this specific person, I still think a comment system that allows for some non-destructive emergent order can only improve the quality.

I hope Muirgeo and others, including myself, will take an extra few seconds to think before posting; attempt to understand first, then to be understood; try pretending it’s day one and exercising some civility; and importantly- don’t jump in and make a stink if that’s the only contribution you have. If someone else is trying to engage, maybe stay out of it for once with the clever insults. Methinks is one of my favorite posters for clarity and cleverness wrapped in brevity– but can run the risk of blowing things up as much as Vidyohs, who simply doesn’t care one whit about being the mirror image of Muirgeo. DK on the other hand makes me lose my mind, and I’ve got to burn a lot of calories trying to force myself not to comment negatively.

In all honesty, I’d prefer a more civilized cafe with more constructive engagement and disagreement with Muirgeo than having to read another “I’m always the student with my hand in the air saying ‘Actually’ ” DK.

Political Observer October 12, 2011 at 8:55 am

Obviously Mr. Murray does not understand the concept of private property.

Don Boudreaux October 12, 2011 at 8:57 am

Perhaps another commenter has already said what I’m about to add here, but – in addition to the important points explained by Russ in the post – the fact is that we choose NOT to regulate the comments here at the Cafe. So the alleged irony isn’t apparent to me.

Yes, this policy has its downsides. (This is reality were talking about, and in reality – even in cyber-reality – trade-offs are ubiquitous.) But in Russ’s and my estimation those downsides are more than made up for by the upsides of the very-much ‘laissez faire’ policy that we choose to follow in this regard.

The correct economic case against government regulation of markets is not that markets will be perfect (according to some metric) if only there’s no government regulation. It’s that markets will work better without government regulation than with such regulation.

Steve_0 October 13, 2011 at 3:44 am


At the risk of being so repetitive, it seems like you and Russ keep hearing suggestions for moderators from phantoms. We have en-mass been recommending exactly what you and Russ recommend: market based systems.

A non-destructive reputation, or plus-minus, or promote based system in the comments sections leaves all speech as free as you like, but allows for some emergent order. It gives a tiny “cost” or negative signal to those who may actually learn to change the way they post (perfectly valid and allowed disagreements) in such a way that both they and all other cafe patrons benefit.

The technology is out there. And would involve and require no heavy handed moderation.

Slappy McFee October 12, 2011 at 9:22 am

It saddens me that the author confuses the powers of governments to tax and/or incarcerate with the power to moderate a blog that is privately held.

Very, very sad

Frank33328 October 12, 2011 at 9:44 am

While no analogy is perfect the interesting point to me from Cameron’s comment is that users of this blog found the behavior of others so offensive that “regulation of the behavior of others” was REQUESTED. No debate that Drs Roberts and Boudreaux own the site and that it is private, but the unwillingness to tolerate others and asking for the “law” to restrict them is admittedly ironic. I think the origin of the request makes Cameron’s point.

Slappy McFee October 12, 2011 at 11:35 am

Your point would be valid if at anytime someone threatened violence towards Don or Russ if they did not ban Muirgeo.

THAT is the difference between consumers requesting a better product and consumers utilizing government force to impose one.

Frank33328 October 12, 2011 at 12:56 pm

What is the difference between voters “petitioning” those with authority to enact rules banning behavior that they find objectionable and users of this site “petitioning” those with authority to enact rules banning behavior that they find objectionable? One difference is that no amount of petitioning by site users can force the Drs to act, but that was neither my point nor Cameron’s. The point was the act of petitioning was itself somewhat ironic.

Methinks1776 October 12, 2011 at 1:05 pm

The difference is that one is in the private realm and the other is in the public realm. In the private realm, you are banned only from that group. In the public realm you are banned, full stop. Personally, no matter how irritating, I don’t like the idea of banning. But, it ain’t my blog.

Frank33328 October 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm

The Drs control of this site is much less impacting than the governments control of ….. well, nearly everything. True. However, the act of appealing to authority to restrict offensive behavior (rather than ignore it, etc) is the same. I must admit that I found ironic. You are focusing on the scale of the impact and not on the nature of the request.

Slappy McFee October 12, 2011 at 1:55 pm

But it isn’t close to being ironic unless you think asking for swiss cheese instead of cheddar on my burger is the equivalent of bringing armed police in and shutting down the restaurant until they put swiss on everyone’s burger.

The letter to Don and Russ was a request from a consumer to a producer. Regulation is a demand placed on a producer by a third party at the behest (tho rarer than you think) of the consumer.

Frank33328 October 12, 2011 at 2:22 pm

I wish to add that I fully understand and agree that it is true that the users of this site should have no expectation to a “right” to free expression becaue it is a private forum and this is a difference in the action of banning in public versus private forums.

Steve S October 12, 2011 at 11:08 am

“Nice to hear your view about how a highly regulated environment can improve quality.”

It’s important to note that IF the comments were regulated, quality for some would increase (perhaps those who agree with Russ and Don), but quality for some would decrease (those who disagree or those who wish to improve the strength of their arguments by contemplating opposing viewpoints).

Are you really going to decide whether or not to regulate based on which group of people you decide is more important to experience their “version” of better quality?

Simple majority rule is not a sound axiom upon which to guide your decision making process. Liberty, individual rights, etc. are much better starting points.

Pete October 12, 2011 at 11:59 am

Funny, I don’t see any irony at all. Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think Russ has never said regulation can’t improve quality (at least on some dimension). He’s consistently said that it frequently fails to do this and is frequently not worth the cost.

In this blog, he’s putting his money where his mouth is. Moderating comments might improve the tone but will come with costs (a lot of invested time, some comments hidden when they ought not be, delays before comments are visible) and concluded it’s not worth it. How’s that ironic?

Matt N October 12, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Russ, I don’t think any defense was necessary, but I’ll add my two cents:

The fact is that no regulation has been enacted yet because you are aware of the potential down sides, i.e. the opportunity cost associated with implementing the wrong regulatory regime is perceived to be greater than the cost of doing nothing. This is an awareness that government rarely has, largely because they simply can’t wrap their heads around the actions of 300+ million people, and because they lack the right incentives that would bring that awareness into view.

Even to the extent that you are looking for a regulatory scheme, you opened it up to suggestions. And most of the suggestions that I read revolve around a structure similar to market prices, where each ‘consumer’ signals the relative value of a ‘product’ by voting for it with their ‘currency’ (+1/-1, thumbs up/down, etc.). This is totally consistent with market regulation.

Furthermore (and this is more of a philosophical argument), even if you did enact some form of totalitarian regulatory regime, it would not violate anyone’s rights. Only government has a monopoly on that. Private entities that violate the rights of others are subject to punishment by the government. When government does it it is simply government being government.

There is nothing contradictory, ironic, or otherwise about this, because no argument for free markets that I’ve heard has ever suggested that markets are completely without a regulatory apparatus. On the contrary the argument always appeals to the self-regulating nature of markets, as facilitated by price signals of a stable currency. In addition, anarcho-capitalists aside, most arguments for free markets require some form of regulation: the minimalist regulatory apparatus of a criminal justice system which punishes people for violating the rights of others (aside from being simply wrong, violating peoples rights tends to stifle activity; violating peoples private property rights tends to stifle economic activity). A sense of irony or contradiction can only come from a lack of understanding of the free-market perspective.

In fact, having no regulatory apparatus in the comments section at all is more like a socialist/communist market in which prices are fixed — or even eliminated — and therefore there is no reliable way of determining the relative value of a good. In the comments sections here, we have no reliable price signals to tell us the relative value of the comments.

Finally, there really is a very strong regulatory structure imposed on the comments. It consists of the regulations imposed by the technical limitations of the application. That is, if commenters could simply work together to implement whatever value-signaling mechanism they could come up with, similar to the way individuals can simply settle on a particular commodity as a price-signaling mechanism, then all would be well. But there is no way to do this due to the limitations of the system. The best that can be done is for other commenters to register their approval or disapproval as a follow-up comment… an unwieldy and impractical solution. So an appeal to regulation here is not a change from no regulatory regime to some regulatory regime, but rather it’s an appeal to go from a very restrictive regulatory regime to one potentially slightly less so.

Stephen A. Boyko October 12, 2011 at 1:06 pm

“We’re All Screwed: How Toxic Regulation Will Crush the Free Market System,” was written to address the capital market governance problems resulting from the conflation of “risk” and “uncertainty” (see

One-size-fits-all governance metrics are too loose an operational tolerance to be functional because they lack clarity and precision due to non-correlative information such as Too-Big-To-Fail (TBTF) financial institutions that are, in reality, Too-Random-To-Regulate (TRTR) with the legacy deterministic metrics—it is not so much the size of the tumor as whether it has the capacity to metastasized.

Trying to govern both risk and uncertainty with the legacy, one-size-fits-all deterministic regime is analogous to having one set of driving instructions for both the U.S. and U.K. The result is larger and more frequent boom-bust cycles

PrometheeFeu October 12, 2011 at 1:46 pm

In the apocryphal and sung words of F.A. Hayek:

“The question I ponder is: Who plans for who? Do I plan for myself or leave it to you? I want plans by the many, not by the few.”

Ghengis Khak October 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm

The correct analog of real-world regulations to the internet would be to force all blogs to use the same commenting policy (or no policy!)

Cameron Murray October 12, 2011 at 6:57 pm

It seems I touched a nerve. I guess that was the point, and I hope readers can take a step back and look at social and political interactions from a broader perspective.

It seems only Frank understood my message.

I will just make a few further points.

1. Why don’t you manage your home under libertarian principles? Surely your top-down approach is inefficient, and you family would be better to served by assigning property rights to each member and letting them determine the quantity and quality of household production activities?

2. If you where an democratically elected politician and this blog was the public domain we elected you to be responsible for, would the readers not have voted for regulation? If you position was under threat from an opposition party, who did promise comment moderation, would you not be forced to comply or lose you position entirely? To deny the wishes of the people based on your individual belief, well, that sounds a lot like the pretense of knowledge.

3. Does not private property arise from public regulations? Land, for example, is typically a grant of rights from the State to the landowner. So who is to decide what new property rights are created and how they are allocated?

4. You might not believe it but I do agree with much of what you say. It is just the religious blindness to social and political realities makes much of what you say impractical or impossible. People are not rational or perfectly informed, and sometimes we just prefer some inefficiency from government that gaming, rent seeking, and confusopolising from private enterprise.

SMV October 13, 2011 at 11:49 pm

2. Does government or law not have an obligation to defend rights of a minority or only the wishes of some approximation of a majority? If this blog was a truly public forum should the vote of a majority be allowed to silence the voice of a minority? There are very legitimate reasons to limit the power of the majority.

3. Is false. People and ownership predates government. If the two of us washed ashore on a deserted island and I build a shelter. Would you have the right to take it from me?

The act of taking it would violate our general sense of ownership or natural law.

Cameron Murray October 14, 2011 at 6:41 am

SMV, thanks for replying. I’d be interested in some example of where private ownership predates government. I know of many tribal cultures where the concept of ownership, such as aboriginal Australian, was absent from their culture. Tribes owned things, individuals didn’t.

I do agree that majority rule is not ideal, but it sure beats a lot of other systems.

Finally, yes I very well might take your shelter from you if I had the means and you couldn’t protect it. Why not? How ever much you believe you have a right, without the backing of force, there really is no right.

I have another question for readers (which I may also pose on a more recent post). If governments collected taxes from economic rents only, for example with land and resource taxes, and I did not own any such taxable rights, I would not pay any tax. Would I be expected to have a say in how government spend tax money? Do I have any right to be critical of government waste or trade policy? After all, it’s not money they’re playing with.

Ivan Georgiev October 12, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Ahhh, this is a really “good” argument. If you ban someone from a forum or a site where free-markets are discussed, the banned persons says “You hate free speech, you infringed upon my right of free speech”. What Cameron has said is similar. He does not talk about rights, but about regulation. Free-market individuals are not against regulation per-se, but about forced regulation (coerced upon individuals). Forced regulation means that someone aggressively makes decisions about the way an individual should handle his rightfully owned property.

Greg Webb October 12, 2011 at 10:23 pm

“I wonder how many readers catch the irony”.

There wasn’t any irony.

“It seems I touched a nerve.”


“It seems only Frank understood my message.”

No. Everyone understood.

Cameron makes the typical condescending comments of those pushing greater government control. His argument presumes that libertarianism is a free for all without any rules. But, this presumption is false and thus his entire argument falls apart.

Libertarians believe in rules and among those rules are rules that limit the power of government and protect individual liberty. Yet, those who support more rules designed to coerce individuals to conform to the political elite’s view of the “common good,” never want to enforce the rules applicable to government, especially those proscribed in the highest law of the land, the Constitution. And, if Constitutional rules were properly enforced, the federal government would not be wasting trillions on social welfare programs nor would there exist thousands of pages of needless and silly regulations that create many more problems than they solve.

John Papola October 13, 2011 at 8:54 pm

I love how many people like this commenter view criticism of one-size-fits-all rule-making by a demonstrably and inherently corrupt monopoly as if it were criticism of all forms of hierarchy, rules and social institutions of any kind at any level.

I don’t thinks it’s ironic. It’s just weak.

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