Free Speech Will Soon Be on Trial at Supreme Court

One of the most important cases facing the Supreme Court involves regulation of political speech.

As George Will writes, “Both [Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton] have voted to do something never done before — make the Bill of Rights less protective. They favor amending the First Amendment to permit government regulation of political campaign speech.”

Will cites two eminent economists, Ronald Coase and Aaron Director: “There is no reason the regulatory, redistributive state should distinguish between various markets. So, government that is competent and duty-bound to regulate markets for goods and services to promote social justice is competent and duty-bound to regulate the marketplace of ideas for the same purpose.”

The rationalization for regulating (i.e. controlling) free speech is already in place. “If the government is obliged to regulate and control the market, then it logically follows that the government is obliged to regulate and control the marketplace of ideas.” That’s, in essence, what these economists are saying. And that’s, in essence, what politicians like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders believe. Either one has a 50-50 chance (at a minimum) of being the next president. And, despite transient Republican bluster, Obama will probably pick the next Supreme Court justice, who will almost certainly buy into this idea, giving the Court a 5-4 majority on regulation (i.e. control) of political speech.

If government may interfere in the marketplace of money, property and business, then it logically follows that government may interfere in the free expression of ideas. The problem? We never should have allowed government to interfere in the economy in the first place. It’s valid for government to be involved when charges or evidence of fraud exist. If someone violates a written contract, sells poisonous food at a restaurant, or steals money or property by cheating on a business deal, government ought to interfere with these violations of individual rights. The same goes for murderers, rapists, child molesters and terrorists.

But that’s not what “regulation” usually means. Regulation usually means manipulating and controlling the outcome of economic transactions. The classic example was government intervention in the mortgage and lending industry. The federal government decided that more Americans should own houses. Government regulated and interfered in the economy in such a way as to encourage private lending companies (whose policies are largely controlled by the government anyway) to give out easy loans. This artificially inflated demand for housing and increased the value of everyone’s houses and condos, for a time. Of course this made people happy, for a time. Until, of course, the inevitable market correction happened, since most of the people getting these government-encouraged easy loans could not pay them back.

There are countless other examples of how government regulation in the economy creates havoc or, in the case of the 2007-08 real estate crash, disaster and depression. Tragically, government gets none of the blame. The bipartisan conclusion of the 2008 disaster was that government did not regulate enough. As a result, we got more regulation than ever, and now we hold our breath for the next disaster.

We have to challenge government regulation of the economy on principle. We have to tell our politicians, “Leave the people alone. Leave private business alone. Get the hell out of the way. We want you to enforce laws against fraud, theft, assault and murder. But we don’t want you controlling or manipulating outcomes.” On both the left and the right, there are justifiable outcries against “crony capitalism.” Crony capitalism is actually pseudo-capitalism; it’s not capitalism at all. Crony capitalism is just another word for government controlling the outcome for political purposes. Political purposes sometimes involve progressive or socialist “ideals” about making everyone equal economically; but just as often they involve the private interests of pseudo-capitalists using government controls to make outcomes go their way, profit-wise. Don’t blame this on the pursuit of profit. Blame this on the pursuit of profit using government pull. Get the government out of the economy, and “crony capitalism” goes by the wayside.

Unfortunately, almost nobody in power agrees that government should get out of the economy. Obama’s probable Supreme Court pick will impose Obama’s view of government control via a 5-4 majority on economic matters. Free speech is next. And don’t say you weren’t warned.

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