Good morning! Here’s this week’s top 5.
5.) Some Thoughts on the “Free” Market
Amazon announced this week that the world’s largest bookstore would no longer be selling any books that “frame LGBT identities as mental illnesses.” This is the post-hoc justification for removing Ryan T. Anderson’s bestselling book, When Harry Became Sally, despite the fact that Anderson never refers to people with gender dysphoria as “mentally ill” in the book:
Amazon appears to have never read my book, but relied on hit pieces. As I pointed out before: “Please quote the passage where I ‘call them mentally ill.’ You can’t quote that passage because it doesn’t exist.” https://t.co/aN06WrLmxz
— Ryan T. Anderson (@RyanTAnd) March 12, 2021
So ultimately Anderson’s book was banned not because it performed poorly in the marketplace, or because it presented any sort of legal liability for Amazon, but because people who were never going to buy Anderson’s book wanted it removed because they didn’t like what it said. We see this over and over again — left-wing activists successfully lobby corporations to pull products they were never going to buy in the first place. Is this really the free market at work?
Let’s think about this issue in terms of ice cream. Imagine a Baskin-Robbins that sells 31 flavors. It’s the only ice cream store in town. Let’s say there’s a flavor — banana split — that performs fairly well with customers, earning about 5 percent of the flavor market share. Another flavor — strawberry — is slightly less popular, earning about 4 percent of the flavor market share, but its adherents are evangelical to the point of being cult-like. Strawberry lovers are constantly begging customers in line to forgo their love of rocky road, or chocolate chip cookie dough, and instead purchase… strawberry. Yuck. And when that doesn’t work, because people really don’t like strawberry, they try to sell them on cosmopolitan. But customers aren’t stupid, and they really don’t like strawberry, so they ignore the strawberry lovers and purchase their preferred flavor.
Eventually, the strawberry lovers come to the conclusion that banana split is the problem. If people didn’t buy banana split, they’d have to buy strawberry! So they threaten the Baskin-Robbins store owner and insist that they’ll never come back unless he stops selling banana split. Concerned about losing customers, he complies with the demands of the strawberry lovers, assuming that most customers who choose banana split will be content to simply choose a different flavor. And he is proven right — previous banana split connoisseurs begin buying other flavors. What choice do they have? This continues on and on with a number of flavors, until finally the strawberry lovers demand that the store owner limit the ice cream selection, first from 31 flavors, to 30, to 15, to 5, and then to 2: strawberry, and cosmopolitan. Because the store owner sees little change in his total sales — customers want to buy ice cream — he continues to placate the demands of his loudest customers, the strawberry lovers, satisfied that nearly all of his customers will continue to buy his ice cream.
But all is not right in the world. While the Baskin-Robbins owner may be fine — after all, he continues to sell the same amount of ice cream — consumers have been done a great deal of harm. The free market failed because of the frenzied demands of the strawberry lovers and the Baskin-Robbins owner’s unwillingness to risk profit to serve the best interests of all of his customers. No longer can customers choose their preferred ice cream flavor — instead they are forced to settle for ice cream they merely find to be tolerable. Is this really the future we want?
I go back and forth on antitrust as the solution to our tech censorship issues. Obviously, because a company like Amazon is market-dominant, it has the ability to single-handedly destroy products or even ideas. But will the “strawberry lovers” — the totalitarian Leftists who seek to rig the free marketplace of ideas — really stop their pressure campaigns in a more competitive market with seven or eight market leaders? And will those seven or eight market leaders suddenly find a backbone and risk losing customers when there is so little margin for error? This is why I lean toward Section 230 reform. When a large faction of our country has totally abandoned the founding and the liberal ideas that informed the First Amendment, and market-dominant Big Tech companies obey the wishes of that faction, to the detriment of everyone else, it seems to me that the state has an obligation to at the very least strongly incentivize those companies to adhere to free speech principles.
4.) The Child Allowance Armageddon Is Coming
As part of the $1.9 trillion “Coronabus” package, Democrats included a monthly child allowance that replaces the existing child tax credit. Via Fox News:
The legislation expands the current $2,000 child tax credit into an advanceable and refundable tax credit that’s worth $3,600 for each child up to age 6 and $3,000 for older children up to age 17.
What’s unique about this tax credit is Congress calls on the IRS to pay out the credit in advance to families in a so-called “child allowance” that would arrive as direct payments ideally on a monthly basis, such as $300 extra a month for one child under 6.
The program is to start up 90 days after passage of the legislation, so qualifying families could see payments as soon as this summer, according to a congressional aide briefed on the bill.
This benefit will only last for twelve months, which sets up a huge political fight in the spring of 2022. Republicans aren’t going to support an extension, and the child allowance is likely to be extremely popular with working families — exactly the folks Republicans need to win if they’re going to take back the House and Senate. So what do we do?
The answer is that we have to have an answer, and it can’t just be “no.” So we have three options: embrace Mitt Romney’s monthly child allowance, go with Lee/Rubio’s child tax credit expansion, or offer up some combination of the two. I lean toward the latter — I think politically it will be very difficult to take away monthly checks from families and tell them that they’ll get part of it back on their tax return. It might make sense to apply the mechanism the Biden child allowance uses to distribute checks and then convert Lee/Rubio’s ideal CTC into monthly payments. It’s important to note that Lee/Rubio’s CTC proposal got a vote during the amendment process and received the support of every single Republican who was present.
3.) Big Tech Should Be Subject to Any Net Neutrality Plan
The hypocrisy is striking. Big Tech companies and their allies in Washington are once again promoting the idea that the Federal Communications Commission should bring back “net neutrality” to crack down on internet service providers. Meanwhile, those same Silicon Valley companies argue that they should remain unencumbered by any sort of regulation — free to censor content and restrict access to the digital public square as they please. Neutrality for thee, but not for me.
Net neutrality advocates argue that ISPs, if left to their own devices, will deliberately slow down the internet, restrict certain content, and charge consumers exorbitant prices for high-speed access. Therefore, they say, the federal government must be granted the power to step in and force ISPs to treat all data equally. When the FCC started to consider rolling back the regulation, net neutrality advocates argued that it would spell the end of the internet as we know it.But when the FCC did repeal the rule, these dire predictions failed to materialize. In fact, the opposite occurred.
In 2016, during the height of net neutrality, the FCC estimated that 34 million people in the United States lacked access to broadband. That figure is down to 18 million today. Meanwhile, broadband investment from the private sector is up significantly — $80 billion alone in 2018 — after declining in both 2015 and 2016. And during a pandemic where millions of people were forced to work from home and internet connectivity was paramount, broadband networks held up while internet speeds only increased.
The same can’t be said for Europe, which has some of the most heavy-handed net neutrality regulations in the world. Unable to handle unprecedented internet congestion, the European Union had no choice but to allow ISPs to throttle speeds while also limiting video services. In other words, the greatest fears of net neutrality proponents came true in Europe — precisely because of net neutrality.
But let’s not allow facts to get in the way of politics. While the FCC is currently split with two Republicans and two Democrats, President Biden is likely to nominate another Democratic commissioner soon. When that happens, expect a deluge of propaganda from the usual suspects demanding that the FCC act to reimpose net neutrality on ISPs — and only the ISPs.
But why only the ISPs? Shouldn’t net neutrality be neutral? If the concern is that we should have a free and open internet, shouldn’t cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services, which recently used its market power to all but destroy an upstart social media platform, be subject to the same regulations? The same question might apply to Big Tech platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. Should they be allowed to work in concert to ban people and opinions they don’t like? And don’t forget Google. Is it acceptable that its search engine “algorithmically” promotes some news outlets and blocks others solely on the basis of whether it approves of the content?
2.) Some Brief Thoughts on Clubhouse
Look, I really like Clubhouse. I was an early adopter! But some of these rooms… what are you people doing? What are you people even talking about?
The key to a good Clubhouse experience is having a strong moderator who consistently keeps everyone on topic and resets the room as necessary. It’s also important, when there are a dozen speakers and 100+ people in a room, to ensure that it’s not just a conversation between two people. Don’t let bloviators monopolize our time. We’re there for a fascinating discussion about the listed topic. We’re not there to listen to some random dude’s soliloquy. When people are leaving en masse, obviously you’re doing something wrong. Finish your thought and move on. Have some self-awareness! Come on, man!
I just want Clubhouse to be good. It has so much potential. PLEASE. Just make it good.
1.) DIAMOND HANDS.
I know, I know. I told you all to join me in buying silver ($PSLV), and we got crushed over the past couple weeks. Just hold. As the kids say: DIAMOND HANDS. Don’t you dare get paper-handed on me. We’re not just going to the moon… we’re going to MARS. Hang tight!
TWEET OF THE WEEK:
Really makes you think. Have a great weekend, everyone!