From the 16th to 18th of May the Heartland Institute will be hosting their 4th international conference on climate change in Chicago.
Heartland takes a position that has variously been described as “denialist”, “skeptical” or “realist”, but which I like to call “non-scared”. I say that because the conference includes science contrarians (Willie Soon, Richard Lindzen, Fred Singer, Chris Monckton), but it also includes people who accept the mainstream story of a warming planet caused by greenhouse gases (and I cautiously include myself in that category) but who nonetheless don’t believe this represents an impending catastrophe, and it certainly doesn’t justify rushing into bad public policy.
I just finished reading Bryan Caplan’s excellent book “The Myth of the Rational Voter”. It is an extremely valuable book for anybody who really wants to understand what drives democratic government.
Public choice theorists have long known about “rational ignorance” where people recognise their vote is almost worthless and so they don’t bother informing themselves about politics, political philosophy or public policy. The consequence is that most people can’t explain how the political system works, who their politicians are, the details of most policies, or the arguments underlying public policy debate.
Caplan’s addition to the literature is to say that people aren’t simply “rationally ignorant” but that they’re “rationally irrational”. Ignorance should lead people to making “random errors” where they are equally likely to make mistakes in either direction. But Caplan shows what political watchers already know… voters often make “systemic errors”, where many people are wrong in the same direction. The problem isn’t that people don’t know enough (ignorance), but that what they “know” simply isn’t right.
Most people accept anti-defamation laws as a legitimate restriction on free speech. For a starters, the laws have always existed so it just seems normal to keep them. If we remove them then society would be plunged into chaos as everybody accused everybody of being a paedophile, a thief, or a murderous nutcase… and if those rumours are believed then they could cause lots of damage to the victims, such as loss of work and/or loss of friends. And that’s just not fair.
Perhaps. But before we give up on fully free speech we should fully understand the arguments.
Defamation involves (1) somebody lying about you, leading to (2) other people holding a bad opinion about you, leading to (3) a bad outcome for you because of lack of trade. None of these things are nice. But they are all voluntary and, all else being equal, none of them should be illegal.