Re: poly: Free Speech

From: Robin Hanson <>
Date: Tue Apr 21 1998 - 09:37:14 PDT

I wrote:
>Imagine that someone could voluntarily place themsleves at risk of
>libel prosecution. "You should believe me because they could sue
>my butt off if they could prove I'm lying." People who don't do
>this might be believed less on average. But this seems to be
>a matter bewtween the person who speaks and the person who decides
>what to believe. I don't see why other people should have much say
>over their choice.

David Friedman responded:
>The economic argument, for what it is worth, is that fraudulent statements
>impose very dispersed costs on the people who believe them. The "injured
>party" in defamation has sufficient incentive to sue; the real victims

I was thinking of freedom of association as a remedy, rather than suing.
If one can at will sever association with someone, turning off their direct
effect on you, for a net zero externality, then it seems that the threat of
such severing should be a sufficient remedy for most possible harms.

For example, we probably don't want to let people sue for verbal insults in
a private home if people can just up and leave and have nothing to do with
that person again. And if it is feasible for people to contract about such
possibilities upon entering a house, I see even less reason for allowing
torts, rather than suits about breach of such contracts. If some tort law
would be a good idea for them, they should agree to that tort law in the
entering-house contract.

Analogously with "harmful speech", it seems each listener has the option to
sever their direct association with a given speaker by ignoring anything
that person says. Once ignored, the net direct externality is zero. And if
some libel contract would be a good idea between them, and the speaker
can unilaterally bind herself to such a libel law, and can make this binding
visible to listeners, then listeners can ignore a speaker if she has not
bound herself to an acceptable libel law.

One might argue that the costs of noticing which speakers have bound themselves
to which libel laws is too large, and so we shoulld bind everyone. But at most
this would only seem to justify putting the burden on speakers who want out of
standard libel law to make sure their listeners have heard about this.

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-8614
Received on Tue Apr 21 16:42:07 1998

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Mar 07 2006 - 14:45:30 PST