I can empathize with the Occupy Wall Street protestors, but my perception is that many of them misunderstand the cause of their pain. They naively blame capitalism; they should blame corporatism.
Corporatism is the alliance of government and business. It happens on the left (think Solyndra), and on the right (think military-industrial complex), in the Federal government (think bipartisan bailout of GM) and in local government (think Utah naming April 5, 2010 “Cafe Rio day”.)
Corporatism is pro-business. Specific businesses get government subsidies, above-market-rate contracts, or special recognition.
Capitalism is pro-market. The consumer decides whether to favor GM or Ford; Cafe Rio, Costa Vida, Bajio, or Chipotle.
I loved Phil Windley’s post today on how Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, though they seem like polar opposites, actually share a disdain of corporatism and ought to work together to fight it.
My friend Cam has started a cause called Fight the New Drug (FTND). That “New Drug” is pornography, and their approach parallels the fight against tobacco.
This is about changing the messaging. For example, if smoking is a way to rebel against authority, then parents and medical experts saying Don’t smoke! only reinforces the rebellion. But if smoking is succumbing to executives at Big Tobacco, then smoking isn’t a form of rebellion at all, it’s a form of conformity. What rebellious kid wants to conform to Big Tobacco executives? That’s the message of The Truth campaign.
Imagine a similar change of messaging around pornography: Pornography isn’t glamorous, it isn’t sexy. Love and romance without pornography is glamorous and sexy. By making the negative externalities of pornography more visible, it would become less appealing. While organizations like CP80 and Lighted Candle Society fight the supply-side of pornography, FTND fights the demand-side.
I’m very excited about this approach.
Mary Eberstadt at Stanford’s Hoover Institution calls pornography the “new tobacco” and said:
Yesterday, smoking was considered unremarkable in a moral sense, whereas pornography was widely considered disgusting and wrong — including even by people who consumed it. Today, as a general rule, just the reverse is true. Now it is pornography that is widely (though not universally) said to be value-free, whereas smoking is widely considered disgusting and wrong — including even by many smokers.
Can we change minds again?
Columnist Kathryn Jean Lopez said:
…I’ve been flashing back to something Traci Lords once said: “I have to thank Ed Meese for saving my life.” At 18, her career as a porn star ended in a federal raid. How many Tracis are on a computer near you today? And who else is porn harming? It’s a question that our society — which in its rhetoric and culture says it cares about women and children and lives and love — needs to grapple with. If Eberstadt’s comparison is right, the time [is] coming. The shrugs will cease. Yet I hope the turnaround comes, not because the government has made porn highly inconvenient, but because we have decided we want something better. (Smoking Is Out, Porn Is In.)
Seth Godin said you can’t fight an ideavirus (“pornography is okay”) by “challenging the medium in which it spreads.” Instead, you must counter “one ideavirus with another one.”
You don’t counter racism by making the act of uttering racist statements against the law. You do it by spreading an idea (racism is hateful, wrong and stupid) that keeps the racist from expressing his ideas because all his friends will shun him if he does. (“Thinking about this war”.)
Here is some of the FTND messaging, paraphrased:
1. Educate people about the negative effects of pornography and let them choose their pornography involvement for themselves. We do not contest the legality to produce pornographic material.
2. Just because it’s legal to smoke cigarettes, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Similarly, porn can have devastating effects on you and your loved ones.
3. Although pornography consumption can lead to powerful addictive behaviors, we don’t contest people’s right to view it.
4. People need to be educated about the negative effects of pornography on individuals, families and businesses.
5. We fight against the demand for pornography. Through education, we believe people will no longer want to use porn and those with addictive behavior will seek help from professionals.
6. People addicted to porn often feel they have no options. We’re letting people know that they have a choice.
7. We want to infuse more sexiness into the world. Two committed people together — that is sexy. A lonely, addicted person sitting in front of a computer is not sexy.
Please make a $10 donation to FTND to become a “fighter”. Ten dollars from 1,000 people is better than $10,000 from 1 person. The money will be used to develop messaging campaigns to fight the demand for pornography. This will be a grass-roots movement to make pornography unpopular.
I’ve put in my $10 and I’m hoping many, many more friends will as well.
I recently read Mind the Gap, an essay by Paul Graham on wealth, industry, and incentives. It’s almost 5 years old now, but it seems timely as our nation appears to be on a road toward socialism.
Wealth is not money. Money is just a convenient way of trading one form of wealth for another. Wealth is the underlying stuff—the goods and services we buy….
Where does wealth come from? People make it. This was easier to grasp when most people lived on farms, and made many of the things they wanted with their own hands. Then you could see in the house, the herds, and the granary the wealth that each family created. It was obvious then too that the wealth of the world was not a fixed quantity that had to be shared out, like slices of a pie. If you wanted more wealth, you could make it.
This is just as true today, though few of us create wealth directly for ourselves…. Mostly we create wealth for other people in exchange for money, which we then trade for the forms of wealth we want.
If you suppress variations in income, whether by stealing private fortunes, as feudal rulers used to do, or by taxing them away, as some modern governments have done, the result always seems to be the same. Society as a whole ends up poorer.
You need rich people in your society not so much because in spending their money they create jobs, but because of what they have to do to get rich. I’m not talking about the trickle-down effect here. I’m not saying that if you let Henry Ford get rich, he’ll hire you as a waiter at his next party. I’m saying that he’ll make you a tractor to replace your horse. (Emphasis added.)
Similar ideas can be found in a monologue from Francisco d’Anconia, the wealthy mine owner in Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged.
“Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men’s stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best that your money can find. And when men live by trade—with reason, not force, as their final arbiter—it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the man of best judgment and highest ability—and the degree of a man’s productiveness is the degree of his reward.
“…you will see the rise of men of the double standard—the men who live by force, yet count on those who live by trade to create the value of their looted money—the men who are the hitchhikers of virtue. In a moral society, these are the criminals, and the statutes are written to protect you against them. But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law—men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims—then money becomes its creators’ avenger.
“When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion—when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing—when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors—when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you—when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice—you may know that your society is doomed.
“If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose—because it contains all the others—the fact that they were the people who created the phrase ‘to make money.’ No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity—to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created….” (Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged. pp. 411-14. Emphasis added.)
Even the libertarian and most ardent proponent of free speech should care that we continue to allow pornography to run rampant on the Internet. Here’s why.
A proposal by Larry Lessig called H2M (“Harmful to Minors”) would help parents protect children from pornography. Professor Lessig argues that if government doesn’t help parents block unwanted pornography, the loss of freedom of speech will be even greater because parents will turn to private companies for help:
Parents won’t wait for the government to figure out how best to filter harmful-to-minor speech. They will get what they can to block harmful-to-minor speech even if what they get is private and blocks more speech than necessary. For them it’s better than nothing.
After you watch this video, I think you’ll understand the H2M proposal:
H2M is similar to the CP80 initiative. Each is a proposal for 1. a new law which 2. codifies a technology which 3. allows parents to choose whether to block or allow pornography. Ralph Yarro of CP80 has repeatedly said that Internet filters don’t work. I infer that Larry Lessig thinks filters work well enough that parents will use them but not well enough to protect free speech.
I’ve previously written that the role of proper government is to stay small and allow nonprofit companies to compete for social change. In that light, perhaps I shouldn’t favor any legislation that would regulate the Internet. However, I see Professor Lessig’s point: a well defined law may serve all constituent groups better than no law.
I’m reading Peter Drucker’s Managing the Nonprofit Organization. During his interview with Dudley Hafner, then CEO of the American Heart Association, they discuss charitable giving as a form of speech:
My European friends always point out how low the taxation rate is in the United States. I say, you are mistaken because we voluntarily cough up another 10 percent of GNP for things which in Europe are either not done at all, like your work, or run by the government with the individual having absolutely no say in where the money is to be spent. That’s a point the public does not understand. Would you agree?
I agree. There’s a couple of things about this that are very, very important to me personally. First of all, campaigns such as the American Heart Association or the Salvation Army or the Girl Scouts let people get involved, and that becomes important because they do become advocates. The other thing I think that is unique about these United States is the fact that charitable giving is as much a force in the freedom of democracy as the right of assemblage or the right of vote or the right of free press. It’s another way of expressing ourselves very, very forcefully. Someone who pays taxes does not think of himself or herself as getting involved in the welfare program. But if they become involved in a Salvation Army activity or the Visiting Nurses program, they are involved. They are involved spiritually and they are involved monetarily. That makes a difference.
Not everyone would say the U.S. tax rate is low. I’m already paying for programs and services I don’t want, and the U.S. government was never meant to be this big.
Charitable giving to nonprofit organizations allows citizens to vote with their checkbooks for causes they care about. Nonprofits must market their causes persuasively, administer their programs effectively, and be accountable to their donors. Donors, in turn, become advocates for the causes they support and take ownership in the outcome. Compare this with the government model of taking money from citizens by force to fund programs they don’t want, administered by bureaucrats who don’t care.
Donating to social causes I care about, and not donating to social causes I don’t care about, is a form of speech. For all the politicians clamoring to protect my freedom of speech, I don’t see many trying to protect this one.