Thursday, May 26, 2005

Regulating blogging :: Becker-Posner

Becker and Posner agree the blogosphere regulates itself well enough. As always, they bring the standards tools of economics to support their thesis.

The idea of parity among media is attractive, since exempting the producer of a close substitute of a taxed or regulated product from taxation or regulation tends to promote inefficiency; the exemption operates as a subsidy. The parity issue is starkly presented by the question whether to tax Internet transactions, discussed below.

With respect to blogs, the contention is that exempting them from ethical or other informal (or formal) regulation subsidizes their competition with the mainstream media. Not that they are or would be totally exempt from controls over content; there is no legal exemption for a blog that defames someone, invades the person’s right of privacy, exhibits child pornography, reveals classified information, infringes copyright, or otherwise violates generally applicable laws, though in many cases the bloggers will not have sufficient resources to make suing them for money damages an attractive course of action. But there is no compulsion on bloggers to comply with the ethical standards applicable to the conventional media. Moreover, they face less market pressure to comply with ethical standards than the conventional media, because they generally are not supported by advertising revenues (though this is changing) and thus don’t have to worry about offending advertisers—or for that matter viewers, since bloggers do not charge for visiting their sites.

Nevertheless I think this “exemption” of blogging from the ethical standards applicable to the mainstream media makes good economic sense because of economic and technological differences between those media and the “blogosphere.”
Read the whole thing.


I agree with Posner that additional regulation of blogging and other internet postings is undesirable and unnecessary. Robert Merton, the late outstanding sociologist of science, demonstrated that the main way plagiarism and dishonesty are “policed” in research is through the incentives provided other researchers to discover and expose such malfeasance. These incentives are even more powerful in blogging and other internet activities, where many thousands of individuals seek to discover serious errors committed by bloggers, business leaders, and politicians. I have been impressed by the extent of the information revealed in comments on our blog, far more than in the responses per column from readers during the almost 20 years I wrote for Business Week magazine.

Their mutual posting also covers spam and taxation of the internet.


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