Give those whose views you disagree with a chance to speak
At the invitation of the Brandeis Young Americans for Liberty, Fox News anchor John Stossel presented his lecture “Freedom and its Enemies” to a crowd of around two hundred people in Olin-Sang 101 two weeks ago. I was in the front row. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but whatever it was, I did not get it.
Never once in Stossel’s hour-long talk did he say anything that struck me as remotely insightful. His basic claim — that the free market is more efficient at allocating resources appropriately than the government — is something that every economics student already knows. Stossel insisted that the success of the world’s trading hubs was solely due to government neglect, highlighting Hong Kong as an example and ignoring a student from Hong Kong who pointed out that the government provides subsidized housing to half the population. Finally, he disavowed his decades of consumer reporting, pointing out that telling people about malfunctioning products would cause them to switch en masse to more dangerous alternatives. You have to admit that, on some absurd level, this makes complete sense. Why tell anyone about the dangers of flight if more people die while driving? Quick, someone get on the phone with Ethiopian Airlines!
After the talk was over, I approached Stossel and asked him about healthcare, an area that many people perceive to be a failure of the free market. As a prosperous country, the United States is unwilling to allow people to die on the street, so healthcare providers can charge whatever they want. If the patient cannot cover his own bill, some other entity — insurance, the government, his children and their life savings — will step in and cover it for him. European single-payer systems have their own share of problems, but they manage to avert this somewhat. In a private system, the only way to decrease prices is to refuse to pay, which means letting Grandpa die.
He shrugged and said, “Then we need to let Grandpa die.”
Well, give him points for consistency at least. Still, if he had started with that, I might not have stuck around for the rest.
If it isn’t abundantly clear by now, I did not want to write about Stossel. I have no problem with libertarianism, but by dismissing market failures seemingly out of hand, he takes libertarian ideas to their logical extreme. For those who share his views, the best form of government is no government at all. For me, you couldn’t find a better definition of anarchy in a dictionary.
The reason I’m writing about Stossel is very different. It has less to do with the content of his speech and more to do with the lengths some went to to keep people from hearing it.
I come to BYAL meetings fairly regularly. I’m not really a libertarian at heart, but I like discussing hot-button issues, and it’s the only place on campus where the prevailing view is not naturally that of a progressive Democrat. So I was at the meeting when, a week before the event, the first batch of fliers advertising Stossel’s presence was printed, and since I was there, I helped to put them up around campus.
Not content with ignoring the fliers, a group of students went on a mission to tear them down, and they were all gone by the following afternoon. So BYAL’s president stoically printed up another batch and put them up again. These too, quickly disappeared.
On the Monday of Stossel’s visit, he tried once more. That afternoon, I went up the Rabb steps at 3:20 p.m. to get to class. When I came to the flat areas between each flight of stairs, four Stossel fliers had been put up. When my class ended at 4:50 p.m. and I returned the same way, they were gone.
Finally, after the event finished, I took one last tour of Olin-Sang and Mandel. Curiously, almost every bulletin board in the building had a single 8.5”x11” empty spot. It does not take a genius to figure out why.
Taking down fliers is a pretty far cry from more aggressive means of expressing displeasure, such as starting a riot, as Berkeley and Middlebury students did in 2017. It’s also extremely unlikely that the people who took the fliers down will be caught. I don’t think that anyone is actively trying to catch them, and even if they were caught, I really doubt that BYAL is interested in prosecuting them. In fact, I’m not even sure what rule these students were breaking, if any. But this action, against the rules or not, was done for the sole purpose of making sure as few people found out about Stossel’s views as possible.
Most of you can probably see the ethical problem in doing this. For those that cannot, I would like to present a counterfactual. On the same day as the Stossel event, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and current Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez came to speak about the future of progressive policy. Perez’s talk was well-advertised, and I saw many fliers put up around campus advertising the event. Suppose for a minute that a group of right-wing Trump supporters wearing MAGA hats had gone around campus tearing them down. If this had happened, would the reaction have been as calm and measured as the one we’re seeing here? To the contrary, I’m certain that it would have made national headlines almost immediately. As things are now though, it’s been two weeks and I’ve heard absolutely nothing.
Ultimately, I think that John Stossel is astonishingly wrong. More importantly, though, I am able to tell you why he’s wrong because I sat through his talk and listened to his views. Even though I disagreed, I was freely exposed to his arguments and had a chance to examine them analytically and rebut them. Doing that is what a university is for. Denying others the ability to do the same by hiding the event from them is repugnant. As a student body dedicated to free expression and the open exchange of ideas, we should not let it happen again.