‘Nations stumble upon establishments, which are indeed the result of human action,
but not the execution of any human design.’
Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767)

31 January 2014

Public Choice and the Free Press

Although freedom of the press does not usually occupy a central theme in introductory Public Choice Theory texts, it is an essential part of keeping government, politicians, and the bureaucracy honest. Without constant scrutiny and accountability, the political class is apt to become careless and equate their private interests with the public good — one of the key warnings elaborated in the Public Choice philosophy.

This independent oversight is threatened, therefore, when the State believes it has the right to oversee the modus operandi of the press (beyond the general legal norms which are prescribed for all citizens). Will the Fourth Estate be punished with legal coercion for publishing information that uncovers official malfeasance? Or will it tailor its reporting to satisfy its political masters, enabling future acts of impropriety?

Students of Public Choice, then, believe a free press is a necessary safeguard to individual liberty.

My full argument for the Institute of Economic Affairs is here.


#DMI_Reads Update — Two volumes are in the reading queue this month:  A Humane Economy (Regnery, 1960) by Wilhelm Röpke and Economic Sophisms—First Series (Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2011) by Frédéric Bastiat.