Craigslist: Libertarian Newspaper Slayer!


I'd understand if The New Republic's Barron YoungSmith watched this ReasonTV video excoriating the politicians and pundits who advocate newspaper bailouts and was left wondering if "libertarian ideology is killing newspapers." But this bizarre post at The Plank argues that Craigslist's owners, often (erroneously) blamed for destroying the old media business model by putting classified ads online for free, are destroying the news industry because they "are devoted to a form of libertarian ideology." He explains:

While Wal-Mart is bent on maximizing returns for its shareholders–an appropriate goal, for a corporation–Craigslist is not. Instead, [Big Money's Mark] Gimein explains, Craigslist doesn't even try to profit from its economic activities, because its owners are devoted to a form of libertarian ideology:

For all the stories written about Craigslist and the profiles of its founder, the company can still baffle anybody trying to make sense of it. A telling episode was the performance of Jim Buckmaster, the CEO who runs Craigslist day to day, at an investor conference where he was asked to explain the company's strategy for maximizing revenue. Buckmaster answered that it didn't have one… or want one because that wasn't the point.

[Ellipses in the original.]

I haven't a clue what any of this means. Is one engaged in "economic activities" if, by and large, no money is changing hands? If there is no intention of making a profit; no advertising; and limited fees for those posting ads? (Small fees were first introduced as a way of preventing double posting of real estate listings from spamming New York brokers). So why is Wal-Mart (a company I defended here) not "libertarian," while Craigslist, which is run by the left-liberal Craig Newmark and basically provides its services for free, is? It is unclear how Jim Buckmaster's non-strategy strategy counts as sinister and free market, but YoungSmith adds this bit of clarification:

Instead of profits, Gimein shows, Craigslist's owners manage the organization in the service of an idea.

A lesson that it was hard for [me] to learn," [founder Craig] Newmark told Charlie Rose, "was that people are good and trustworthy and moderate." Craigslist is Newmark's vote of confidence in that lesson. … Bad things don't come from what two individuals decide to do together. They come from the institutions that stand between them.

Shorter YoungSmith: A business that facilitates yardsale-like transactions, that eases the process of unloading your excess junk on neighborhood hoarders, is working in service of a libertarian idea. And by destroying a key newspaper revenue stream, those Craigslist libertarians are, in turn, destroying those who valiantly defend democracy at the Los Angeles Times, Rocky Mountain News, and Lowell Sun. Or something.