Cancel Culture

The Economics of Cancel Culture

When mob mentality and moral suasion meet the market

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A wave of hasty firings is sweeping across the country, driven by demands from what some call the "cancel culture." The New York Times editorial page editor James Bennett ran an op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) that displeased the paper's readers and some colleagues, so he lost his job. The chief curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gary Garrels, lost his job, too, after he was accused of being a racist for saying he would still collect art from white men. But the list of those who lost their jobs is much longer, and the rationale is sometimes as stunningly weak as someone liking the wrong tweet.

As a result, fear has gripped many workers: Any day, any worker can be fired for simply angering a Twitter mob. Meanwhile, employers are left wondering how they should react when one of their employees becomes a target.

Every case is different, and employers should be able to dismiss workers. "Employment at will" remains the best labor policy. However, one piece of wisdom is worth following: During scary, emotional, or angry times, don't act hastily. Slow down.

There is value in not making rash decisions during stressful times. Mental health professionals often advise grieving families to not make any life-altering decisions for a solid year after the death of a loved one. In daily life, some common advice for those about to send a nasty email or text is, "Sleep on it."

Acting out of anger is not uncommon. Mark Twain, for instance, noted, "Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured." Aristotle observed, "Anybody can become angry—that is easy—but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose and in the right way—that is not within everybody's power and is not easy."

This rule of not acting out of passion is central to our political system. James Madison, in Federalist No. 10, warns of impetuous mobs or factions "united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." As such, Madison and the Constitution's other architects created a system of governance that discourages fast, immediate action and gratification.

The built-in slowdown requirement enshrined in the Constitution is also present in our legal system. Due process means that no stage of legal proceedings can be dispensed with, preventing government from acting too hastily.

Today, the wisdom that inspires our constitutional system and many other fields could help private firms when responding to the demands of an impetuous mob. Imagine if employers adopted the public position to wait, let's say two weeks or so, when faced with demands that a worker be fired for some alleged claim. Such a policy would have a few advantages.

First, it would give the company time to determine if the accusations are well founded. It would also allow the company to assess the bigger impact of such a decision on other employees without excessive retaliation costs for not acting quickly enough.

Second, a waiting period would allow heads to level and passions to cool. In the age of instantaneous news, the mob might become distracted by other events, allowing a company to assess the situation without the constant pressure. At the end of the waiting period, if the employer decides it still needs to let the employee go, it will have had time to develop an argument for why it's making that decision as opposed to the contradicting messaging that has surrounded many of the recent firings.

There's a larger issue here, one that we libertarians pay too little attention to: What is the proper role of moral suasion on commerce? If there is no role, then the state, with its formal law, becomes the only constraint other than market competition. If there is a role, as Aristotle hinted, then let's be sure to do it right.

For now, however, it's easy to see the benefits for all involved if firms start waiting a little before dismissing employees under public pressure.

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    3. R Mac….nice find. Elizabeth Nolan Brown is the worst kind of hypocritical harpy.

    4. Ouch. I didn’t realize that she was such a piece of shit.

    5. Disgusting! I had no idea she was all that bad. A caricature of journo-class entitlement; most Voxers don’t dare be so bold! And check the details; it’s over poor harmless Slate Star Codex! I can’t even imagine what he has done to deserve such venom from anyone!

    6. I take no credit for the find, someone posted it here a couple weeks ago. Don’t remember who, sorry.

    7. Modern culture has shown that trusting the market is, by and large, an exercise in sheer idiocy.

      The market is not any better at thought than the government.

      I choose to trust neither.

      1. With the market people get what they want, or think they do. With government people get what government thinks they want; much worse.

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  4. This is not to mention Melissa Rolfe, stepmother of the cop who shot Rayshard Brooks. She tweeted her supported for a Republican candidate for Congress. Because this candidate is Obviously Racist, it turns out that Melissa was creating a hostile work environment.

  5. Of COURSE moral suasion is part of commerce. It’s what really governs society, not government rules. Government rules are only obeyed when society says they should be, as if Prohibition and the War on Some Drug Users weren’t proof enough. The civil rights boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins only worked because of moral suasion.

    Where it goes off the rails is when people drag the government into it. It’s one thing to have laws against assault and theft; it’s another thing entirely to have government stepping into the moral suasion arena.

  6. Damn. Flagged 4 spammers in just a minute. It would be interesting to know more about the operations that dumps those spa comments here.

    Reason ought to have rewards for flagging spam as quick as possible. Contests for who flags spam the fastest. Or count page views which saw the spam before it was flagged. Spam points displayed next to your handle, say a lifetime average and a running average of the last 5 spams you flagged, showing the average number of page views before you flagged it. Call it spam golf since the lower score is better.

    1. This is a seriously great idea.

      The spam is out of control in this thread.

      1. They’re even spamming each other.

        I want a bounty for flagging those bitches. And an edit button.

    2. I got 7! I win!

      What gets me is that the algorithms to recognize and quarantine about 99% of what I see would be trivially easy. Every single one has a link, and virtually every link includes text saying “click”, “click here” or “read more”. How hard is it to filter those for pre-review?

    3. A suspicious person would wonder if all the spam here isn’t designed to reduce readership of the comments.

    4. I swear to God if we get a anti-spam merit system before we get an edit button I’m going to murder you with a spam flag.

    5. You assume that flagging comments as spam actually does anything. From what I can see, it does nothing except hide the comment from you personally if you refresh the page.

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  8. http://www.eviemagazine.com/post/pc-culture-is-destroying-creative-freedom/

    “Totalitarian regimes — from Germany’s Third Reich to the Soviet Union to Communist China— have consistently imposed censorship on the freedoms of thought and expression of their citizens. And today, we can witness the same pattern repeated here in America through “cancel culture.””

    1. The mob is a regime?

        1. The implication is that “cancel culture” is analogous to the Third Reich, Soviet Union or Communist China. When men with guns start enforcing this “cancel culture” then I’ll be down with the analogy. Until then I find it to be ridiculously stupid.

          1. “The implication”

            So it didn’t say that.

            “analogous” doesn’t mean exactly the same in all ways.

            Happy to help you with that one.

            “Until then I find it to be ridiculously stupid.”

            Funny, that’s how I find people like you who don’t understand how comparisons work.

            1. Funny how people like you don’t understand how implications work.

              1. Funny how you call others assiming asses when it’s your MO.

                It didn’t say it so you made it up.

          2. When men with guns start enforcing this “cancel culture”

            You’re an idiot.

          3. ‘Cancel Culture’ is where the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, and Communist China started–with collectivist authoritarians attacking people in the streets, and destroying property and institutions.

            Germany, Russia, and China all had legitimate governments that were overthrown by collectivist authoritarians.

            And right now, the US is being attacked by collectivist authoritarians.

          4. “When men with guns start enforcing this “cancel culture””… Look no further than the CHAZ mob.

          5. So the Black Shirts in Italy (before Mussolini became The Leader) weren’t fascist and weren’t a problem because they weren’t the state?

            The Red Guard wasn’t a problem because they weren’t officially the state?

            The Brown Shirts in the 20s weren’t a problem because the Nazi party wasn’t sitting on the throne?

            Good to know… The KKK apparently weren’t a problem in places they didn’t hold office. Learn something new every day.

      1. As far as controlling speech and opinion goes, the mob might as well be a regime. It’s that effective.

      2. Give it time. Or don’t, and take it down before it becomes one.

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  10. We need a better understanding of the Constitution. I had the misfortune last year of sharing an office space with a somewhat moderate Muslim woman and a non-cisgender gay man. Both would utter weird Left Wing comments like an occasional belch, as if they had not control over it. One of the most common things that would come out of their mouths was, the US Constitution is archaic and racist. That a Muslim and a gay man would say that, defies all logic. But it convinced me we’re no longer living in a country; it’s a cult. The cult analogy didn’t seem so far-fetched to me when I instinctively understood that if I confronted the two, I would have been fired, and possibly arrested. My Fortune 500 company’s position on social issues also convinced me that I had better keep my mouth sealed. Some of us can drink the kool-aid, some of us cannot. I really just want to get paid. Smart people figure out how to navigate through any hell. If it matters, I’m gay too, but I’m referred to as “cisgender” which is supposedly a disparaging term.

    1. The prefix “cis” (and “trans” for that matter) belong where they began: in organic chemistry. Misapplying then to thinks that have nothing to do with chemistry is just silly.

      1. The scary thing in 1984 was newspeak, not the cameras.

      2. Those terms predate organic chemistry, unless the Romans were that advanced. They were used in place names like Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul. They are still used in geography for places like Transylvania.

    2. This view of the Constitution is pernicious and highly problematic.

      It’s showing the country is fracturing along basic value lines. The indoctrinating against it has been allowed to go on unopposed for too long. The Declaration of Independence is the soul of America. Gut that (call it racist or whatever) and you gut the country.

      The Constitution, they don’t realize, is among so many magnificent things PROTECTING them.

      1. This view of the Constitution is pernicious and highly problematic.

        The view of the Constitution is just the presentation of the underlying disease in the specific population. The underlying, conscious or not, religious devotion to a nameless, faceless, brainless ‘society’ is the pernicious disease. Traditional religions required you to either be enough of an adult to tolerate the Gods’ fickle nature in smiting your foes or do it yourself. Socialism, OTOH, directly and visibly smites the unclean on behalf of the righteous on a fairly routine basis. To the point that nobody stops to question it until several million of the unclean have been smitten by just a few of the not-exactly-righteous.

      2. The Constitution, they don’t realize, is among so many magnificent things PROTECTING them.

        People like that see the government as themselves and business as the enemy. Government protects them from the corporations that would otherwise take over the world. The corporations already enslave us by forcing us to work for them and buy their stuff. It’s stupid, I know, but it’s what they really believe.

    3. If you would seek to persuade, first seek to understand.

      First, I agree: the Constitution is a magnificent document. Its design for a system of government from whole cloth has proven, over hundreds of years, to be tremendously beneficial to, and protective of, the people it has governed.

      But if someone claims that the Constitution is racist, they have a point: it institutionalizes the practice of slavery, and grants suffrage only to men.

      You and I may agree that this point is stupid– both flaws have been rectified.

      But people more interested in finding fault than finding virtue will point to the slavery part before acknowledging the freedom and protections parts.

      1. The word slavery, like democracy, occurs exactly zero times in the Constitution.

        1. 13th Amendment is part of the Constitution.

      2. The Constitution was a good first cut, possibly the best that could be done as the first of its kind. But the framers were not paranoid and cynical enough. The checks and balances never allowed for the branches to back each other up when threatened by outsiders (ie, voters). They didn’t allow for the mendacious re-interpretation of plain words. Unfortunately, any amendment now, proposing re-instatement of the original plain meaning would be too late, and any amendment adding civilian veto of bad laws would be hijacked to add all sorts of wants as fundamental rights.

        1. Yeah. The biggest mistake was the assumption that the branches would compete for power, which would make it difficult to get anything done. They didn’t anticipate them colluding to usurp the very document they swore to protect.

          1. Frank Herbert may have had a great idea. We need a Bureau of Sabotage.

          2. Concur.

            The intended remedy– the power to call an Article V Convention– has withered from lack of use.

        2. “and any amendment adding civilian veto of bad laws would be hijacked to add all sorts of wants as fundamental rights.”

          As I tend to support this, in a word: no.

          Inasmuch as the president can’t write legislation; perhaps you are confused as to the meaning of “veto”.

          Nor would civilian written rules likely standup to any judicial challenge. You still need professionals to write laws, nevermind how civilian review could leverage their power to control all branches of government when the congress can barely pass legislation to enrich themselves.

          You also seem to be confused that the Constitution can be amended. If the states wish to proclaim all manner of desires as rights, that is their prerogative.

          But good of you to view voters as the enemy in a representative republic.

      3. Why would you seek to persuade a psychotic?

        Just keep needling them to drive them further into insanity

        1. Yeah, I’m usually too much about coulda, never enough about shoulda. 🙂

      4. So you’re saying the Constitution was racist and sexist but now it’s not. That’s not was “is” means.

    4. “non-cisgender gay man.”
      I don’t know what this means.

      But the cult behavior is becoming more and more pronounced.
      I referred to the left as a collective in a Tim Pool tweet thread, and a dozen+ leftists immediately chimped out to all screech the same thing

      1. GroupThink is alive and well in the Democratic Party of Morons.

    5. Their views then would suggest that their self-identified groups should reign over all others and that he constitution, which freedoms they no doubt currently enjoy, would be crumpled and tossed out. And replaced with a police state.

      And for laffs, did you consider telling HR or what ever overlord of who gets to say what and who can be offended by it to get them to stop their work place harassment?

  11. That we have to explain this basic, timeless adage tells you all you need to know about where on the 2020 timeline we stand. It’s like having to explain to people why freedom of speech and expression is so critical to us maintaining the civil order and to maintain a healthy skeptical eye.

    As for businesses, it’s simple. Hold the line. Goya did it. Red Bull did one better: It fired the sorry asses of executives looking to stir trouble with this anti-racism nonsense. You have to possess the courage to cut the cancer out.

    1. Red Bull is an Austrian company. Not sure if many know that.

  12. Companies can surely fire whomever they wish. Those companies involved in navel gazing “justice” or “anti-racism” or “diversity” or whatever you want to call it will eventually get mowed down by leaner faster and younger competitors. The best and brightest will not be drawn to dumpster fires of social justice morons running a businesses HR departments. They start their own companies and use creative destruction to get rid of slower weaker and older competitors.

    I hope I am around when that sewer called Twitter finally implodes and their executives are brought up on charges of sedition.

    1. For me it is the hypocrisy, my president and ceo, who has been at that position for over 30 years and is white sent out emails espousing how racist we are and how we have to change. Between him and me in the chain of command there is only one other white guy, the rest are black or Asian and over half are women. If it is so bad why has he not resigned? He has been at the helm for the whole time. When he resigns, sells his mansion, gives all his money away then I will take him seriously, I mean he made it while running a racist institution?

      1. I love seeing hyper woke companies like Apple and Nike using de facto slave labor to keep their costs down.

        1. Sounds like a win-win from a capitalist’s perspective.

      2. My Fortune 500 company CEO did the same, not 24 hours after the riots began. By the end of the week we were all “encouraged” to attend a seminar on racial sensitivity, which have continue each Friday since. I’m wondering how legal all this is, whether mandatory or not. Doesn’t this force staff to side politically with a company view? It is about politics, since the narrative is Democrats are not racist, Republicans are racist. To me it’s no different if a company mandated everyone attend DNC meetings. Amazon tried to pull this stunt with sensitivity training and it was the black employees who insisted Bezos halt. It is very condescending after all. Not sure how corporate virtue signaling got so widespread, but it’s been around since my first post-college job in 1993. My company put out a quarterly catalog and the ladies in charge of it scrambled around looking for anyone of color to put on the cover. They found a black floater, a Chinese lab tech, and a temp in the word processing pool who was Hindu. They even asked her if she could wear a sari to the photo shoot. She said she could probably dig o e up from her grandmother’s closet. I was so young I had no political convictions yet, but I was deeply troubled by it all.

      3. The missive was a precautionary strike against over-reactionaries imagining things. To whit, if he hadn’t sent out that email then he would be accused of being a racist. Even if you are actively anti-racist you still risk being called out for not being anti-racist enough. Kinda like the Red Guards fighting it out for who was more Moa (other than Mao).

  13. “For now, however, it’s easy to see the benefits for all involved if firms start waiting a little before dismissing employees under public pressure.”

    An idea so obvious to call it great, but it is. Frankly, this is common sense, but if companies should put such a policy into effect before these events arise. Then they’ll have a reasonable policy to default to.

    “What is the proper role of moral suasion on commerce? ”

    Of course there is such a component. There always has been. It just needs to be based closed to the median citizen and not from the extremes.

    1. So firings are only good when they support causes I favor.

  14. Companies aren’t served well by slow moving judicious and thought out responses to cancel culture. They are best served by cutting anyone loose without warning for two reasons:
    1. The company just doesn’t care about one person and the effect that losing a job has on their life. People are interchangeable and thus firing one and hiring another is seen as a net zero cost.
    2. It creates a culture of fear that keeps others from stepping out line and creating more problems.

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  16. I love seeing the bobble heads try to make the left the new boogyman

    you have already accepted prison camps and federal brownshirts attacking demonstrators

    I think the left is not the authoritarian danger here today because a museum curator got fired

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  17. I’m not here to tell libertarians what to think, but I kind of feel that “employment at will is the best system” should be the first and last sentence here.

    Otherwise your deeply held principle that employees are cattle and should remain cattle is tarnished by the curious exceptions you make. If it’s only when some white guy gets fired for being un-woke that employers are being asked to “slow down” and think rather than act in their capitalist self-interest, well, I’d hate for libertarians to be unfairly painted as a white boys only club looking after the interests of white boys.

    1. “……employment at will……”

      Who’s will? The grievance obsessed virtue signaling mob?

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  19. I’m not sure about the moral part. In fact I’m positive he’s completely immoral. Read More

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