The political economy of the Alex Jones family

A civil court in Texas has found that Alex Jones defamed the parents of young children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Massacre. He was ordered to pay his $49 million in damages, including punitive damages.

Among other things, Jones claimed the massacre was a hoax and a government-orchestrated fake shooting. At a very rudimentary level, you can call it the political economy of the Alex Jones family. Nothing I say below should be construed as an argument for defamation laws or as an argument against economic development.

For nearly all of human history, individuals handicapped by social ignorance or limited cognitive capacity have been at best manual laborers (which is honorable, of course) or beggars, or at worst snakes. Oil peddler or petty criminal. Economic advances and reduced communication costs have greatly enhanced the ability of such individuals to act and be influential in the social world.

The availability of information has increased exponentially due to the reduction in communication costs. Many of them are available online and are officially free. However, the cost of identifying information bits has not decreased at the same rate. Alex Jones, Paul Krugman, Census Bureau, or wall street journalThe mere fact that more information is available in quantity means that the cost of sifting through it has increased.

Virtually free, conspiracy theorists throw a bevy of troubling or intriguing little facts at their audience (see Sandy Hook’s most popular conspiracy videos). Most if not all of these little facts can be checked, often at a higher cost (e.g. travel), but another ad-hoc explanation that can be invoked to save the plot is always there. Anyone with an internet connection and a cheap smartphone can access it. By some estimates, a quarter of his Americans believed Sandy Hook, in which 20 infants and six of his adults were killed, was a government-organized hoax.

Such propaganda financial times Columnist Gideon Rachman’s Recent Writings Strongman era (Other Press, 2022); I am reviewing this book in the Fall issue regulation, next month). Rachman writes:

Vladimir Putin and his propagandists have established the “fake fire hose” technique as a basic political tool. The idea is to ditch so many different conspiracy theories and “alternative facts” (to use the words of Trump aide Kellyanne Conway) so that the truth is simply his one version of many events. is to

Not only are conspiracy theorists cheaper, but they can make a pretty good profit if they have gullible followers like Jones who want to buy physical snake oil. Two days ago when he visited Jones’ Infowars site, the sale was on his two-bottle “combo pack” of “Survival Shield X2” and “Super Male Vitality” for 40% off. For such ventures, the cost of marketing has fallen along with the cost of communication, while competition has increased.

In addition to the spread of implausible falsehoods, another consequence of Alex Jones in this world is that they compromise serious ideas by claiming to be their own defenders. The likes kissed Judas some libertarian (and classic liberal) causes. His company is called “Free Speech Systems”. He claimed the Sandy Hook hoax was orchestrated by dark government forces because they “wanted to get our guns.”

Some people have opinions so strong they can’t imagine they could be wrong. If their opinion is manifestly and necessarily true, then something consistent with them or implied by them may have happened, including a conspiracy to suppress them. unknown”? Ignoring the logic Must happened. From there, it’s not too difficult to hunt down strange factoids to support conspiracies or fabricate facts that must have happened.

In another post, I explained that economic analysis strongly suggests that typical “conspiracy theories” are invalid. See my Epistemology, Economics, and Conspiracies (EconLog, Dec 3, 2020) and two links to my previous posts. Also, “A Disreputable Fringe” (EconLog, August 2018), partly about Alex Jones. Of course, low-level conspiracies with little risk are happening all the time, and you should keep a critical mind.

The solution is not to shut up Alex Jones, because no one can be trusted to distinguish a fool from a brilliant eccentric or innovator. Only the free market of ideas can ultimately separate the wheat from the chaff. Trusting political authorities to separate false and truthful statements can be a trusting fool. (In America and elsewhere, we have recent experience.)

It focuses on the classical liberal argument that the minimum knowledge required to discern obvious falsehoods requires some degree of education in a liberal or democratic society.For example, Friedrich Hayek writes (Mirage of Social Justice, 1976, Volume 2 Law, Legislation and Liberty In the new Jeremy Shearmur edition, p. 285):

Also, while there are many opinions in favor of governments providing equal access to schooling for minors, there is serious debate as to whether governments should be allowed to control the schooling of minors. I have a question.

Education helps us develop the ability to recognize what we don’t know and learn intellectual humility. Knowing what you don’t know is the tricky knowledge department. One aspect of his complex problem is described by James Buchanan (pp. 16-17) as follows:

Understanding Simple Principles [of social interaction] Or willingly delegate to someone else who understands.

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