Free Speech: Why does it matter? | Chapter 12
Published October 3, 2022
Freedom of speech is an important part of a prosperous life. In the United States, we have the freedom to say pretty much whatever we want, as long as it doesn’t directly harm others. But what counts as harm? Some want the government to have the power to ban offensive speech, but this would give it immense powers that threaten our very prosperity.
What is the difference between speech prohibited by the government, and speech you personally do not like?
What does prosperity look like? A purpose in life. Enough money to take care of all your wants and needs. And a government that monitors how you choose to express yourself so they can throw you in jail if they don’t like what you say or believe?
That doesn’t sound right.
Freedom of speech is an underrated part of a prosperous life. In the U.S., we’re pretty much free to say whatever we want, as long as our speech doesn’t harm others. But what counts as “harm”?
Meet Doug. The government prohibits speech that advocates for the immediate use of force against someone. So, if we start telling everyone to throw assorted fruit at Doug, that’s a problem.
There are also laws that prohibit lying about someone to damage their reputation—also known as “defamation.” We can’t go on the news and say Doug steals money from the children’s hospital and uses it to buy illegal exotic pets. Unless Doug actually does do that…
We also can’t tell Doug we’re selling him a zebra when it’s actually a horse with stripes painted on it. First of all, the horse deserves better. Second, that’s fraud.
So the government says you can’t threaten, defame, or defraud people, but what about hurting another person’s feelings? In some countries, the government does punish people who say hateful or offensive things.
But when a government has the power to prevent speech it doesn’t like, what stops them from preventing speech that, say, criticizes the government? That level of power is a big threat to freedom and future prosperity.
Of course, government censorship isn’t new. Throughout history, from the Spanish Inquisition to Soviet gulags, people who said or believed things that offended the government or the official state religion were arrested. Some were even executed.
Ultimately, these practices stifled progress and innovation. People didn’t look for ways to make the world better because it was risky to question the way things worked. That would suggest the government wasn’t doing a good job, and that wasn’t allowed. Diversity of thought was basically banned. Progress stalled. Prosperity faded.
Today, Americans are free to speak out against the government. We can practice our chosen religion, spend time with whomever we want, and proudly believe bigfoot is not an urban legend.
With freedom of speech, we have freedom to disagree. And we don’t need the government to dictate which side we’re on. If someone’s anti-bigfoot stance offends us, we’re free to boycott them and their business.
Keeping the power with the people through freedom of speech helps new ideas flourish and promotes prosperity for all. Even Doug.