Friday, December 20, 2002

Free speech in the bedroom 

Colleague John Palmer passes along an article from Jonah Goldberg on what he found more remarkable than Clarence Thomas' comments on the cross-burning case from Virginia. I've thought about the case and was reminded reading this of Murray Rothbard's comment on what Bertrand de Jouvenel used to call "the chairman's problem". (See this article by Timothy Terrell for another application and reference.) The chairman controls a podium at which speeches may be given. If by free speech we mean a zero price, Rothbard said, we're soon going to have a shortage and contention over who gets to use the podium. The solution would be to charge a price.

Free speech happens in a space; who owns that space determines what speech can occur. I can say "Yankees suck" in my home because it's my home; if I say it in George Steinbrenner's home, I rightly expect to be tossed out on my ear. Likewise, what seems a slam-dunk to me in the Thomas comments -- that cross-burning is never speech, anywhere -- was called into question by Scalia, who was holding that place matters.

One could extend this to our flag debacle. VP Church could be seen having the "chairman's problem". Pricing the displays might be one solution; the problem is that student union buildings are usually paid out of student dues, making the building a common property resource to all students, with the attendant problems of overuse that occur in most common property situations. How would you solve that? Drop a note in the comment box.