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September 16, 2012

Courage or cowardice

(Continued)

Such a benefit/cost ratio encourages communications cowardice. It is like the sports fan in the stands belittling the athlete on the field. Few would have the courage if they had to face the subject of their torments. Such commentary without consequence erodes civility as anonymous messagers say or write things that they would not in person.

I can imagine the rare situation when anonymity is necessary. Maybe the speaker has been muzzled or victimized. Perhaps critics would suffer hardship or retaliation if they were identified as the source of a criticism we all should hear. However, very few conversational cowards are in this category.

Some of these critics are the same individuals who wonder why Wall Street does not act more responsibly, or why our leaders play political games as the nation is held hostage.

Perhaps, if we all had the courage of our convictions, we could allow the marketplace for ideas to truly work. After all, markets work because purveyors offer something, at some cost, to create value for themselves.

Imagine a world in

which anyone can say anything anonymously. Mean-spirited and self-promoting commentary would become rampant. We would find it difficult to judge the message from the character of the messenger. We would find ourselves in a world described by George Akerlof, in a paper well known among

economists entitled “The Market for Lemons.” With thoughtful debate replaced, we would all be poorer.

To sign our names to our political messages on television, to our Speakouts, or even to our comments on the Internet imposes some responsibility and affords context for readers.

Maybe we should just ignore anonymous commentators. Cheap shots drown out the messages of those with the courage of their convictions. In this political season, as we are barraged by messages costing millions of dollars, or Speakouts and posts costing nothing, wouldn’t it be nice if people had the courage not to hide?

Colin Read is a contributor to Bloomberg.com and has published eight books on finance and economics with MacMillan Palgrave Press. He chairs the Department of Finance and Economics at SUNY Plattsburgh. Continue the discussion at www.pressrepublican.com/0216_read.

 

 

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