Marketplace of Ideas

Many times our liberal friends remind us that economic markets are not always perfect. A free economic market presumes that all the cost and benefits are born by the buyers and sellers. This is not always the case. For example, water or air pollution can impose costs on third parties not part of this transaction. In such course, the government can be called upon to remedy this “market failure.” This argument is a reasonable one.

Americans rightly justify the notion of a“free marketplace of ideas,” as the crucible that we use to filter the validity of ideas. However, it is important to recognize that this marketplace can have it failures too. For the free marketplace of ideas to work, honesty and a open willingness to subject ideas to critical evaluation are required. Because we recognize the delicate importance of free and open inquiry, we do not permit the government to step in to remedy market failures in the marketplace of ideas. We rely on the self regulation and good judgment of free people.

This issue is what makes the recent speech at Columbia Univeristy by Iranian President Ahmadinejad so problematic. Because Ahmadinejad does not subscribe to rules of open inquiry, when invited to prestigious institution like Columbia University, the hosts are sandwiched between two unappealing alternatives: appear rude by vigorous confrontation or allow Ahmadinejad to spread his propaganda with less than the most energetic rebuttal. Under pressure for the embarrassing invitation, Columbia’s president Lee Bollinger decided to confront Ahmadinejad. It is not that Ahmadinejad did not deserve Bollinger’s direct criticism, but the remarks gave Ahmadinejad an excuse to suggest that as a guest he was unfairly attacked. Ahmadinejad played the victim.

The most poignant rebuttal to Ahmadinejad was outside the hall where Ahmadinejad spoke. There was small placard topped with a photograph of Shiri Negari, a twenty-one year old young woman, tens days from her twenty-second birthday, who was killed by a suicide bomber in Israel. The placard read: “My name is Shiri Negari and I would like to speak at Columbia too, but I was murdered when Iran gave money to Hamas to blow up the bus I was on.”

At, there is a memorial web site lovingly maintained by Shiri’s family. The site is populated with photographs, videos, and testimonials that paint the picture of a promising and beautiful life snuffed out by an ideology of death.

Bolllinger should have resolved his introduction dilemma by playing the short video at Shiri’s site that tells the story of her too-short life. The Bollinger could have simply asked why Iran supports a group that would deliberately and indiscriminately kill people like Shiri. There is no acceptable answer to that question, and Shiri would have been the remedy to a market failure.

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