Robert Reich: How to Protect Twitter, Stop Inflation Without a Recession, and Win a War
Safeguards against dangerous lies on Twitter?
Now that Elon has complete control over one of the main ways Americans find out what’s going on (I know, I know – Twitter is tasteless and filled with slander and mockery, but it has an extremely important role in development of news), what can be done to establish safeguards against dangerous lies? It seems likely that Musk will remove the few remaining guardrails on Twitter — but surely some guardrails are needed to prevent malicious harassment or dangerous incitement to violence. Twitter (like Facebook and Zuckerberg’s Instagram) feels more like a public service than a private company. It has public functions and has no direct competitors.
What to do?
Much of the answer comes down to making Twitter (and Facebook and Instagram) more accountable for what users say on its platform — just like any other publisher is accountable. In all other dimensions of public life, tort laws allow those defamed, harassed, or otherwise harmed by malicious or hateful speech to sue. The bar is set high: claimants must establish that the publisher knew or had reason to know that the published material was false and harmful. But the simple possibility to be sued obliges publishers to bear at least a minimum of responsibility.
In 1996, Congress enacted Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – protecting website owners from liability by decreeing that they should not be treated as “publishers”. But at the time, Congress could not have foreseen what would happen over the next quarter century: giant corporations like Twitter and Facebook are making huge sums of money by posting incendiary content that attracts many looks and gives them mountains of user data which they then monetize. even if the content encourages political violence, riots or gang shootings.
I’ve been talking for some time about the various ways in which the rich and powerful in our society shirk responsibility. I am well aware of the arguments on the other side of this question (and will share them with you), but I have come to the conclusion that Congress should repeal Section 230. This would be a step towards restoring accountability .
How to stop inflation without recession?
The mainstream media, meanwhile, continues to mislead the American public about inflation. (Ideological blinders are not – and should never be – subject to responsible laws. But they must be exposed.)
Featured article in this week’s edition New York Times, by Jeanna Smialek and Ben Casselman, is a good example. He attributes the inflation largely to a “hot labor market“. The authors write that “America’s staggering wage gains could mean the Fed needs to react more aggressively to slow the economy,” and quote Mary C. Daly, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, as saying that higher wages may be a “feeder for inflation”, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell that the labor market is “unsustainably hot” and that it is the Fed’s job “to get to a better place where supply and demand are closer”.
Waste. Labor costs do not push inflation. Corporate profits are. If the Fed keeps raising interest rates to keep labor costs from rising, we’ll be in a recession before you know it.
According to a new report by Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute, more than half of price inflation since March 2020 (it estimates 53.9%) is attributable to higher profit margins, while labor costs account for less than 8 percent. As the chart below shows, from 1979 to 2019, profits contributed just over 11% to price growth and labor costs over 60%. Corporate power has grown over the past forty years, and the surge in demand caused by the pandemic has given companies even more pricing power over their customers. Powerful firms have also been free to pass on cost increases to their customers because they do not face strong competition and have used “inflation” hedging to further increase their profit margins.
Bivens suggests that a temporary excess profit tax could provide some countervailing leverage to the pricing power that companies currently have vis-à-vis their customers. I am okay. (Too bad the Time doesn’t report any of that.)
How to win a war?
Despite Putin’s efforts to persuade the Russian people that his war is going well (and the efforts of Putin’s generals to convince Putin that it is going well), all available evidence suggests that it is going horribly wrong for Putin. I am impressed with Ukraine’s ability to take on the Russian Goliath and push it back.
When the story of this horror is written, NATO and Joe Biden will also get huge credit. Their steady hands and unwavering strategy seem to be working. Patience, tenacity and careful use of all the tools at their disposal – short of sending NATO or US troops to Ukraine – are turning the tide. We have no way of knowing how this will turn out (and I continue to fear what a cornered Putin might resort to), but the courage and intelligence of Ukraine, NATO and Biden deserve our congratulations and our thanks.