The Marketplace of Ideas Requires Regulation Like Any Other Market

And anyone who denies this hasn’t thought it through

Tim Wise
6 min readMay 15, 2022


Image: Just dance, Shutterstock, standard license, purchased by author

When I was a renter, I had a decidedly mixed experience with landlords.

Some were excellent.

Some, however, were awful, regularly failing to fix heating or AC units when they went out.

Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar or worse?

Now imagine you had, and suppose you were to tell me about it.

And imagine that, in response, I were to say, “The answer to bad landlords is more good landlords.”

You’d probably think, well, sure, that would be nice.

But meanwhile, the bad ones need to be held accountable for their irresponsibility.

No one would assume the housing marketplace would work itself out in terms of quality just by adding some more conscientious property owners to the mix.

So too, no one would say, “The answer to bad medicine (or doctors or hospitals) is more good medicine, doctors or hospitals.”

Not because it wouldn’t be nice to have more good ones of each. But because within the marketplace for health care, the bad ones need to be dealt with.

Yet, when it comes to the marketplace of ideas, many insist there can be no regulation of expression — and not merely for reasons of Constitutional principle, but because unrestricted speech is best, consequentially.

As they explain it, only with the maximum expression of ideas can the good ones drive out the bad in a never-ending search for truth.

But why would we expect this magical process to work when it comes to ideas, any more so than housing, medicine, or any other market?

Markets are distorted by several forces that prevent them from operating as claimed, like power imbalances, lack of information, or barriers to entry.

And just as these things necessitate regulation in other markets — so as to help those markets function more smoothly — so should reasonable people see the need for them in the marketplace of ideas.



Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)