Social

Reality Shows, Market Forces, and Tolerance

by Alex Merced

I am admittedly of pretentious cultural tastes enjoying television shows with complex thought provoking writing and production values and enjoying complex and unique musical genres. Although, while my personal aesthetic often finds me raising my nose at mainstream popular culture, there is beauty in its role in the evolution of societies values and its interplay with the laws of economic forces. In particular I’m referring to my belief that the growing proliferation of reality shows has had a role to play in what seems a rapidly increasing proliferation of tolerance of groups and individuals of all types.

The Economics

First of all, the growth in reality tv is a story of economics and scarcity. While the profit margins of television shrank as more alternatives for entertainment came to existence also diluting the supply of prime advertising space driving the cost of ad space down, there was demand to create low cost programming to increase the profit margin on shrinking ad revenue. With the success of shows like The Real World, Survivor, and Big Brother it became clear reality television would fill this gap.

The Tolerance

This easy and cheap to produce culture created a rush of finding subjects that would capture the audience in this genre saturated with programming. The result is that may channels sought to display groups and individuals that many would have a  curiosity about such as polygamist, gypsies, drag queens, and more. So while these shows sensationalize and sometimes can be seen as “exploiting” (how I so dislike that word) these groups and individuals for profit, the end result often shows the humanity in these diverse groups of people which in my opinion led sometimes initial curiosity of the audience to turn into empathy and tolerance as they interact with the diverse world around them.

In short, growing scarcity led to decisions for ones own benefit that in my opinion had great social externalities. Yes, the market works, and it works well.

Why Economics, Choice and Tolerance are Inseperable

by Alex Merced

Often times people define issues into two categories, economic and social, as if there is no influence these have on each other. I contend a world with a more robust competitive economy would also be a world of greater tolerance. Many social and caste divides are born out of economic scarcity, out of a demand for a reason to justify taking more of the economic pie for “us” and leave less for “them” because the sentiment is that there isn’t enough for everyone. If anything history, I think, shows pretty clearly that wealth is more abundant when more of us cooperate and compete with each other to provide value (aka the FREE market) instead of competing over limiting market access to others (protectionism/regulated markets/no markets). Although these divisions over time get ingrained in the culture of these arbitrary groups and can lead to generations of resentment, hostility, and sometimes violence which is why a focus on robust free market policy is an imperative for wealth building but also social cohesion (if you are prosperous you’re less likely to resent other people for being prosperous, or try to prevent them from being so).

So, essentially, economic performance will make people more tolerant of each other, which in turn improves economic scale. So, essentially, any discussion of promoting tolerance can’t be separated from people’s quality of life (which is partly determined by the wealth, and in other part determined by internal factors which often come from peoples ability to pursue their interests and attain property). As people’s quality of life drops, whether from losing their economic (wealth) or autonomous (choice) means to pursue their ends (goals), they begin to look for scapegoats to blame.

Bottom line: A libertarian world view which focuses on empowering peoples economic opportunities and individual choices, is the formula to having a more tolerant socially cohesive society.

Libertarians Should Lead the Way for Transgender Acceptance

by Alex Merced

Libertarianism is often well known for its concerns over the use of government power in solving economic and social issues, primarily because such power often attracts the wrong people to wield it and can often do more harm than good (a government that is powerful enough to establish and enforce hate crime legislation is also a government strong enough to establish and enforce the fugitive slave act.) So when it comes to issues of tolerance, you won’t find a philosophy more celebratory of diversity and tolerance (a free market works because of a diversity of goods, services, firms, and individuals) but often lambasted for its refusal to cross the line of using government power to compel tolerance or intolerance (or compel anything in that matter).

Although, just because libertarians do not want to use government power to force social progress, it doesn’t mean libertarians shouldn’t express social values and engage in the discussion of social norms. Over time, social attitudes have changed to more tolerant ones. Tolerant in a greater way than just “I don’t mind those people” but extending to being able to share space and participation in social institutions such as entrepreneurship, leisure, and family. In the generation prior to mine this battle over tolerance was focused here in the U.S. over tensions between the African American and White populations, and in my generation it has been about tensions between homosexual and heterosexual populations. These days it’s not just that there is tolerance for African Americans and Homosexuals but widespread acceptance of their participation as business owners, as co-workers, consumers, and as part of household formation.

The struggle for tolerance and acceptance in the coming generation will have a lot to do with gender identity. We are currently witnessing controversy over how to handle bathrooms for transgender students, and physical assaults against them in photos on instagram or video on YouTube. While the transgender population has enjoyed an increase in tolerance along with homosexuals (the two populations are not the same despite often being lumped in the same category) acceptance of the transgender population still has a long way to go.

Now, tolerance and acceptance is not just about feeling good that peoples lives are a little bit better. It serves an economic and social function as well. A broader participation in economic institutions such as entrepreneurship benefits everyone, adding people to the labor force benefits everyone, but sometimes intolerance and a lack of acceptance can reduce participation in these institutions.

So how can libertarians improve tolerance & acceptance of Transgendered and other populations suffering intolerance at no fault of their own without the use of government force?

– Media: Shows like Cosby, Will & Grace, and other introduced these populations in a broader way not as a spectacle but as people with their own lives, challenges, and families. How about a sitcom with a transgender protagonist facing many of the same family issues we all do? The images we grow up with in our culture determine many of our sensibilities, so we should use this to our advantage. Transgender characters often do exist in media but often as a “spectacle” in roles that societies “allow” to be accepted (hairdresser, model, prostitute) but where is the transgender business owner or engineer (they do exist) in the public eye?
*The character of Sophia Burset in Orange is the new Black is by far the boldest transgender character on tv with complex family and health issues that make her interesting, although she is often found doing hair, thus keeping transgender activities in a narrow band.

– Support: Sometimes it’s just about breaking vicious cycles, many young children who open up to their parents are often cast out and forced to be runaways. Being ripped away from the support system of the family affects their ability to get educated and to later be able to participate in the traditional labor force. Fundraising and volunteering for shelters and education for runaway youth can help break the cycle.

Conclusion

While empowering government to solve social problems will often result in empowering them to create social problems, libertarians should not allow big government progressives to attempt to hold a monopoly on the fight for broader tolerance and acceptance of individuals of all types. We should come with a message not just more tolerance for a particular community, but that we want to include everyone in the greater community of individuals who can participate in social and economic institutions to all our benefit. We must make real front line efforts to advance these values through education and volunteering, and help craft the norms that make society wealthier economically and socially.