I like Don Boudreaux’s post on Cafe Hayek entitled Go Arianna! for two reasons.
First, it illustrates that the value of voluntary, mutually beneficial transactions is not just in the money that changes hands.
In this case, writers provide content for Arianna’s (or AOL’s) online Huffington Post (HuffPo) for free. They must be getting something they value from the transaction. What could it be?
Second, (paraphrasing Boudreaux) even well intentioned third parties are in a poor position to second guess voluntary acts among consenting adults. In this case, Boudreaux is responding to an op-ed piece by Michael Walker in the LA Times, who asks Why should writers work for no pay?
We like to impose our own preferences on the voluntary actions of others without bothering to first understand why they choose to participate voluntarily.
Walker provides a great example of this by giving Huffington’s rationale for why she doesn’t pay writers. But, he didn’t ask any HuffPo writers why they willingly provide free content.
Added: The Onion provides another nice example of the third party preference lesson in its spoof article, Continued Existence Of Edible Arrangements Disproves Central Tenets Of Capitalism.
The authors of the article can’t figure out why folks willingly buy arrangements of fruit that resemble flowers and they commit the same error of omission as Michael Walker. They didn’t ask any of the customers who do willingly pay for it.
Contrary to the title of the article, Edible Arrangements’ continued existence actually proves the central tenets of capitalism.