An Economic Argument Opposing Regulation of 'Harmful Speech'

Posted: 18 Aug 2018

See all articles by Daniel Pi

Daniel Pi

Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Date Written: August 5, 2018


A common justification for exception to general speech rights is that a class of expressive activity is "harmful." The argument is essentially economic, pointing to the social cost of harmful speech. This paper identifies three countervailing effects which undermine the received view, demonstrating that even if the harmfulness of a speech category were granted arguendo, deterrence of such speech could result in no improvement in social welfare, or even exacerbate the total harm.

Keywords: First Amendment, Freedom of Expression, Free Speech, Incitement, Obscenity, Profanity, Offense, Defamation, Libel, Slander, Fighting Words, Fake News

JEL Classification: K38, K42

Suggested Citation

Pi, Daniel, An Economic Argument Opposing Regulation of 'Harmful Speech' (August 5, 2018). Available at SSRN:

Daniel Pi (Contact Author)

Mitchell Hamline School of Law ( email )

875 Summit Ave
St. Paul, MN 55105-3076
United States

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