Montana's TikTok Ban Will 'Succeed' Like Prohibition Did
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The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable.” – Fredric Bastiat

How things change. Back when then-President Obama was going to such enormous lengths to push through the misnamed “Affordable Care Act,” members of the Right had a rather common sense response: why, if the healthcare legislation is so good, do you have to force it upon us? Why indeed.

In the real world of commerce businesses succeed because they meet a market need, or better yet, they lead it. Unable to force their products on customers, they prosper precisely because they’re providing what customers want. Only governments use force. If you doubt the previous truth, just answer one question: if there were alternatives to the Post Office, DMV, and the Passport Office, would you use the alternatives? Hopefully the question answers itself.  

It's worth thinking about with the troglodytic vote by Montana legislators to “ban” TikTok top of mind. Why the need to ban it? If it’s a front for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), or if the algorithms used to curate content for users are planned by the CCP, then it’s safe to say that TikTok will essentially “ban” itself. See the Post Office, DMV, and Passport Office if you’re confused by the sentence that precedes this one.

As conservatives have long known, what government runs it runs very badly. The latter helps explain such passionate aversion on the right back in the day to the ACA, or “Obamacare.” Government breaks things. Always. It’s always simply because the enterprising rarely enter government to showcase their skills, not to mention that entities not informed by market discipline always and everywhere show it.

Hopefully readers by now get the hint. The surest sign that TikTok is not a creation, a front, or the proverbial Trojan Horse for a scheming CCP is its immense popularity. Because we want to maintain our sanity we passionately avoid government-run businesses, yet with TikTok its immense popularity with Americans in concert with the time Americans spend on it is a sign yet again that the CCP angle used by politicians is only embarrassing those politicians. If we didn’t already hold them in low regard, imagine what happens if other states join Montana?

The good news is that it likely won’t matter. China itself instructs in this regard. As Evan Osnos reported in his excellent 2014 book Age of Ambition, Chinese authorities were unequal to the computer skills of the citizenry when it came to hiding what actually happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989. In Osnos’s words, while “authorities had purged it from the nation’s official history,” anyone "who took a few steps to get on a proxy server could discover as much about Tiananmen as he chose to learn.” Precisely.

Oh well, it’s not as though politicians have become more skillful since 2014. Certainly not American politicians, as conservatives routinely remind us. Which means attempts by members of the U.S. political class to “ban” TikTok will prove as successful as CCP attempts to ban the past. It’s not happening. The realities of Tiananmen are there for all with passable computer skills to see in China, and what’s true in China will prove even truer in the U.S. Figure that TikTok’s popularity largely skews toward youth. Get it?

Just as Prohibition proved toothless on the matter of squashing a market signal (the appeal of alcohol, and bars), so will these mindless attempts to ban what Americans adore today. More realistically, to ban or censor or to burn is to amplify. In short, politicians eager to chop TikTok off at the knees are unequal to a beautiful combination of youthful computer skills combined with market forces. They’ll only succeed insofar as they – if possible – increase the disdain that so many Americans already have for them.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Vice President at FreedomWorks, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors ( His latest book is The Money Confusion: How Illiteracy About Currencies and Inflation Sets the Stage For the Crypto Revolution.

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