How capitalism drives cancel culture

Tumbrels are rattling through the streets of the internet. Over the past few years, online-led social movements have deposed gropers, exposed bullies—and, sometimes, ruined the lives of the innocent. Commentators warn of “mob justice,” while activists exult in their newfound power to change the world. Both groups are right, and wrong. Because the best way to see the firings, outings, and online denunciations grouped together as “cancel culture,” is not through a social lens, but an economic one. Take the fall of the film producer Harvey Weinstein, which seems inevitable in hindsight—everyone knew he was a sex pest! There were even jokes about it on 30 Rock! But it took The New York Times months of reporting to ready its first story for publishing; the newspaper was taking on someone with deep pockets and a history of intimidating critics into silence. Then the story went off like a hand grenade. Suddenly, the mood—and the economic incentives—shifted. People who had been afraid of Weinstein were instead afraid of being taken down alongside him. The removal of Weinstein from his company, and his subsequent conviction for rape, is a good outcome. But the mechanism it revealed is more morally ambiguous: The court of public opinion was the only forum left after workplace protections and the judicial system had failed. The writer Jon Schwarz once described the “iron law of institutions,” under which people with seniority inside an institution care more about preserving their power within the institution than they do about the power of the institution as a whole. That self-preservation instinct also operates when private companies—institutions built on maximizing shareholder value, or other capitalist principles—struggle to acclimatize to life in a world where many consumers vocally support social-justice causes. Read more at The Atlantic.