The Free Market of Ideas: Why Mozilla’s CEO Was Pressured to Resign

The debate over same-sex marriage has erupted again in the wake of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich being pressured to resign from his position over a 2008 donation to an anti-gay marriage group.

Some conservatives are outraged over the decision, and are calling it another example of the “gay-gestapo” and the “intolerant left.” Newt Gingrich went on ABC News and referred to the event as a “blatant example of the new fascism.”

This time, however, conservatives are not the only ones upset. Even prominent LGBT activist Andrew Sullivan condemned the episode, saying:

“If this is the gay rights movement today — hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else — then count me out.”

Yet, while gay marriage is certainly a hot issue in today’s political climate, there seems to be a larger issue at play here that most people are overlooking. This really has less to do with gay marriage and more to do with the free market.

Many conservatives love to talk about the free market and how wonderful it is; yet, they fail to realize that the free market is not just limited to tangible objects like cars, cellphones, or computers, but also includes ideas.

First popularized by John Milton in 1859, the marketplace of ideas has long existed in society to isolate the best ideas, the most rational thinking, and the truth.

Milton wrote:

“Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put the worse in a free and open encounter?”

In the case of Mozilla, the market clearly dictated that there is little demand for “anti-gay” ideas and positions (at least in Silicon Valley).

Just as the free market drives the advancement of things like cellphones, it also drives the advancement of ideas through competitive public discourse. By this process, the market sorts through ideas and opinions, bringing highly demanded and popular ones to the forefront, while shelving unpopular ideas and opinions in the back.

The reality opponents of gay marriage have to face is that there just isn’t much demand for their brand of thinking among the public today.

Gay rights activist, Wayne Besen, summed up the situation nicely to Newsmax TV:

“The software developers didn’t want to develop software for this guy, the employees were uncomfortable working with someone who held such backward views, and there were companies such as OkCupid that didn’t want their product accessed by Firefox. The market spoke up, and it just wasn’t a good fit.”

For the same reason the Zune, VHS tapes, and Netbooks went “out of style,” opposition to gay marriage is also losing its appeal among Americans.

In 2008, when Eich made the donation, 56 percent of Americans opposed recognizing same-sex marriage, and only 40 percent supported it. By 2013, 54 percent of Americans supported legalizing same-sex marriage, and just 43 percent opposed.

People can argue about intolerance, a “gay-getapo,” and fascism till the cows comes home, but at the end of the day, it really comes down to the free market of ideas and an increased demand for recognizing same-sex marriage by the majority of Americans.

Photo Credit: Conectica