Please address the super specific example that I offered.

Again, you are ignoring my analysis of the the invisible hand as it functions in the real world. I understand your point and have acknowledged it and responded substantively to the policy implications you are driving at. You have not done so with regard to my answers (for example, how do you fund government’s necessary functions without distorting market outcomes?). You are also imposing an oversimplified and condescending structure to the conversation. By doing this I think you are greatly detracting for the conversation’s value, but in the name of being a good sport, I will accept the rules you are imposting on this exchange and answer as you requested:

“The links on the RI homepage should not be ordered by the IH for several reasons. Here are a few:

  1. Donors are not the only stakeholders in the Roosevelt Institute, and donations do not directly determine our priorities; allowing donations to order the links (I am taking links as a metaphor for institutional priorities overall) would imply that the staff and managers have no prerogative in interpreting our organizationals mission and making strategic decisions by prioritizing certain content. If we did that, we might very quickly become an entirely different organization. We are a nonprofit organization and our mission is not to earn the approval of people with money (if we were we would be an entirely different kind of organization, trust me) but to educate people on issues we think have important public policy implications. Donors’ interest might be driven by something else, so we have a considerable need to make decisions based on factors that are not donations. As an addendum, perhaps our nonprofit nature complicates your very clever metaphor. However, even if we were a for-profit news organization, we might see that we got the most dollars for stories about Jennifer Anniston’s love life, but we also might believe, for reasons not related to money, that it is important to cover and promote topics not related to celebrity gossip, so again — invisible hand not always the best arbiter of outcomes.
  2. Our wealthiest donors could easily drown out the interests of large numbers of small donors (or important followers that do not donate). Since our mission is not simply money, but educational outreach in important issues, we would not want one or two large donors determining what every is most likely to see. A voting system might make more sense (and we do prioritize based on web hits, I believe), but even then, see #1. And on that note…
  3. Donations could encourage bad or illegal work. Acknowledging for a second that the content of the website is endogenous to the donations we receive (meaning the more we receive donations in support of X, the more we look to publish more pieces like it), and assuming the staff has no prerogative to alter the priority of links and dedicatedly pursues more donations — which is pretty much the hypothetical you pose — then we can pretty quickly end up in some ethical dilemmas. For example, what if our donors are framing socialists (as many at Cato probably imagine) and push us continually towards work that is borderline defensible or outright dishonest but which, if true, supports their point? Eventually we might find ourselves publishing something like “New study shows poverty level at 99%” even if in reality it is at 10 or 20%. Without any sort of agency (and assuming we have created your libel-less libertarian utopia with no laws or rules to structure markets) then we would quickly be spewing indefensible garbage that damages society.

So no, I don’t think your system of prioritization is a good idea. Of course, on such a small scale would I object? No. But as soon as the question gets bigger it gets much more complicated (even within the context of a relatively small organization like the Roosevelt Institute).

Now that I humored you, I would love to hear how you respond to the broader societal challenge of monetizing every exchange and offering no rules or regulations to structure markets.