Several events in the last few days have been amazing from a political realist perspective.
First, we have the ongoing Twitter takeover by Elon Musk, which looks like it has finally reached the point where Elon will take control of the company and bring it private under his discretionary guidance.
Second, we have Disney getting in trouble with DeSantis and Florida voting to take away the rights.
I’m actually going to start with Disney, because it will bring up questions about the state which we must then also examine free-market alternatives to.
DeSantis and Disney
The whole kerfluffle with Disney comes in response to Florida’s anti-grooming legislation which prevents lessons on LGBTQ (or, more correctly, sexuality) directed at kindergarten-3rd grade classrooms.
Disney has one of the largest—if not the largest—theme parks in the world in Florida. They are often regarded as woke, and certainly push LGBTQ messaging at least on the fringes of their content, which includes not only the Disney, Lucasfilm, and Marvel brands but also ABC, ESPN, FX, and National Geographic television channels and the Hulu streaming service.
Because of this, many of their customers belong to a demographic up in arms about the Florida anti-grooming law, in part because of a somewhat ill-considered “Don’t Say Gay” moniker applied to the bill.
This had the desired effect of ultimately forcing Disney to come out in opposition to the bill, but the “Don’t Say Gay” campaign was accompanied by absolutely puerile chants of “Gay! Gay! Gay!” which resembled little more than unsupervised middle-school boys’ locker room chat despite having perhaps the opposite attention.
When Disney came out against the Florida lawmakers, they had to face the fact that their Walt Disney World operations in Florida have special government privileges and these were now in jeopardy.
Needless to say, the same people Disney condemned have now voted for (and in DeSantis’ case, signed off on) a bill to strip Disney of its privileges.
Will it Work?
So the fundamental issues here are to look at how Disney will face this challenge.
Losing their special privileges is unlikely to stop their operations entirely, It just means that they will have to achieve certain things (like private security, for instance) the same way that other entities have to, and involves more regulatory compliance than simply having their current level of autonomy.
This is likely expensive, but not impossibly so. They already contract out to local police departments, which is a good way to get around private security licensing issues. The flashy stuff, like the claim that Disney could build a nuclear power plant under the current system, often looks at prerogatives they don’t use.
However, there is always the question of whether the law will really go into effect.
One reason for this could be lawfare. The House of Mouse has a notoriously strong legal team, so they could try to argue that this violates something or other and fight on legal ground.
This would tell the government that it cannot make laws, however. This is going to be a hard battle, and even the judges who might normally rule against DeSantis for partisan reasons. From an anarchist’s perspective, I love when the government can’t make laws, but there’s the added factor that what has been done is a removal of Disney’s special privileges, not a law targeting Disney.
I don’t see an appeal to the courts working out, at least not without interesting consequences for jurisprudence going forward.
Bureaucracy makes it unlikely that Disney will really lose all its privileges. There are contractual considerations, and bureaucratic hoops, involved in all state actions. There doesn’t even need to be a deep state involved—the special district Disney is in has debt that its neighbors would need to absorb if it dissolved.
Since those neighbors would need to sign off on the deal (if I understand it correctly), this makes it unlikely. Of course, the DeSantis faction could seek to sweeten the pot, but I think that simply making the statement will have the desired effect of demonstrating who holds power and causing blowbacks for Disney, while also granting him popularity with a base that has become increasingly skeptical of major media companies.
If you want more, go check out Judge Andrew Napolitano on Liberty Lockdown for a longer discussion. Although the episode as a larger whole is about ghost guns, which is interesting, Disney comes up later on in the episode.
The Cause for Hope
However, I think that there is some reason to think that DeSantis has won this. I’m not really a massive DeSantis fan, but I consider the progressives and social justice ideology the greatest existential threat to my way of life, so I’m willing to make odd bedfellows from time to time in pursuit of that goal.
The best signal here is the damage that Disney stock has suffered. It’s down about 7%, after a hard year. The end of COVID was supposed to help them, but they’re really not bouncing back as well as they should.
Some of this is a market readjustment (we see Netflix seeing a major downturn, which means that confidence in streaming enterprises—which have become a major part of Disney’s business—has likely fallen among investors), but there is reason to suspect that there are two punishments for Disney for its pro-LGBTQ policies.
The first problem for Disney is consumer good-will. They’re an entertainment company, and there’s no shortage of entertainment options. Further, they’re still heavily associated with two sectors, children’s entertainment and prestige/luxury entertainment experiences that might be more susceptible to this than others.
I might watch a movie starring some celebrity with awful political opinions, but I might not show it to my kids. Further, given that the (rather tepid) Florida bill is passed as a parental rights bill, there is likely a disproportionate impact from public opinion when parents think about doing business with a company that says they don’t believe they should have rights.
This doesn’t even necessarily have to be a full-spectrum push, either. I should mention that I don’t do business with Disney over their ties to the Chinese Communist Party, so I may have an existing bias, but even consumers who have less of a full aversion may choose alternatives more often.
Entertainment media is expensive, and Disney has been fairly well-invested in leveraging collectibles, branded clothing, and other indirect funding streams along with other things. If you think twice about wearing a Disney shirt because they have a bad reputation, you might not buy the overpriced $90 hoodie from the gift shop even if you still go to Walt Disney World.
Further, consumer good-will hasn’t just been on the outs because of their political scuffles, but also because of cultural aversions to the messaging and themes in their work. It also doesn’t help that many of their bread-maker franchises have lost novelty, and flailing about to make expansive series that are spin-offs of beloved franchises like Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe is high-expense and potentially low-reward.
The real issue here is that Disney has always been a luxury good, being somewhat more expensive than alternatives where this has been possible and engaging in practices like “vaulting” older titles to prevent competition.
Even their streaming service, Disney+, costs $8/mo. This is less than some of the alternatives, but doesn’t necessarily include the benefits of Amazon Prime and inclures an additional $30 charge to watch recently released films—whereas even a more pricey Netflix subscription offers that for its first-party content.
However, if Disney has to pay more to keep its theme parks operational it will be forced to increase its price. I don’t think it’s necessarily the best idea just to look at the profits and losses of the parks. The parks serve as a bonding experience with content that most other media companies would kill to emulate.
If you’ve actually met Snow White, or Luke Skywalker (do they still even mention his existence), or Buzz Lightyear, you’re going to have a connection to the characters that goes deeper than even a favorite movie character from a well-established franchise. Sure, you’ve met an actor in a costume, but that’s still an entirely different level of experience.
This connection is invaluable for them, and it’s a reason why Disney is able to make as much money as it does. If it loses this, it may cease to become the sole entity with a claim to market dominance in entertainment, especially children’s entertainment and AAA mass-market action-adventure films,
The most important thing here though is that DeSantis has put out a clear signal that Disney is not welcome. This regime uncertainty is more important than any final outcome, because Disney’s directors and investors must weigh their options and face an unexpected negative event.
They can, of course, choose to fight—this has a cost. They can apologize and make amends, but this will tick off the LGBTQ activists they already tried to appease—and is unlikely to undo any harm.
Walt Disney World cannot be relocated—at least not effectively. They must find a way to either continue operations in Florida or rebuild elsewhere, but the question of placement is key. The Florida and California operations offer easy access to travel infrastructure and plenty of population centers. You can have families do a day trip from a neighboring state, or air travel from anywhere in the country—or world.
They can’t just pick up and move anywhere, they need to move somewhere that would support their whole enterprise. And that’s a big ask, especially since it’s grown in tandem with local infrastructure and civic planning, rather than just emerging out of the blue.
All DeSantis needs to do to “win” in the fight against Disney is to score enough of a blow that they cannot side against him. They may leave, which would have some nominal negative impacts, but people get a taste for blood when they think their children are in danger—and I don’t think it’s wrong to assume that Disney’s motives are less than pure.
Since Disney is unlikely to convert DeSantis supporters to its side—especially when they’re doing things like putting youth drag queens on their ABC television programming—and relocation is not an effective option, Florida can basically extort them over Walt Disney World.
And there’s no guarantee that they can achieve a more friendly regime elsewhere. Disney thought they would be able to control the DeSantis faction, and instead they’ve lost.
And that has a cost.
Twitter and Musk
The other big event that is interesting from a political realist’s perspective today is the official purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk.
Now, it’s not final yet, but it would be very hard to stop it at this point since Twitter’s basically given the go-ahead. There may be legal efforts to stop it, but that would involve political interference and would basically amount to a seizure of property.
The government’s never shied away from seizing property, but Musk has a higher approval rating than they do so naked banditry is unlikely to be a wise option.
It’s important to point out that Musk is not necessarily a political messiah for ancapistanis/dissident rightists like myself, but he is certainly a political outsider who falls on our side of the demilitarized zone.
This means that he is distinctly anti-establishment, even though he has built a significant amount of his fortune via government subsidies.
Practically, however, I think it’s correct to argue that he’s something of a natural elite type. That he is also a beneficiary of the state doesn’t change the fact that he’s managed to be the most effective beneficiary of the state, and he has likely had his own private enterprise merits as well.
In short, Musk taking over Twitter is both undesirable for the establishment—given that its current board is very much in line with the ruling elite while Musk is not—and a major political development.
What it Means
The fundamental change in Twitter will be that we are less likely to see the sort of interference that we saw ahead of the 2020 elections. We know that Twitter was one of several outlets to censor Hunter Biden stories, enforce COVID narrative compliance, and others.
Now, I think that too much weight is given to Twitter, especially since those of us who use it a lot are often in the terminally online camp of people who never go outside and face the real world, but there is a major political shift here.
It means that any social media control over the largest traditional platforms—Meta’s various enterprises, Google’s YouTube, and Twitter—are going to have to be involuntary, at least to apply to Twitter.
That doesn’t mean that the regime won’t try to control Twitter—this is, after all, what the bandits in DC do—but it gives more of a lead-up to things and it will permit a larger public platform for right-wing voices, since Twitter moderation was almost exclusively aimed at limiting their reach (along with certain dissident leftists, though these were always rarer and had often adopted other social media as their platform of choice).
The Meltdown Heard ‘Round the World
Another thing which needs to be mentioned here are the political implications of the response to Musk buying Twitter. While Musk is likely to pursue a relatively neutral free-speech policy, basically only using administrative powers as a response to criminal activity or other undesirable uses of the service, the left is actively freaking out and having meltdowns.
Further, they are having these meltdowns not because they think Musk will censor them (though a handful are trying to make that case using little more than a psychological projection of their own modus operandi onto others), but precisely because they say that free speech is a threat to democracy.
Now, other than being a stellar endorsement of free speech, they’re costing themselves a lot of political capital here. A lot of people still consider free speech a fundamental value, and while that population has been dwindling I’m not sure that it’s been dwindling in a way that helps Democrats’ election chances.
I haven’t seen many inner party politicians making this statement, but the media companies have become so heavily infiltrated with left-wingers that there’s little understanding that they side with everyone else.
More importantly, the left is impotence signalling. As I’ve mentioned in the past, it’s generally a bad idea to highlight your own neurosis, for the simple reason that it opens you up to attacks because you’re showing off your weakness to others.
More importantly, it is a black-pill for those who would have a desire to fight back against the right. If you portray the Musk takeover of Twitter as worse than it is, you risk demoralizing people.
Demoralization can lead to radicalization and acts of violence—which certain left-wing fadctions and the regime might actually be okay with—but it can also lead to surrender and giving up.
It also raises questions about why the entrenched political elite deserve the support of the masses, given that they have demonstrated little ability to be effective.
Of course, I don’t think that we can ignore the effectiveness of the left in taking control of things, but you don’t need to have very much of a tidal shift before things start working against them.
One of the things that could be a major threat to them is a dissolution of the ESG system and other left-wing economic darlings.
One method of the ESG system is to force compliance by directing investments by finding the winner of popularity contests. This is usually tied to compliance with progressive climate agendas and left-wing social justice goals.
From a business perspective, this is the first and most overt reason to comply. Good ESG scores mean easier loans and investment, pumping up your value and giving you more options.
But ESG compliance also has a role as part of a political regulatory capture system. By pre-emptively accomplishing quotas, businesses both get to poach the most talented applicants from pools of ethnic, sexual, and cultural minorities.
Before we jump into any analysis of whether minorities are truly at a disadvantage (which would likely negatively impact performance, since there would be more barriers to acquiring the training and experience needed to be at the top of the game), the Pareto principle means that a pre-emptive quota that brings in the most talented protective minorities will leave a less talented lower pool for late quota-adopters to draw from.
However, even if we ignore this cynical perspective, the fact remains that needing to meet regulatory compliance will be an expense, especially if you are forced to comply ahead of a bill taking effect as opposed to being forced to comply while lobbying for that bill to pass.
Michael Rechtenwald, in an interview with the Repeal the 20th Century podcast, explains this in more depth.
The past couple weeks have been interesting from a political realist perspective. I think that the right has scored some very real blows—even if they’re not as significant as some people believe, they could very well mark the beginning of an effective campaign to reclaim cultural and social institutions from left-wing influences.
Further, what we’re seeing is that the political and economic capital that is supposed to stop these things is either being held in reserve for other, more potentially catastrophic, future assaults or does not exist.
While it may seem paradoxical to draw optimism from forces being held in reserve, this means that instead of being on the long march through institutions the left may be finding itself on the back foot.
It is much better to be forcing an enemy into trenches and foxholes than to be watching them march over your own defenses.
Now, to push onward.