The title of this post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but essentially describes the topic I want to address. Recently, Steven Horwitz criticized Jordan B. Peterson on Facebook, calling him a “charlatan” who profits off of selling people self-help snake oil. There is more to say about the problems of Horwitz’s post, which Robert Murphy and Bionic Mosquito have already done. What I would like to focus on is the silliness of Horwitz’s criticism of Peterson for profiteering.
For those who may not be aware, Peterson is a psychology professor at the University of Toronto who became fairly well-known for his refusal to obey the Canadian government, which was trying to force him to use people’s preferred gender pronouns. He has garnered quite a following since, with donors contributing tens of thousands of dollars a month to his Patreon. He speaks on a variety of topics, including post-modernism, clinical psychology, and gender.
As far as I can tell, Horwitz seems to dislike Peterson for his critiques of leftist ideas. Horwitz won’t just come out and say this, however, because to do so would just seem petty and reveal that he is intolerant of political thought that differs from his own. That is why he has to criticize Peterson’s academic work, even though it’s highly likely Horwitz has never viewed any of it. But, for some reason, he has to attack Peterson for making money for his efforts.
This is quite strange from someone who claims to be a libertarian and support the free market. Even if he thinks Peterson’s ideas are bad, why does making money based on those ideas through voluntary means make it worse? Indeed, a lot of academics with bad ideas receive their incomes exclusively through their university salaries, which are heavily subsidized by taxes, but I doubt Horwitz has criticized any such academic for making money in this manner. Ironically, therefore, he is criticizing Peterson for making money voluntarily.
If I may engage in some psychologizing here, I think part of the motivation for Horwitz’s criticism is jealousy: Horwitz is unable to make money through selling his ideas to a mass audience. He must tear others down who are successful where he isn’t. This is quite similar to when he belittled Tom Woods for self-publishing some of his books, whereas real scholars like himself are able to find academic publishers who are willing to publish their work. He was probably jealous of the fact that Tom Woods’ self-published books are much more widely read than his own, which very few individuals are willing to pay the prices academic publishers charge. At least this allows him to use the price as an excuse for low sales. I won’t hold my breath waiting for him to self-publish a book, allowing him to set the price and thereby prove that people are actually willing to pay to read his ideas.