First off, do make an effort to click here if you're reading this so that I can get revenue. Thank you so much
I really don't know much about economics, but I've always been taught as a child that nothing in life is free.
I would have thought that as I grew up, I would see more evidence of this, but at the same time, the world has changed in what seem to me to be bizarre ways. Things that used to cost money are now free on the internet. On the one hand we can celebrate the democratizing nature of this, but we also have to note the consequences. So much of our economy has shifted to the service and knowledge sectors that we threaten to put a lot of people out of business with the internet.
If someone posts real-estate or birdwatching advice for free online, you're taking away money from someone who does that for a living. I'm not suggesting that the person who's not a professional isn't allowed to write on the side as a hobby, but I am suggesting that he should have to acept money for it.
It's like how you are legally required to charge money if you are holding a public screening of a movie (except for outdoor screenings) because that is a law that benefits the greater good. You can't show something for free that was made to make money.
In this case, let's look at craigslist: The founder of craigslist, Craig Newmark, envisions himself as a do-gooder of sorts. He doesn't want to make money and therefore doesn't look at maximizing profit. He says in Wired Magazine "My big mission is to help make grassroots democracy as much a part of our government as representative democracy." Wired choses to attack Newmark on the grounds that he's somewhat dictatorial in the way he controls craigslist, but I won't even go to the absurdity of that since his site doesn't do anything political.
Let's just go to the question: Is someone who decides not to try to make money off his site becaue of altruistic reasons, actually doing good?
I'd say no. He might be saving people who want to advertise for jobs or housing a small amount of money, but he's also putting a lot more people out of business. Ads for housing and jobs have been the bedrock of the newspaper industry. How much does Craig Newmark contribute to the economy? He employs only about 30 people. Try measuring that against the number of people that the newspaper industry employed or the value that they had to society as a necessary component of democracy (something that Newmark proclaimed he wanted to improve, ironically).
I am glad that Newmark charged a small fee for jobs, but he should charge a fee for housing as well. People would usually be willing to pay it.