R. GEORGE WRIGHT; Lawrence A. Jegen Professor of Law, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
The author’s thanks are hereby extended to Konstantina Kloufetos and Sheremy Cabrera.
The constitutional status of commercial speech is currently unsettled. In the early case of Virginia Pharmacy, the Court left the proper degree of constitutional protection for truthful commercial speech largely unspecified.  Then in Central Hudson, the Court held that truthful, non-misleading, non-deceptive, and otherwise licit commercial speech deserves a sort of mid-level degree of constitutional protection.  Under this test, regulations of truthful commercial speech can be upheld only if the government interest at stake is substantial, the regulation directly advances that interest, and the regulation is narrowly tailored to advance that interest.  The Court later specified that the degree of tailoring required is actually only one of reasonableness, or proportionality, rather than any unrealistic demand for exactitude. 
Several members of the Court, however, have come to view this mid-level scrutiny test for regulations of truthful commercial speech as insufficiently protective of commercial speakers and listeners. Merely for example, the Court in 44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island  declared that “when a State entirely prohibits  the dissemination of truthful, non-misleading commercial messages for reasons unrelated to the preservation of a fair bargaining process, there is far less reason to depart from the rigorous review that the First Amendment generally demands.”  It is thus thought that “[t]he First Amendment directs us to be especially skeptical of regulations that seek to keep people in the dark for what the government perceives to be their own good.” 
Much of the harm of speech paternalism arises, of course, in the context of political, as distinct from commercial, speech.  But as the Court has declared,  a “consumer’s concern for the free flow of commercial speech may be far keener than his concern for urgent political dialogue.”  Thus where commercial speech impairs some public interest no more severely than political speech, the Court has insisted on a sort of ‘equal protection’ for commercial speech.  This judgment reflects the Court’s belief that “[t]he commercial marketplace, like other spheres of our social and cultural life, provides a forum where ideas  and information flourish.” 
Certainly, the Court has also employed language suggesting a subordinate constitutional status for commercial speech, in one context or another.  But the Court’s high regard for truthful commercial speech in general has provoked uncertainty as to the proper level of constitutional scrutiny to be applied to regulations of truthful commercial speech.
This understandable uncertainty has been intensified by the Court’s language in the non-commercial sign regulation of Reed v. Town of Gilbert.  The Reed majority adopted remarkably sweeping language. In particular, the Court in Reed quoted the Sorrell commercial speech case for the broad proposition that “[g]overment regulation of speech is content based if a law applies to particular speech because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed.”  Regardless of the government’s innocent motive, or any content-neutral justification of the regulation, or the lack of hostility toward the subject or message of the speech,  any such regulation is content based and must be subjected to strict judicial scrutiny.  Thus the government must in all such cases prove that the speech regulation “furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.”  If one applies this language from Reed straightforwardly, the implications for commercial speech cases are dramatic. Typical held government regulations of commercial speech would be held content based, thereby evoking not some mid-level Central Hudson-type scrutiny,  but strict judicial scrutiny instead. 
Suppose, then, that a government required commercial speakers to adopt or avoid specified language with respect to nutrition labeling, recycling claims, attorney fees and qualifications, the risks associated with some commercial product or service, or the issuance of securities.  Any such regulation would now be content based, in that it would apply “because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed.”  And any such commercial regulation would be subject not to mid-level scrutiny, or to any familiar interest balancing test,  but to strict judicial scrutiny. 
Some courts have begun to appreciate the potential breadth of Reed’s logic, and to consider its applicability in commercial speech cases.  Doubtless the case law on applying Reed’s strict scrutiny logic to typical regulations of truthful commercial speech will continue to evolve. The fundamental question is whether ordinary truthful commercial speech, unmixed with political or other sorts of “core” speech messages,  deserves stringent free speech protection.
The most basic argument for extending Reed’s broad understanding of content based restrictions, and the applicability of strict scrutiny, to ordinary commercial speech regulations precedes Reed itself. In the 44 Liquormart case, Justice Stevens argued that “[s]o long as we preserve a predominately free enterprise economy, the allocation of our resources in large measure will be made through numerous private economic decisions. It is a matter of public interest that those decisions, in the aggregate, be intelligent and well informed. To this end, the free flow of commercial information is indispensable.”  On such a view, the general freedom to send and receive truthful commercial messages is thought to promote the overall public interest.
But it is also worth asking whether applying the logic of Reed to commercial speech would fit with the values and purposes thought to justify constitutional protection for speech in general. That is, given the basic reasons for constitutionally protecting speech in the first place, what do these reasons suggest about applying strict scrutiny to ordinary regulations of truthful commercial speech?
As the literature has developed, three more or less distinct values, or purposes, underlying constitutional protection for speech have become prominent. These include, in no particular order, the societal quest for meaningful truth and understanding; promoting responsive democratic self-government; and some form individual or collective self-fulfillment, self-realization, flourishing, autonomy, or self-development. 
It cannot simply be taken for granted that truthful commercial speech, in general, appropriately promotes one or more of these free speech values. Any such claim is open to reasonable debate. Thus Justice Breyer in particular has argued that “[r]estrictions on commercial speech do not often repress individual self-expression; they rarely interfere with the functions of democratic processes; and they often reflect a democratically determined governmental decision to regulate a commercial venture in order to protect, for example, the consumer, the public health, individual safety, or the environment.” 
Overall, then, the relationship between true commercial speech and the three specified speech values noted above  is contested. And it is neither responsible, nor even possible, for the courts to be ultimately neutral as to the basic values or purposes underlying freedom of speech. At some point, the case law of commercial speech must be justifiable at least partially in terms of the reasons for specifically protecting speech in the first place.
In this regard, we can immediately set aside any respects in which commercial speech might be thought to directly promote responsive democratic self-government. Any such speech could be classified as akin to “mixed” political and commercial speech,  and thus outside of our focus on commercial speech.
There is obviously a literal sense, though, in which ‘true’ commercial speech  implicates the basic free speech value of promoting the societal quest for truth and understanding. Of course, much contemporary commercial advertising does not make any particular assertion that can be classified on the spectrum of the true and the false. 
But some commercial advertisements, certainly, do make such claims. A pharmacist thus may declare that “I will sell you the X prescription drug at the Y price.”  Or a commercial advertisement may assert that a particular product, say, disinfects counter tops.
Some commercial advertising, and other forms of commercial speech, thus implicate truth and falsity in important ways.  But non-political commercial speech typically does not implicate a search for truth and understanding in the same way as would the speech of a scholar, think tank, or research lab.  The truth or falsity of commercial speech is fairly and most usefully assessed, instead, under the third of the above basic free speech values. That is, does commercial speech tend to distinctively promote individual or collective self-fulfillment, self-realization, flourishing, autonomy, or self-development? If commercial speech in general does not tend to “pay off” in these respects, any remaining sense in which such commercial speech is true does not seem to be of constitutional significance.
The problem here is that the degree to which commercial speech distinctively tends to promote these basic values is deeply and variously contestable. And again, the courts cannot responsibly claim to be ultimately neutral on whether commercial speech tends to promote these values. To constitutionally protect commercial speech, especially at the level of strict scrutiny, makes no sense unless strong constitutional protection has some sufficient payoff in terms of the relevant values, purposes, and interests. And at the heart of the contest over the third such value, concerning any self-realization or autonomy-promoting tendency of commercial speech, is a basic split as to the meaning of self-realization or autonomy itself. This basic split is, interestingly, apparent in the thinking of the classic free speech theorist John Stuart Mill.
On the one hand, Mill seems to adopt an understanding on which “liberty consists in doing what one desires.”  We may assume that Mill would not extend this principle to the case of persons who were simply brainwashed into their current, perhaps self-destructive desires. How one’s desires were formed seems to matter. But liberty, or autonomy, as doing what one desires seems to be compatible with, say, choosing among a range of prescription anti-anxiety or anti-depression drugs, or lines of designer clothes, or fashion accessories. If we understand self-realization and autonomy in this relatively thin sense, then commercial speech might conceivably promote this underlying value. One wishes to buy some object, and then does so. One thus does what one happens to desire.
But on the other hand, Mill often seems to have in a mind a different, ‘thicker,’ or more ambitious, sense of self-realization or autonomy. Thus Mill distinguishes between following one’s “transient desires”  and pursuing “the highest and most harmonious development of [one’s] powers to a complete and consistent whole.”  This latter more ambitious sense of self-realization and autonomy can be traced at least back to Aristotle. 
It should not surprise us if consumption-oriented commercial advertising fails to distinctively promote that which many persons think of as the highest and best forms of flourishing and development of the human potential, as exemplified by the sages, heroic figures, founders, gurus, saints, geniuses, visionaries, and savants. In this sense, commercial advertising in particular is largely irrelevant to, if not a distraction from, self-realization in the fuller sense.
But perhaps strong, Reed-like constitutional protection for commercial speech tends to distinctively promote self-realization and autonomy in at least the thin and less ambitious referred to initially by Mill.  Here, the focus would be on freedom of commercial speech as promoting choice, and the acting upon of conscious, if not also fundamental, desires
A quick stipulation, though is in order. Consuming advertised goods and services is clearly distinct from having money, income, savings, or wealth.  Consumption that is guided or motivated by commercial speech thus cannot be equated with having money. And so the familiar, even classic question of whether money buys happiness  is largely irrelevant here.
As it turns out, any relationship between commercial speech-related consumption and self-realization in the thin sense is at best unclear. As one review of the social science literature has it, “relatively little is known about the effects of the level and composition of consumption on happiness.”  In fact, there is evidence that “increases in material goods are not met with corresponding increases in happiness.” 
Of course, persons on the verge of starving, freezing, or dehydration will be happier if they can respectively consume food, shelter, or water. And we should expect similar effects, to a lesser degree, in far less extreme cases.  The point, though, is that food consumption by the starving, for example, is typically not mediated by commercial advertising, or by other forms of commercial speech. And if commercial speech is at all relevant in such cases, the relevance may consist of alerting the starving person to the sheer immediate availability of any food, rather than to its supposed desirability or to any of its supposed virtues. Advertising in any broadly promotional sense is thus in such cases irrelevant.
But if commercial speech-driven consumption is not crucial to even the thin sort of self-realization, what experiences or other factors contribute more significantly to ‘happiness’ in this thin sense? Here, the research suggests important roles for what we might call ‘life experience,’ whether through commercial-promoted consumption of goods and services or not.  Restorative leisure, not driven by commercial speech, can play a role.  And savings one’s income, rather than spending on commercial goods and services, can be particularly important.  Knowing oneself to be debt-free, or to have several months of future expenses in the bank, can contribute more to self-realization in the thin sense, and to reduced stress levels, than reflecting on a major consumer purchase.  And saving one’s income or wealth need not amount merely to deferring commercial consumption to a later time. 
More broadly, any contribution to self-realization in the thin sense by commercial speech-motivated consumption is modest, compared to the roles of, say, healthy friendships and other social relationships, meaningfulness and non-arbitrary purpose in life, and basically non-commercial recreation, leisure, hobbies, and accomplishments. 
On balance, then, the relationship between true commercial speech and the basic free speech purposes of pursuing truth and understanding; promoting responsive democratic self-government; and self-fulfillment, in either the thick or the thin sense, is quite limited. Ultimately, then, the case for any rigorous constitutional free speech protection for commercial speech, let alone the strict scrutiny standard contemplated by Reed,  is similarly limited.
 See Virginia State Bd. of Pharmacy v. Va. Citizens Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U.S. 746, 770-72 (1976). The idea of ‘true’ or ‘truthful’ herein is intended merely to exclude false or otherwise routinely prohibitable commercial speech. Much commercial speech asserts no proposition, or makes any claims as to any truth.
 See Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. PSC, 447 U.S. 557, 566 (1980).
 See Id.
 See Board of Trustees of SUNY v. Fox, 492 U.S. 469, 476-78 (1989).
 517 U.S. 484 (1996).
 As it turns out, the familiar distinction between total bans of a particular form of speech and the regulation of that speech on the basis of the time, place, or manner of its expression is, if not incoherent, then certainly of minimal constitutional import. See R. George Wright, Time, Place, and Manner Restrictions on Speech, 40 N. Ill. U.L. Rev. 265 (2020).
 44 Liquormart, 517 U.S. at 501.
 Id. at 503, quoted in Sorrell v. IMS Health, Inc., 564 U.S. 552, 577 (2011). On the contrast between Sorrell and Central Hudson, see Vugo, Inc. v. City of New York, 931 F.3d 42, 49-50 (2d Cir. 2019). See also Virginia Bd., 425 U.S. at 770 (the choice “between the dangers of suppressing information and the dangers of its misuse if freely available” as a choice that “the First Amendment makes for us”). For the important complications inherent in the concept of government paternalism, see R. George Wright, Legal Paternalism and the Eclipse of Principle, 71 U. Miami L. Rev. 194 (2016).
 For discussion, see Steven H. Shiffrin, What’s Wrong With the First Amendment? (2016).
 There is an ambiguity between that with which a person is subjectively concerned, and that with which a person ought, morally or prudentially, to be concerned. Otherwise put, we may fail to take a subjective interest in matters that are objectively crucial to our well-being and flourishing.
 Sorrell, 564 U.S. at 566 (quoting the attorney advertising case of Bates v. State Bar of Ariz., 433 U.S. 350, 364 (1977), as quoted in City of Cincinnati v. Discovery Network, Inc., 507 U.S. 410, 421 n.17 (1993)).
 See Discovery Network, Inc., 507 U.S. at 425-28.
 An ‘idea’ in this context is thought to include “even a communication that does no more than propose a commercial transaction.” 44 Liquormart, 517 U.S. at 503-04 (quoting Edenfield v. Fane, 507 U.S. 761, 767 (1993), in turn quoting Virginia Bd., 425 U.S. at 762).
 44 Liquormart, 517 U.S. at 503. One complication is that most commercial messages do not so much conflict with one another, as mutually reinforce the more crucial underlying message that one’s basic needs are best addressed through commercial consumption. This broad implicit message faces only limited cultural rebuttal.
 See, e.g., Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman, 137 S. Ct. 1144, 1151 (2017); Central Hudson, 447 U.S. at 562-63; Friedman v. Rogers, 440 U.S. 1, 8-10 (1979). Thus it is said, vaguely, that the First Amendment “accords a lesser protection to commercial speech than to other constitutionally guaranteed expression.” Central Hudson, 447 U.S. at 563, quoted in Missouri Broadcasters Ass’n v. Schmitt, 946 F.3d 453, 460 (8th Cir. 2020); Express Oil Change, LLC v. Miss. Bd. of Licensure, 916 F.3d 483, 487 (5th Cir. 2019).
 135 S. Ct. 2118 (2015). See also the recent extension of Reed’s strict scrutiny test to an apparently commercial and non-commercial speech regulation context in Barr v. Am. Ass’n of Political Consultants, 140 S. Ct. ___ (2020).
 Reed, 135 S. Ct. at 2227 (quoting Sorrell, 131 S. Ct. at 2663-64).
 See Id. at 2228.
See Id., as well as the apparent implications of Barr, 140 S. Ct.
 Id. at 2231. See also id. at 2232, as well as the discussion in Lee Mason, Content Neutrality and Commercial Speech Doctrine after Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 84 U. Chi. L. Rev. 955, 983, 985 (2017).
 See Central Hudson, 447 U.S. at 566, along with Fox, 492 U.S. at 476-78.
 See supra text at note 19.
 Some such cases will involve compelled commercial speef6 ch, as distinct from restricted or prohibited commercial speech. For the key, but murky and equivocal, case bearing upon compelled commercial speech, see Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626 (1985). For analysis and critique of Zauderer, see R. George Wright, The Compelled Commercial Speech Cases: Why Not Just Flip a Coin?, 71 Mercer L. Rev. 585 (2020).
 See supra text accompanying note 17, along with Aptiva Env’tl, LLC v. Town of Castle Rock, 959 F.3d 961, 982 (10th Cir. 2020).
 As espoused most prominently by Justice Breyer. See, e.g., Sorrell, 564 U.S. at 580, 591-92 (Breyer, J., dissenting). For discussion of Justice Breyer’s proportionalist balancing in free speech cases, see R. George Wright, A Hard Look at Exacting Scrutiny, 85 UMKC L. Rev. 207 (2016).
 See supra text accompanying note 20.
 These trends will only heighten after Barr, 140 S. Ct. See, e.g., Pacific Coast Horseshoeing Sch. v. Kirchmeyer, 961 F.3d 1062 (9th Cir. 2020) (citing CTIA-The Wireless Ass’n v. City of Berkeley, 928 F.3d 832, 842 (9th Cir. 2019)); Aptiva, 959 F.3d at 982; Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce v. City of Philadelphia, 949 F.3d 116, 139 (3d Cir. 2020) (a prohibition of asking job applicants their salary history as a restriction of commercial speech, but supposedly also content neutral, as not speaker- or viewpoint based, even though other speakers remained free to ask about salary history for other commercial and non-commercial purposes); Thomas v. Bright, 937 F.3d 721, 730 (6th Cir. 2019) (non-commercial speech case involving greater regulation of off-premises signs as distinct from on-premises signs, with the regulation being content based under Reed as it required the authorities to read and understand the sign, or perhaps to have it translated from a hypothetical foreign language, in order to determine how to apply the regulation); Retail Digital Network, LLC v. Prieto, 861 F.3d 839, 846 (9th Cir. 2017) (en banc) (explicitly adopting Central Hudson over Reed); Norton v. City of Springfield, 806 F.3d 411, 411-12 (7th Cir. 2015) (reversing its own prior classification of an anti-panhandling ordinance distinguishing current from future donations so as to now be, under Reed, a content-based restriction on speech); L.D. Management Co. v. Thomas _____ F. Supp. 3d _____ (W.D. Ky. 2020) (extending Thomas, supra, to commercial signs, but avoiding questions of Reed’s scope by ruling that the on-premises versus off-premises sign regulation was unjustified on any constitutional test); Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. v. Director, Dep’t of Finance, 244 Md. App. 304, 315-17, 223 A.3d 1050, 1057-59 (2020) (a tax on billboard speech as content neutral, see id. at 316 n. 6, 223 A.3d at 1057 n.6, under Reed even though the authorities might have to examine the billboard’s wording to determine whether the speech is the (untaxed) speech of the billboard’s owner, or else the (taxable) speech of another party renting the billboard space).
 As the cases recognize, corporate speech may contain both commercial and non-commercial speech elements, whatever the underlying corporate motives may be. And sometimes, these commercial and non-commercial speech elements are so intertwined as to be mutually inextricable, thus requiring application of the more rigorous test typically applied in non-commercial speech cases. For background, see Sorrell, 564 U.S. at 571; Fox, 492 U.S. at 474. See also the fascinating but not definitive case of Nike v. Kasky, 539 U.S. 654 (2003). For discussion of the phenomenon of mixed commercial and explicitly political advertising by for-profit corporations, see R. George Wright, Political Discrimination Against Employees by Private Employers, 87 U. Cin. L. Rev. 761 (2018). There is of course a sense in which all commercial speech is somehow political. But that view might then suggest something like Reed-level protection for typical commercial speech. In reality, though, labeling ordinary commercial speech as political would likely result in merely continuing the current debates over regulating cjiooookooommercial speech, merely with new terminology, and with new distinctions among different kinds of ‘political’ speech.
 44 Liquormart, 517 U.S. at 496-97.
 For discussion, see, e.g., Thomas I. Emerson, The System of Free Expression ch. 1 (1970); Frederick Schauer, Free Speech: A Philosophical Enquiry (1982); Kent Greenawalt, Free Speech Justifications, 89 Colum. L. Rev. 119 (1989).
 Thompson v. Western States Med. Center, 535 U.S. 357, 378, 388 (2002) (Breyer, J., dissenting).
 See supra text accompanying note 30.
 See supra, note 28 and accompanying text.
 See supra note 1.
 Some ads are largely atmospheric, or mood-generative in intent, and even some purely verbal ads — akin to “Just Do It — are injunctions, without any direct claim to truth-value.
 Virginia Pharmacy, 425 U.S. at 761.
 This is not to suggest that the truth, falsity, or misleadingness of commercial advertising parallels the truth or falsity of, say, broad claims in the natural or social sciences as to how the world operates, at the level of a law-like generalization. The truth as to how to represent the human genome, or as to the ultimate fate of the physical universe, might be evaluated differently than a truth as which shirt is somewhat more wrinkle-resistant than the other.
 See supra note 37.
 John Stuart Mill, On Liberty 166 (Gertrude Himmelfarb ed. 1974) (1859).
 Id. at 121.
 Id. In this, Mill follows Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Limits of State Action 48 (J.W. Burrow ed 1969) (reprint ed. 1993) (1852), as quoted in Mill, supra note 39, at 57. See also, e.g., David O. Brink, Perfectionism and the Common Good: Themes in the Philosophy of T.H. Green (2003).
 See Aristotle, The [Nicomachean] Ethics of Aristotle book X, ch. 7, at 305 (J.A.K. Thomson trans.) (Penguin ed. 1955) (~ 340 BCE) (“ought we, so far as in us lies, to put on immortality and to leave nothing unattempted in the effort to live in company with the highest thing within us”).
 See supra, note 39 and accompanying text.
 See Gordon D.A. Brown & John Gathergood, Consumption Changes, Not Income Changes, Predict Changes in Subjective Well-Being, available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177 (April 8, 2019) (visited June 28, 2020) (noting in particular the effects on subjective well-being of taxation and savings behavior).
 See, e.g., Daniel Kahneman & Angus Deaton, High Income Improves Evaluation of Life But Not Emotional Well-Being, http://www.pnas.org/content/107/38/16489 at 2 (August 4, 2010) (visited June 28, 2020).
 Luca Stanca & Ruut Veenhoven, Consumption and Happiness: An Introduction, 62 Int’l Rev. Econ. 91, 92 (2015). See also Ruut Veenhoven, et al., Happiness and Consumption: A Review of the Research, personal.eur.n1/veehoven/Pub2010s/2018e-full.pdf (2018) “”[w]e still have no answer to the . . . question: What patterns of consumption provide the most happiness for what kind of people?”).
 Leaf Van Boven, Experientialism, Materialism, and the Pursuit of the Happiness, 9 Rev. Gen. Psych. 132, 132 (2005). Classically, see the discussions of eventually “negative” experiential utility and of hedonic treadmill effects in Jean Jacques Rousseau, A Discourse on Inequality part II, at 113 (Maurice Cranston trans. 1984) (1755); Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Ethics 7 (Louis Infield trans. 1992) (1930); Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings 13 (Brooks Atkinson ed. 1950) (1854).
 See the authorities cited supra notes 44-47.
 See Van Boven, supra note 37, at 132.
 See Stanca & Veenhoven, supra note 46, at 97.
 See Id. On the limited relation between happiness and purchases of consumer durables, see Thomas DeLeïre & Ariel Kalil, Does Consumption Buy Happiness? Evidence From the United States, 57 Int’l Rev. Econ. 163, 163 (2010).
 One’s expensive car may be a source of stress, where accumulated savings would not. A daily commute, with the associated noise and unpredictable risks, may be a particular source of undesired stress.
 One might, for example, find self-realization in regular donating to a worthy cause or institution. More generally, it may be that even “low levels of spending resulting from voluntary decisions do not reduce life satisfaction at all.” Heinz-Herbert Noll & Stefan Weick, Consumption Expenditures and Subjective Well-Being: Empirical Evidence From Germany, 62 Int’l Rev. Econ. 101, 101 (2015).
 For background, see Ed Diener & Martin E.P. Seligman, Beyond Money: Progress On an Economy of Well-Being, 13 Perspectives on Psych. Sci. 171, 174 (2018). More theoretically, see Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism 72 (1991 ed.) (1979), as well as Tim Kasser, The High Price of Materialism 75 (2002).
 See supra notes 16-20 and accompanying text.