August 23, 2021
Last month, President Biden issued an “Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy.”
Never mind that the executive order’s title itself is an implicit insult to the American spirit of stop-at-nothing rivalry. It’s as if Joe wandered into the locker room of a Texas high school football stadium on a Friday night and told the quarterback, “You should play hard.”
Americans will compete at anything. Pickleball. I rest my case.
Nonetheless, Joe is worried… about something… But what? That’s not exactly clear because the executive order is 16 pages of bureaucratic bumwad seemingly written by junior underlings up all night with too much coffee and too many Yale law degrees.
One repeatedly raised concern is “market concentration.” The phrase is vague but seems to mean that you can take the idea that A Big Monopoly Is Bad and expand it to Just Big Is Also Bad and maybe even to Better Is Not So Good Either.
Perhaps the nefarious global ping-pong market concentration is threatening a pickleball buyout.
Monopolies, semi-monopolies, and companies that seem to dominate their business sector are (unless their dominance is enforced by government power) self-repairing free-market breakdowns, as Toyota taught GM.
Biden is not deterred by economic theory, let alone economic fact. He says, “… excessive market concentration threatens basic economic liberties, democratic accountability, and the welfare of workers, farmers, small businesses, startups, and consumers, tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors, rich men, poor men, beggar men, thieves.”
(Although I can’t absolutely swear that last part was in there, especially the mention of “rich men.” But I was already drifting off even though this was the first sentence of the Executive Order. I had to go get myself some coffee and a law degree from Yale to keep going.)
The fix for Biden’s broad definition of market concentration is to limit free-market freedoms in order to make the free market more free. This is paradoxical… or maybe just stupid.
To give Joe his due, he does put his finger on some marketplace annoyances – prescription drug prices higher than the cost of a good funeral, giant bloated fatso tech companies that squash and suffocate anyone who tries to sit on the Internet couch, and small farmers buying the farm as Big Ag runs over them with a grim reaper (that can only be serviced by a factory-authorized dealer).
The problem with what Joe puts his finger on is that it’s a government finger. And we all know which finger the government gives us…
No doubt there’s unfairness in agriculture, but no business sector in America has experienced more interference from government than farming – dating back to the squalid federal auctions, to land speculators of territories won from Britain in the Revolutionary War. There’s not a single cow pie in the history of the nation that the government hasn’t stepped in.
Do we really trust government to outsmart Big Pharma on drug prices? Just wait until your next visit to Walgreens… “That will be $3 for the heart medication and $225.99 for the Tylenol.”
And “net neutrality” sounds like a nice idea. But which federal department, regulatory agency, congressional committee, or presidential commission will decide what’s “neutral”? Remember who runs the post office. If we’re not careful, we could wind up getting all our e-mail, social media posts, and TV streaming services delivered once a day, except on Sundays and national holidays, at a cost of 55 cents each.
Ken Langone, the co-founding billionaire of Home Depot, went on CNBC recently to explain the biggest threat for Americans and their money.
In his presidential decree, Biden orders “promoting competition within industries through the independent oversight of mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures.” (My italics.) Independent of what? Not independent of politics, I bet. So, if you’re doing any M&A activity, you’ll not only have to pay a huge fee to an investment bank, but you’ll also have to make a huge donation to whatever political party happens to be in power.
Joe orders airlines to provide “improved service.” (My suggestion? Order all the passengers off the plane. Service will improve – for the flight crews.)
Joe orders the Defense Department to look and see if there’s enough competition among defense contractors. (Maybe we could buy missiles from Hamas. They seem to have an excess of them in Gaza.)
Joe orders hearing aids to be cheaper. (YOU SAID CHEAPER HEARING AIDS, JOE.)
Unfortunately, Joe fails to point out one area of American life where there’s too much competition.
Joe gives an order: “It is the policy of my Administration that, when agencies have overlapping jurisdiction, they should endeavor to cooperate fully in the exercise of their oversight authority…”
This is accompanied by a list of agencies with overlapping jurisdiction, which, now that I’ve had five or six cups of coffee and gone to Yale, I’ll quote in full:
[Such agencies] include the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services, The Department of Transportation, the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Maritime Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Surface Transportation Board.
(And I promise not to make any other full quotations from the Executive Order on Promoting Competition… or readers will be competing to see who can kill me first.)
So how is Joe going to put his order about agencies with overlapping jurisdiction into effect? By creating another agency with overlapping jurisdiction!
This is the “White House Competition Council.” Members include the heads of every government bureau and department you’ve ever heard of plus some you’ve never heard of in your life, like “the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.” The Competition Council “shall be led by the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council” whose name may or may not be Larry, Moe, or Curly.
And talk about urgency… talk about quick and decisive action from a fast-on-its-feet government leadership… The White House Competition Council will meet twice a year.
While we wait for the Competition Council to get seated (competing for a chair closest to the most prominent Stooge), let’s consider the broader issue…
What is Joe Biden doing giving us 16 pages of orders without so much as a nod from Congress, a wink from the judiciary, or a peep from the electorate? Joe is not His Imperial Majesty. Joe is not a King or a Queen, certainly not an Ace, and barely a Jack.
He’s the rooster crowing from atop the Washington dung heap only by dint of a few votes from disgruntled ex-Trumpsters. Don’t we have a system of checks and balances?… Or checkbook balances?… Or an Olympic balance-beam medalist?… Or something like that?…
It’s in the Constitution. Therefore I got in touch with my brilliant friend Ilya Shapiro, director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute libertarian think tank. The essence of the ignorant question I asked Ilya was, “Presidential executive orders? WTF?”
The essence of Ilya’s informed reply was that executive orders are “the president telling his underlings how he’d like the law enforced.”
I italicized the “like” because, although Ilya notes that executive orders can be thrown out in court and nullified by Congress, I’d also add that they can be ignored (with some political peril) by federal appointees.
You remember how Trump kept ordering and ordering “The Wall” to be built but still wound up with not enough fencing along the Rio to contain a small herd of cattle?
Ilya continues, “You can think of it this way: Constitutional provisions have greater legal force than statutes, which have greater legal force than regulations, which have greater legal force than executive branch directives/guidance… Also, there’s no legal significance to the word ‘order.'”
Thus, an executive order falls somewhere between empty threats to take the car keys if your teenage kid doesn’t mow the lawn and saying, “pretty please with sugar on top.”
… Which Biden’s “Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy” comes right out and admits on the last of its 16 pages.
I shall break my promise with one more dreary quote from the document:
This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations… Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect: the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency… This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforced at law or in equity…
In other words, the executive order is a pointless waste of time. And I worry that so is this Letter From the Editor.
Except for one thing… Joe Biden has just given us an important and worrisome, if somewhat blurry, vision of “how he’d like the law enforced.” And when it comes to law, I don’t care for presidents with blurry vision.
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