Sunday, July 21, 2024

Pelican Institute: Turn off the reruns of bad policy

by BIZ Magazine

Americans have been watching bad reruns for the last few months, and I don’t mean just on television. They’re seeing tired old policy ideas continue to emerge from the Washington, D.C. swamp, as agencies across the federal government move aggressively to expand big government, punish consumers, and drag our economy down. Americans who want a future of innovation and opportunity should push back aggressively against these efforts.

The first of those ideas comes from the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, who have jumped on the in-vogue antitrust bandwagon in separate attempts to punish Amazon and Google. Unfortunately, antitrust has been the cudgel of choice for all sides of the political spectrum of late.

Still, this latest attempt smacks of big-government run amok, attempting to punish success in the marketplace. Worse yet, they set aside five decades of precedent in applying antitrust law, as noted in Pelican Institute’s recent report on the subject, in favor of yet another round of government overreach.

As Townhall’s David McGarry writes, “The government’s case [against Google] seems to presume that once a company reaches a certain level of success, its competitors deserve a handicap.” In reality, it does little more than empower big government and other companies at the expense of consumer choice and innovation.

Of course, it’s not just Google in the government’s crosshairs. Amazon has surged to record success and broad enthusiasm from consumers. Millions of Amazon Prime members can attest to the value of two-day (and, in some urban areas, same-day) shipping and the world of consumer choice at their fingertips. This is all too much for the federal government, though, who apparently prefers punishing success rather than applauding it.

None of this should suggest, of course, that all big companies are angels or that there aren’t appropriate concerns either consumers or, in some rare occasions, regulators might explore. But, antitrust, despite its recent popularity, is a blunt force inappropriately applied that not only would have negative outcomes for taxpayers and consumers today but set up even worse problems for the future because of bad precedent.

Next on the list of bad ideas resurfacing is the Federal Communications Commission’s move to quickly resurrect the so-called Net Neutrality zombie that seems never to die. Proponents of Net Neutrality want to impose new regulations on internet service providers, dictating how they run their business — thereby restricting their ability to succeed in the free market.

Fortunately, the first attempts at Net Neutrality were rolled back, and as a result Americans benefitted from the most significant investments and biggest advancements in internet technology in decades. But now, Net Neutrality could be revived like a monster in a horror movie that just won’t quit.

The arguments against the FCC’s proposed rule are clear: the Title II law under which commissioners plan to regulate the internet was literally written to address regulation of Ma Bell copper wiring for telephone lines. Our world works very differently today, and applying dated old regulations to modern innovation rarely, if ever, is successful. The same is true here.

Just imagine your old-school Monopoly gameboard. The utility properties — Electric Company and Waterworks — were always great to snatch up; just like in real life, they turn a guaranteed profit because they’re a government-sponsored monopoly.

But anyone who has had to deal with an electric or municipal water utility knows that these public utilities provide terrible customer service. And they can get away with it because the government shuts out competition, and consumers have nowhere else to turn for better service.

Now imagine jettisoning one of those pesky light blue Monopoly properties in favor of a third public utility: The internet. That’s what big government bureaucrats envision: regulating our internet like a public utility. And while that may be profitable for the board game, it’s a terrible outcome for consumers.

We all suffer whenever the government dredges up these bad ideas and seeks to put its thumb on the scales of industry. Instead, we should empower consumers in the marketplace, adopt light-touch regulatory structures, and encourage innovation. It’s time to ditch the old reruns in favor of opportunity, consumer choice and bold new ideas for our future.

Daniel J. Erspamer is the CEO of the The Pelican Institute for Public Policy

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