The Merchant and the Lawman Can Be Friends

The New York Times discovers that industry often pushes for regulation rather than deregulation. The reporter recognizes that this in itself isn't news; the hook is that it is allegedly happening more now than before:

The practice of industry groups turning to regulators or legislators in Washington for a national standard or mandate is not new, of course. While businesses often oppose requirements by saying they are unnecessary as it is already in their interest to produce safe products, at other times they have asked for them to avoid a patchwork of state regulations, to ensure that competitors must meet the same standard or to provide legal protection....

But industry officials, consumer groups and regulatory experts all agree there has been a recent surge of requests for new regulations, and one reason they give is the Bush administration’s willingness to include provisions that would block consumer lawsuits in state and federal courts.

Caveat: Despite that phrase "all agree," the article actually quotes one expert -- OMB chief Susan Dudley -- who says she isn't sure business demands for regulation are rising.

Whether or not such requests are increasing, they're certainly common. For a recent example, see The Wall Street Journal's report on the food industry's enthusiasm for federal regulation of imports (via a "public-private partnership," of course) and more funding for the FDA. Most of the Journal piece is hidden behind a subscription wall, but you can read the rest at the liberal blog The Pump Handle, which welcomes these efforts to raise entry barriers, externalize costs, and fend off lawsuits as a sign that "responsible corporations recognize the need for public health and environmental regulation."

Not every lefty feels the same way. Here's Alexander Cockburn a few years ago:

The feds are red-taping small meat businesses into a nightmare labyrinth of "voluntary compliance" schedules and record-keeping, most of which are entirely unnecessary, and in some cases, entirely wrong-headed....

No surprises here. A lot of the history of food regulation in this country has turned out to be a way to finish off small, quality producers by demanding they invest in whatever big ticket items the USDA happens to be in love with at the time; said love objects usually turning out to be whatever the big food processors are using. That's the reason why it's hard to get decent sausages or hams....The big packers and processing plants get to participate directly in the writing of the laws that set the standard practices that the inspectors march out to enforce on all the little producers not part of the Meat Syndicate.

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  • ||

    Did I miss the outbreak of imported or small producer food related deaths? I was taking a nap, you see...

    Well, if it will save one life, it'll be worth it. Cost be damned. Rest assured there are some using that trite, bullshit argument in their lobbying efforts today.

  • ||

    Reason has come out pretty clearly in the past that they feel that businesses are entitled to influence government via campaign contributions and lobbying.

    So I don't quite see how you can turn around and act surprised that the reason businesses do such things is so they can rig government to work in their benefit.

    It once again illustrates a delimma in libertarian philosophy - if you're unwilling to allow the government to keep people from amassing too much power, don't be surprised if those people use the government for themselves once they can.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Dan T.: Did someone "act surprised"? I must have missed that.

    Anyway, there's no contradiction here. Libertarians believe in free speech even when we disagree with the content of the speech! That's what "free speech" means.

  • ||

    It's not really a dilemma, Dan T. The less control/power the government has over our lives, the less lobbying would occur. But you knew that, didn't you?

  • ||

    Anyway, there's no contradiction here. Libertarians believe in free speech even when we disagree with the content of the speech! That's what "free speech" means.

    Okay, so your complaint is that businesses are using "free speech" to rig the government in their favor but we shouldn't do anything about it?

  • Jesse Walker||

    we shouldn't do anything about it?

    We shouldn't do anything about it that involves censorship -- particularly when the likely outcome of your censorship plan is just to further rig the rules. Fortunately, that isn't the only option.

  • ||

    It's not really a dilemma, Dan T. The less control/power the government has over our lives, the less lobbying would occur. But you knew that, didn't you?

    It's a dilemma because, as we see here, lobbying/donations are used to expand the amount of control/power the government has over our lives.

  • ||

    We shouldn't do anything about it that involves censorship -- particularly when the likely outcome of your censorship plan is just to further rig the rules. Fortunately, that isn't the only option.

    I have no idea where you think I'm advocating "censorship". I also have no idea what your plan is. And while you're at it, please explain why whatever it is isn't working.

  • ||

    It once again illustrates a delimma in libertarian philosophy - if you're unwilling to allow the government to keep people from amassing too much power, don't be surprised if those people use the government for themselves once they can.

    It's not really a dilemma, Dan T. -- giving politicians the power to censor free speech isn't exactly likely to expand liberty, nor is it likely to stop campaign contributions or lobbying -- all the campaign contribution laws have done is favor one group of lobbyists over another.

    You don't fix the problem of power-hungry politicians doing bad things by giving those politicians more power. The problem lies with the voters and the statists they elect, not a lack of laws.

    Do you really not get this, or are you back to trolling?

  • ||

    As far as I can tell, Dan T.'s oft-mentioned libertarian dilemma is that libertarians can't get the government to behave constitutionally.

  • ||

    Dan T., you questioned the wisdom of Reasoners advocating the speech rights of companies because they then use that speech to make government bigger.

    But there are always two sides to a story. The politically connected have no use for free speech, they are able to talk privately to legislators behind doors about expanding government in their favor. So the only speech that would ever be threatenned is that of the non-politically connected.

    As for your question why their plan is not working to shrink government: the government is structured to be big. It does not matter what Reasonites advocate or do not advocate, short of a revolution the government is going to be big.

  • ||

    Maybe my real question here is why everybody seems to think that any of this involves free speech?

    Free speech is a principle that says people should be allowed to express ideas without fear of penalty. I really don't think it means the right to bribe the government or engage in back-room secret deals with government officials.

  • ||

    Reason has come out pretty clearly in the past that they feel that businesses are entitled to influence government via campaign contributions and lobbying.

    Y-e-e-e-e-s...

    So I don't quite see how you can turn around and act surprised that the reason businesses do such things is so they can rig government to work in their benefit.

    Jesse's not surprised. I'm not surprised. Anyone here surprised about this?

    It once again illustrates a delimma in libertarian philosophy - if you're unwilling to allow the government to keep people from amassing too much power, don't be surprised if those people use the government for themselves once they can.

    Let me re-prase this: If you are unwilling to allow people to get wet, don't be surprised that people do get wet when they stand out in the rain.

    Does that about sum it up? Because it still doesn't make any sense to me.

  • ||

    Before this thread gets too long, let's all take a second to chuckle at the name *snort* Cockburn.

  • Ryo||

    Maybe my real question here is why everybody seems to think that any of this involves free speech?



    The right to lobby is guaranteed by the 1st amendment. "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of the people ... to petition the Government for a redress of grievances". Not really a free speech issue so much as a 1st amendment one.

  • ||

    As far as I can tell, Dan T.'s oft-mentioned libertarian dilemma is that libertarians can't get the government to behave constitutionally.

    No, it's about power. Libertarians want to allow "private" groups to amass as much power as they want, and then just kind of hope that they won't use it to rig things even more in their favor.

    You folks tend to see government as being inherently a bad thing. Well, it's not. Government is a tool and can be used for good or for bad, depending on who is controlling it and what their motives are.

  • ||

    Government is a tool...

    Heh.

    ...and can be used for good or for bad, depending on who is controlling it and what their motives are.

    Gosh Dan, what sweeping praise. Which ones use it for good again?

  • ||

    Jesse's not surprised. I'm not surprised. Anyone here surprised about this?

    Okay, so you're not surprised. Which means that you know that allowing big business to influence government will result in a government that favors big business, yet you advocate allowing it and still complain that it happens.

    Let me re-prase this: If you are unwilling to allow people to get wet, don't be surprised that people do get wet when they stand out in the rain.

    I have no idea what you mean by that.

    Try this for a re-phrase: if you allow John Doe to make the rules, then don't be surprised when the rules John Doe makes work in his favor.

  • ||

    Free speech is a principle that says people should be allowed to express ideas without fear of penalty.

    And the means to express those ideas should not be limited by, say, not allowing them to hire someone to express the ideas for them.

    I really don't think it means the right to bribe the government or engage in back-room secret deals with government officials.

    I haven't seen any libertarians advocating bribery or back-room secret deals. Nor have I seen any measures come out of your camp that would somehow limit these activities.

  • ||

    So I don't quite see how you can turn around and act surprised that the reason businesses do such things is so they can rig government to work in their benefit.

    Jesse's not surprised. I'm not surprised. Anyone here surprised about this?


    Not me! I'll bet even Pollyanna isn't surprised that rich people try to influene government policy for their own benefit.

    You know, maybe the poor, disenfranchised people could band together, select some representatives and try to influence government too?

    You think that might work, Dan T?

  • ||

    Okay, so you're not surprised. Which means that you know that allowing big business to influence government will result in a government that favors big business, yet you advocate allowing it and still complain that it happens.

    Dan, we've been over this: we're not surprised about this. Really. We're not happy about it, but surpised, not so much.

    I'll take a bet most libertarians are also willing to let the Nazis march in Skokie, even though that will really upset some people and maybe allow them to get some new recruits.

  • robc||

    Dan T,

    You are right about one thing.

    Government is good when it is a small tool, like a miniscrewdriver. We want to keep it a miniscrewdriver via the constitution, which says it can only be a miniscrewdriver. We are dealing with a hammer instead, and a big one, of the sledge variety.

    The problem isnt that people are trying to influence the tool, the problem is that it is the wrong size tool. Eliminate the power of government and the influence goes away too. No one really wants to be seen wielding a miniscrewdriver.

    There is no dilemma. It comes back to what MikeP said (as usual). The only dilemma is getting the government to behave constitutionally.

  • ||

    Dan T. is merely engaging in the same deliberate stupidity as trolls on Slashdot: Make statements as if a collective ("Slashdot", "libertarians") actually existed, then sit back and chuckle when not a single individual calls them on it.

  • VM||

    Illinois Nazis? I hate Illinois Nazis.

  • ||

    Dan T. is merely engaging in the same deliberate stupidity as trolls on Slashdot: Make statements as if a collective ("Slashdot", "libertarians") actually existed, then sit back and chuckle when not a single individual calls them on it.

    You mean collectives like "the government" and "the people"?

    What would we talk about if we denied the existence of collectives?

  • ||

    I have no idea what you mean by that.

    Well, that's because...oh never mind.

  • ||

    The problem isnt that people are trying to influence the tool, the problem is that it is the wrong size tool. Eliminate the power of government and the influence goes away too. No one really wants to be seen wielding a miniscrewdriver.

    Okay, let's say I agree with you in princple that government should be smaller and less powerful.

    So now the question is this: who exactly do you expect is going to eliminate the power of the government?

  • robc||

    Dan T,

    who exactly do you expect is going to eliminate the power of the government?

    Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights. - Thomas Jefferson

    Many have noticed the problem, once they accept the solution, the problem will be solved. You cant solve it by committing another unconstitutional act: censoring redress of grievances.

  • ||

    I'll take a bet most libertarians are also willing to let the Nazis march in Skokie, even though that will really upset some people and maybe allow them to get some new recruits.

    I'm sure they would, but only because they're such a fringe group in America and there's little chance they are going to do any harm.

    But what if a fascist movement in this country gained steam and threatened to take power?

    Would you then advocate some limitation on them?

  • Any Salon reader||

    "You don't fix the problem of power-hungry politicians doing bad things by giving those politicians more powee."

    Except healthcare, I can't see how that could become a problem,

  • ||

    You cant solve it by committing another unconstitutional act: censoring redress of grievances.

    But here's the problem - when you have to have the money to be able to hire lobbyists and donate to campaigns in order to be heard, it's the rest of us who are being denied our ability to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

  • ||

    But what if a fascist movement in this country gained steam and threatened to take power?

    If such a movement were popularly supported enough to seize power, how is censorship going to stop it?

    It wouldn't matter as much if there weren't so much power to take. You know, if a majority of the citizenry agreed that there were some issues that government shouldn't be able to legislate on.

  • Any Salon reader||

    "I'll take a bet most libertarians are also willing to let the Nazis march in Skokie, even though that will really upset some people and maybe allow them to get some new recruits."


    No, repression of free speetch works so well. I mean when the the founding fathers, Lenninn, Rhobes Pierre and Hitler had their free speetch taken away, none of them ever started violent movements. Seriously, when ever you outlaw any kind of speetch, people just stop thinking and saying those things.

  • ||

    So, freedom of speech is both an essientally important right in a society yet suppressing speech has no effect on anything?

    You guys are hard to figure out sometimes.

  • Episiarch||

    You guys are hard to figure out sometimes.

    Just to you, Dan.

    What I find hard to figure out is if you are a grand troll of epic skill, or you actually can't understand what people are talking about here. It's really not that complicated.

  • JBinMO||

    Supressing free speetch does have an impact, it can send movements underground so they can more easily become radicalized.

  • ||

    But what if a fascist movement in this country gained steam and threatened to take power?

    Would you then advocate some limitation on them?


    Nope. I'd open a catering company and get real tight with them for their events. Them nazis can throw a party.

  • robc||

    it's the rest of us who are being denied our ability to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    Thats BS. I have never been denied my right to petition . They dont always listen to me, but nothing guarantees that, I can petition my congressmen as much as I want.

  • Ryo||

    But here's the problem - when you have to have the money to be able to hire lobbyists and donate to campaigns in order to be heard, it's the rest of us who are being denied our ability to petition the government for a redress of grievances.



    Is it really a problem that a congressman is more likely to listen to the AARP's views on social security than Dan's? AARP represents millions of like minded people. If anything, the congressman is listening to more constituents if they favor spending time with the AARP lobbyist than with Dan T.

    This is a democracy issue, not a libertarian one. The organization made of many voters will have more say than the voice of a single voter.

  • rho||

    Dan T. is one of my favorite characters on H&R.

  • ||

    The organization made of many voters lobbyists will have more say than the voice of a single voter.

    That works better.

    I think it depends on the constituency and group lobbying. The NRA could make as many threats as they like for unseating a congresscritter in my very liberal district, but they'd just laugh and blow smoke in their face in response.

    Not the same thing as we're talking about in the original post, but you get the idea.

  • ||

    Is it really a problem that a congressman is more likely to listen to the AARP's views on social security than Dan's? AARP represents millions of like minded people. If anything, the congressman is listening to more constituents if they favor spending time with the AARP lobbyist than with Dan T.

    This is a democracy issue, not a libertarian one. The organization made of many voters will have more say than the voice of a single voter.


    I'm cool with this - I agree that in a democracy a million voters should have more say than a single voter.

    But I'm not so sure that one guy with a million dollars should have as much say as one million voters with one dollar each. Money perverts democracy.

  • ||

    Money perverts democracy.

    The McCain campaign has a spot just waiting for you! Targeted thinkers like you can always spot a winner!

    No, I think it's the congresscritters, clearing their throat and with their hand out like a bellhop, that are doing the corrupting. Just a hunch.

    Of course, I could be totally misreading this signal and they could just be looking for a quick date.

  • iowan||

    I'm cool with this - I agree that in a democracy a million voters should have more say than a single voter.

    I'm sure that a substantial majority of people that frequent H&R would say that they are tired of seeing your posts. Should we all be able to vote to strip you of your right to post messages here?

    We are a representative republic with a constitution specifically intended to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority.

    Get over it already.

  • ||

    What would we talk about if we denied the existence of collectives?

    The very real issues of individual responsibility, how it cannot be delegated, and why so many people move heaven and earth to avoid it.

  • ||

    Ah yes....agency capture. Well-known.

    And if Libertarians can explain why a private organization is exempt from the same danger, I'd be very happy to understand why.

    (And no, "someone can always start up another organization" is not sufficient argument. Companies have been trying to break into the financial rating gig for YEARS. )

  • ||

    No, I think it's the congresscritters, clearing their throat and with their hand out like a bellhop, that are doing the corrupting. Just a hunch.

    But that's just Freedom of Speech!

  • pistoffnick||

    "Meat Syndicate" would be an awesome name for a punk rock band!

  • Mike Laursen||

    Did I miss the outbreak of imported or small producer food related deaths?

    For that to happen, they'd first have to be offered a chance to exist.

  • ||

    Every free market economist since Adam Smith have acknowledged that businesses love to use the power of government to prevent competition.

    I forget who said it, but I love this quote: "The best defense against capitalism is the free market". When government is selling power and privilege to the highest bidder, why does everyone blame the bidders and not the auctioneer? The solution is to take the power away from government. That's only a temporary, though, as history shows, but a temporary solution is better than no solution.

  • Mike Laursen||

    I have no idea where you think I'm advocating "censorship".

    Dan T., what were you advocating then?

  • ||

    I work in a highly regulated industry, aka legal drugs. Over time I have come to the conclusion that big corps love regulatory these days unlike in the past. Years ago it was dreaded and still is by those who actually have to wade through it everyday. But today the larger corporations embrace it and go off stary eyed, hand in hand with the regulators.

    Sure all this regulation jacks up the cost of your goods and in may instanced does nothing to "protect," you but the corps don't mind because only consumers pay for regulation spending and corp tax etc. The reason they are so cozy these days is due to the corps realizing over time that if they could get regulatory so thick it would prevent anyone from entering the market as competition. So far they have been right on the money in the pharma world at least. My prediction is that in 10-20 years (unless we get universal HC, cringe) all your major drug makers will be owned by 5-10 big pharmaceutical companies. They just buy one another out and use small startups for their R&D, if the small company has a promising compound or molecule they buy the company.

    To give you an idea of how fucked up regulatory really has become here is an example.

    We make a product at my site that can not be sold in the US because we are not an FDA site. We are however the EU equivilant of an FDA site. We get active raw ingredients from China and formulate the product in the states. We are only able to sell what we make to other countries like the EU, China and S.A., nothing we make can be sold in the US and all US sales are made in at our UK site.

    Here is the rub. We can not sell our product ( An Aquatic Antibiotic) to the guy down the street from us with a fish farm because we are not FDA. Yet we can make the product and send it back to China or some other place where they will then feed their fish with our drug and process them to be sent back to the US for sale. Meanwhile the guy down the street has to pay more and get his product (identical drug mind you) from the UK.

    In the end both of the users fish ends up on the shelves of the US market right next to one another. So tell me why I shouldn't be able to sell my product to the guy down the street just as well? Eventually it all ends up back here and the FDA is supposed to be protecting the people but with schemes like this there is no protection or sense of reality.

    In the end the only ones regulatory agencies seek to protect are their own jobs.

  • ||

    Dan T., what were you advocating then?

    I'm advocating publicly financed elections, mostly.

  • ||

    Or rather publicly financed campaigns.

  • ||

    Dan T.,

    I guess someone here has to ask what it is you mean by that. So. OK.

  • Robert||

    Publicly financed campaigns are what we already have.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Or rather publicly financed campaigns.

    How would your publicly-financed campaigns system work?

    Would your public campaign funds be available to all candidates running for an office, or would they have to qualify somehow? Would each candidate get an equal amount of money?

    Come to think of it, exactly what is the public-serving purpose of campaigning, anyway? Would the public be better served if you banned campaigning altogether or only allowed candidates to, say, post a few pages on a public website and appear in a few public debates? Would candidates be allowed to say negative things about each other?

    What if someone prints an editorial or puts up a website or wears a t-shirt saying, "I'm going to vote for Dan T. I think he's the best candidate!" Is that campaigning? What if the candidate really had no part in it?

  • Mike Laursen||

    Oh, and can we have a rule that if the candidate is caught lying about anything in their publicly-financed advertisements that they have to pay the public back with a penalty and interest?

  • Kevin Carson||

    "if you're unwilling to allow the government to keep people from amassing too much power, don't be surprised if those people use the government for themselves once they can."
    --Dan T.

    This begs the question, assuming that big business amassed its power through the working of the market, and that government was required to stop it. In fact the truth is the opposite: big business was able to amass its power (hell, even to exist) only through government subsidies and protections, and market competition would have destroyed it.

    Had it not been for the effect of the state-created railroad system in making it possible for corporations to serve a national market, there would have been no big business in the first place. The tariff ("mother of cartels") and patent system enabled industry to consolidate still more. But even then, would-be monopolists were unable to form stable cartels or stabilize their market shares. That was made possible through regulatory cartelization, courtesy of the "Progressive" regulatory state at the turn of the twentieth century.

    It's interesting how big government liberals and how corporate-apologist conservatives share such a mirror-image view of reality. Both, alike, assert that big business came about through superior performance in the market, and both agree that "progressive" government policies are motivated by a desire to restrain big business. The corporate apologist conservatives' agenda requires pretending that the size and power of big business reflect superior merit. The big government liberals' agenda requires pretending that they are necessary to restrain the power of big business when, in fact, they are--as Roy Childs said--its running dogs. I prefer the term "useful idiots" myself.

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