Anthony Weiner: When It Comes to Regulations, Tesla and Other Tech Companies Should Shut Up and Take It
Former Democrat Congressman and New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner has a new column at Business Insider, and for his first column he decided to defend Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.). He tells readers it might be surprising that he's decided to defend a "conservative" in his first column. It shouldn't be.
Christie may consider himself a conservative, but like Weiner he often sees government as the solution to, not the cause of, various problems. This time, Weiner thinks Christie was right about cracking down on direct sales of electric cars by Tesla. He writes that the regulations that prevent direct sales are a good idea, probably, but he's not confident he knows why:
Why would you want to have laws that require a car be purchased through a local dealer? Perhaps to protect a purchaser's rights to easily enforce the warranty. To ensure the state's ability to enforce the reams of unique state legal requirements that govern automobile sales, service and even disposal maybe. Or, it might just be a run-of-the-mill instinct for local rather than federal regulations to govern what, for many Americans, is the biggest purchase of their lives. You may not agree with these conclusions, but these are longstanding laws and there was a robust back-and-forth about them well before Tesla drove onto the scene.
Perhaps, maybe, might. Weiner is willing to provide a vigorous defense of regulations whose purpose he can't identify with certainty. Perhaps Weiner is a slimeball. Maybe. He might be. To his credit, Weiner admits he received donations from car dealers as a politician, but then explains how lobbyists lobby about regulations in one of the most backward ways I've seen:
You can't swing a dead cat in Washington or any of the 50 state capitals without hitting a lobbyist pitching the idea some regulation is overreaching, unnecessary, or stifling of competition.
The statement is just as, if not more true from the other direction: You can't swing a dead cat in any capital without hitting a lobbyist pitching the idea some new regulation is needed (often to stifle his employer's competition).
Weiner's presumption to trust that regulations are there for a reason is backward too. Everything he listed as a possible reason for the regulations that prohibit direct Tesla sales—protecting warranties and enforcing legal requirements on auto sales, service, and disposal—can be just as easily imposed on and satisfied by Tesla's direct sales division. It gets better. Weiner continues:
Along with Tesla, companies like Uber and AirBnB, are trying to do more than upset the established entities in their markets. They're all building businesses on an even tougher bet—that they can get rule makers and legislators to throw out the laws that those same people wrote. In this respect, the Tesla fight is noteworthy only in that it's a cool car.
Like with Uber and AirBnB, Weiner, it's also noteworthy that the fights are over rules and laws pushed not in the interest of safety, or good governance, or whatever mumbo jumbo is used to justify regulations, but because of an industry's desire to stifle competition, and the government's desire to act like a hit man. Back to Weiner's column:
Reasonable people may think regulations that get in the way of tech companies are all just bad laws. In Tesla's case, some might consider bans on direct auto sales to be part of a protectionist regime set up by a powerful lobby—neighborhood car dealers—and unchallenged by a lazy industry that didn't want to antagonize its sales force. Still, dismissing all existing regulations out of hand without recognizing them as the product of reasoning and careful consideration isn't the answer.
I suppose it takes the kind of tolerance for hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness that politicians have to have to succeed to perform the kind of mental and rhetorical gymnastics Weiner has here. He offers nothing to dispel the idea that the ban Tesla is suffering from was "part of a protectionist regime set up by… car dealers," but nevertheless suggests that regulations still be assumed to have been the product of reasoning and consideration. Why? Liberals like Weiner often complain about the influence of money in politics but stop short of identifying the root problem as the power of government.
When individuals, groups, or even companies support political candidates with money, they are exercising their right to free speech. That money, or straight up bribes, can only lead to corruption when the government has the power to be corrupt. It wouldn't matter how much money car dealers, or Tesla for that matter, gave politicians if their elected offices didn't have the power to write rules that protect car dealers from competition or that send taxpayer money to Tesla, or even that end up enriching the politicians themselves. Money, corporate or otherwise, doesn't corrupt politicians. Their ability to write rules that pick winners and losers and distort entire industries and markets does. And the idea that every law and regulation is "probably" there for a good reason abets that ability.