President Joe Biden's State of the Union address last night was fairly typical. There were platitudes about his efforts to "restore the soul of the nation" and oversee "fields of dreams" to "transform the heartland." There were tons of questionable statistics about the economy, job creation, and more, all in service of praising Democrats' massive spending packages. There were the same sorts of dubious claims that Biden has been making for years, including an assertion that despite all this spending, "nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will pay an additional penny in taxes."
One bit that stands out as either the funniest, the most pathetic, or both is Biden essentially declaring himself the nation's travel agent in chief.
Among his administration's accomplishments, he touted addressing issues that "make it harder for you to … afford that family trip."
"We're making airlines show you the full ticket price upfront and refund your money if your flight is cancelled or delayed," he announced at one point.
"We'll ban surprise 'resort fees' that hotels tack on to your bill," he said at another. "These fees can cost you up to $90 a night at hotels that aren't even resorts."
"And we'll prohibit airlines from charging up to $50 roundtrip for families just to sit together," Biden said.
Hotel fees. The way airlines display ticket prices. Why is the president of the United States so focused on the minutiae of American vacations?
At first blush, it makes no sense. But it becomes a little more rational when you consider both his constraints and his administration's general desire to control business practices.
At the moment, Democrats can't give the left the big new entitlement programs that they want (thank goodness). So Biden talking up a ton of tiny changes he's making to address small inconveniences and financial burdens is a way to signal that he's fighting for poor and middle-class Americans without actually risking very much. In addition to fighting resort fees and airline ticket pricing, Biden pledged to cap service fees on tickets to concerts and sporting events and boasted about lowering credit card late fees, bank overdraft fees, and other "junk fees."
These are the sorts of proposals that sound good in theory—who wouldn't want to pay less in junk fees? But some of these fees exist for good reasons. (Late fees, for instance, encourage people to pay their bills on time, which is good for both credit card companies and for users, who will otherwise rack up more interest to pay back.) And in any event, companies aren't simply going to say, "OK, we'll just make less money."
Hotels may respond by raising base room rates or charging new fees for typical amenities. Airlines that can't charge for choosing your seat may raise base ticket prices, baggage fees, or other costs. Banks that can't fine people for overdrawing their accounts may raise rates for opening an account, require higher minimum balances, or deny more people bank accounts to begin with. Credit card companies that can't charge late fees may deny more lines of credit or charge higher interest rates. And so on.
All the Biden administration is really doing is shifting people's costs around.
It's silly—but perfectly in keeping with the Biden business modus operandi. His administration is openly hostile to big businesses, viewing them not as independent engines of American wealth, innovation, and jobs but pawns to be manipulated for government ends.
You can see this view in the actions of Biden administration agencies—like when the Federal Trade Commission tried to demand that Facebook must develop a virtual reality (V.R.) fitness app instead of acquiring one, because this would give consumers more V.R. fitness options. You can see it in his insistence that we can always pay for more spending by raising taxes on businesses. You can see it in his industrial policy demands, which attempt to control what businesses can make and with what materials, and a bunch of other proposals to micromanage business practices.
All of this was on display during last night's State of the Union address. There were pledges of protectionism (see "Biden Promises To Stop Waiving His Own Terrible 'Buy American' Mandates"). There were demands that pharmaceutical companies cap prices. There were threats against tech companies that advantage their own products—a "problem" that means consumers get free shipping on Amazon-brand products, seamless integration between Google searches and maps, and other benefits. And a call to "ban targeted advertising to children."
Biden promised to somehow "lower the deficit by $2 trillion" without cutting "a single Social Security or Medicare benefit" (see "Biden Promises To Let Social Security's Ship Keep Sinking"). Instead, Biden says he'll raise money by raising taxes on billionaires, doing more tax audits, and quadrupling taxes on corporate stock buybacks.
He pledged to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would seriously harm gig workers and independent contractors (see "The PRO Act Empowers Union Bosses, Not Workers" and "Californians Rejected a Harsh Law That Destroyed Freelance Jobs. Congress Is Trying To Make It Federal Law"). He pledged to ban noncompete clauses—a tool that can sometimes be used in exploitative ways but can also be used fairly and for good business reasons.
You can read Biden's full State of the Union remarks here.
I know I'm crazy for fixating on this at midnight, but whoever came up w/ "capitalism w/out competition is exploitation" needs a new job. If there's no competition, then definitionally, there's no capitalism! And Biden says this in a speech peppered w/ protectionist proposals. ????
— Corie Whalen (@CorieWhalen) February 8, 2023
Republican lawmakers want to make all social media platforms check IDs. Sometimes it feels like federal lawmakers are competing to see who can come up with the worst tech bill. The latest contender: a bill that would make social media companies verify the ages of all users and ban anyone under age 16. Not only would the measure substitute the government's judgment for that of parents regarding what's appropriate for kids, it would seriously invade the privacy of everyone—including adults—who uses wide swaths of the internet. It would mean social media companies must check IDs for anyone who creates an account, creating a record—accessible by law enforcement and hackers—of who's behind every single Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Twitch, etc. account, and perhaps even email addresses, messaging app accounts, and more. The bill comes from Utah Republican Rep. Chis Stewart and mirrors state legislation proposed in Utah recently.
Rent stabilization ruling sides with city over landlords. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit dismissed a challenge to New York's rent stabilization law. The court "ruled that the government hasn't necessarily taken a landlord's property when it forces him or her to operate at a loss while renting to a tenant he or she never agreed to host," reports Reason's Christian Britschgi.
The case was brought by two landlord associations, who argued that the city's 2019 law limiting rent increases and evictions was effectively a seizure of their property. "The court rejected these arguments, partially on the grounds that landlords hadn't proven that rent stabilization had eliminated the income of every single owner of a rent-controlled building," notes Britschgi. Full decision here.
• Biden deserves some credit on immigration policy, but he refuses to take responsibility where he should, writes Reason's Fiona Harrigan.
• "As Tyre Nichols sat propped against a police car, bloodied, dazed and handcuffed after being beaten by a group of Memphis police officers, one of those officers took a picture of him and sent it to at least five people," reports The New York Times.
• Does the 13th Amendment protect legal abortion?
• A scientific review shows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grossly exaggerated the evidence supporting mask mandates, Reason's Jacob Sullum writes.
• Members of Washington, D.C.'s City Council are moving to decriminalize street vending.
• It never ends:
Scoop: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next week on protecting kids online.
— Maria Cristina Curi (@m_ccuri) February 7, 2023