Monday, January 17, 2011

Hey, Buster!

Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt was characterized as a “trust buster.” The Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890, and T.R. used the legislation to break up what he believed to be monopolistic enterprises. His social agenda drove him to attack businesses that in his view were exploiting workers and consumers because of their unfettered control of their respective market niches. Teddy’s progressive tendencies led him to ferret out industries and companies whom he suspected of unfair practices in the realms of labor and market practices. Some might argue that the decline of American economic power began in 1902 when Roosevelt initiated his trust busting. This column will not debate that issue, but will seek to extend the reasoning used by Roosevelt and his cohorts forward to the present time.
It has been advanced by some good government groups and ordinary citizens that Congress and other public officials should be subjected to the same laws as the rest of us. I submit, therefore, that antitrust legislation be included among the laws that should apply equally to the government and to the governed. The monopolistic tendencies of many government activities tend to encourage inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Just as in the private sector, the aggrieved parties are those who rely on the government service, and also, must pay for it through confiscatory taxation. When one is forced to underwrite an entity that is grossly incompetent without having the opportunity to seek a viable alternative, then one is, in essence, a captive of the under-performing monopoly. A consumer should possess the option of seeking another source or of having her/his funds returned for inadequate service.
What type of marketplace would we have if one commercial enterprise were allowed to dominate the market and write the rules? That, in essence, is what we are facing when a government monopoly exercises control over a market sector. It seems to me that it would be prudent to limit government dominance to those duties specifically described in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. There may be a case for defining the difference between government obligations and government monopoly. But for the sake of abbreviated argument, let’s restrict government monopolistic practices to the enumerated powers…duties, obligations. It follows, therefore, that every other monopolistic practice of the government exceeds its mandate and should be subject to antitrust remedies. We must caution here that government regulatory and rulemaking practices can, in effect, undermine competitors, so the antitrust prohibitions anticipated for government should also include legislative and regulatory restraints. As an aside, let me add that even in areas where government doesn’t compete with the private sector, certain commercial entities are given great latitude in the design of rules, legislation and regulation. This practice, in effect, creates a government endorsed monopoly which provides the appearance of an unfettered private sector but actually represents an unholy alliance between Big Brother and favored corporations.
While the effort to require political leaders to adhere to the same workplace rules as their constituency is laudable, it merely affects the perception of the politician as public servant. If we insist that the political class be bound by the same healthcare and pension plans as the rest of us, then certainly the field will be leveled somewhat…..but it’s a small field. The larger key for holding the government responsible for its excesses is to require that every law, rule and regulation outside the purview of the enumerated powers should apply equally to the government and the private sector. Maybe, just maybe, the insidious government monopoly in public education (aka: indoctrination) can be weakened, and we can hope to enjoy an informed electorate. Maybe.  

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