Bridge Span 14-7: “Conservative” Witch Hunt

Recently some “conservative” commentary bereft of law, logic or facts, argued that the Comcast and Time Warner Cable transaction should be subject to “exceptionally rigorous review” and Congressional scrutiny because the Department of Justice, the FTC, and FCC, the agencies charged with review and approval of mergers, are corrupt.

The yellow journalism articles, and circulated letter, argue that the current government is too large and riddled with crony capitalism.  But the letter goes much further suggesting that if an entity successfully advocates on its own behalf to keep the crushing power of a corrupt government at bay so that the company can continue operation, then it must only be because of crony capitalism.  Or otherwise stated: if one successfully fights off government to gain liberty then one proves their complicity in crony capitalism.  If you suddenly think of the witch trial practice of “dunking” then you properly understand the argument.  “Dunking,” or ordeal by water, typically involved tying a person to a chair and forcefully dunking them underwater.  If they floated it proved they were a witch, if they did not they were proven to not be a witch but were dead.  No witches were ever found.

Pursuing tortured logic that sounds as if it came from the Monty Python skit about burning witches, they argue that government is too big, too involved, too powerful and too corrupt so to solve the problem we need more government involved in private transactions.  This argument is novel in conservative or libertarian thinking, to say the least.

But worse, the slender reed on which their justification is hung is a vague and generalized argument of crony capitalism.  While crony capitalism is an anathema to any market oriented thinker, no evidence other than advocacy and association, protected first amendment rights to redress and association, have been made in this case.  The end result is that companies interested in freely transacting business are burdened with the “sins” of government.

Perversely the argument is that the rule of law be abandoned and an additional Congressional review be imposed.  Also a curious argument for market oriented or conservative thinkers.  If there has been wrongdoing then the proper course is to challenge the wrong doing legally, root it out by punishing the wrong doers.  The call for government lead McCarthyism, casting aspersions based on guilt by association, is inappropriate.

The circulated letter specifically asserts that those who have signed on to it are defenders of the free market, but their arguments belie that they only support a “free market” of their own design, where a big government of their liking can do what it wants to interfere with a real free market.  Very few would argue for marketplace anarchy, but once freedoms and liberties are established citizens should be free to conduct their business affairs as they see fit.

Further, the letter explicitly argues for a European style “competition law” which focuses on companies and competition, rather than U.S. antitrust law which instead focuses on consumers.  This is not a marketplace that most in the U.S. would envision.  As Tim H. Lee has written, “If the conservative movement has developed a fondness for activist government imposing a market status quo under some vague “public interest” standard, we must have missed the memo.”

Standing at the ready is a large and powerful antitrust and law enforcement operation if something untoward were to occur.  Prophylactic measures, based on fear and ignorance that slow or stop market transactions or which impinge the freedom to assemble, are not appropriate.

Stunningly, they further advance an argument equating the technology and communications marketplace of 1982 to that of 2014, apparently believing that market conditions could hardly have advanced in 32 years.  To even raise an argument in opposition seems silly, so suffice to say that the dramatic advance in technology and in the marketplace in the last two generations has been nothing short of breathtaking.  To believe that twisted copper lines are the only means to broadband or video, when fiber and wireless are booming, is ludicrous and factually incorrect on its face.

But perhaps most revealing is the emailed “sales pitch” asking groups to sign on the letter.  The email urged groups to sign, in part, because the letter “stops short of requesting outright oppression.” Stopping short of requesting outright oppression of citizens by a government they argue is corrupt is somehow positioned as a reason to support this new thinking? Wow.

“Come and see the violence inherent in the system!”  That is a Monty Python skit/policy mash up for a different day…

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