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I’m Noble: Give Me the Power to Protect Myself from Competition

Here’s a letter to Roll Call:

Tom Udall (D-NM) and 42 other incumbent U.S. senators propose a Constitutional amendment with the following key provision: “To advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all, and to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes, Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits on – (1) the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, Federal office; (2) the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates” (“Senate Democrats Begin Efforts to Amend Constitution,” June 6th).

Never mind that this amendment strikes at the heart of the First amendment values of freedom of speech and freedom of petition.  Focus instead on the fact that, if ratified, this amendment would create far greater political inequality and eat like a cancer at electoral processes.  It would do so by shielding incumbent politicians from competition.

Suppose that Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen, and other of today’s successful automakers seek, and get, the power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to auto advertising.  Do you think that these incumbent automakers – whose brands are currently established and well-known – would never succumb to the temptation to use this power to protect themselves from the competition of upstart automakers?

Would you take at face value all the fine rhetoric from these incumbent automakers about the need to protect members of the car-buying public from being overwhelmed and misled by expensive and glitzy ads?  And would you be confident that allowing incumbent automakers to regulate spending on auto ads and on sales campaigns would improve the quality of competition among automakers and heighten these firms’ responsiveness to the ‘true’ demands of the car-buying public?

I suspect that most people would correctly see such an effort by incumbent automakers as being a scheme to restrict competition – a scheme that would benefit greedy incumbent automakers and make them less responsive to the general public.  It’s astonishing, therefore, that so many people continue to believe that the very same such scheme by incumbent politicians is a noble endeavor to improve political competition – an endeavor that, we are unbelievably assured, will make politicians more responsive to the general public.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030​​


Richard Epstein has more here.  (HT George White)