The “simple presence of trade, exchange, and financial institutions is not exclusive to capitalism. These have been features of almost every society in human history, free and unfree,” continued Magness, who has a doctorate in history from George Mason University.
Historian [Seth] Rockman also asserts an intrinsic link between slave-grown cotton and the American industrial revolution: “If you don’t have slave-grown cotton, you don’t have an American industrial revolution.”
Yet Magness counters this by noting “history provides numerous examples — Canada, Japan, several European states — of economies that underwent massive industrialization in the 19th century without the alleged benefits of slavery.” Even more, he added, “the plantation system may have enriched a small, elite group of slave-owners during its existence, but slavery is unambiguously harmful to economic development in the long run.”
More fundamentally, economists have “long rejected” the practice of explaining the economic history of an entire era in terms of one good or product, such as oil or railroads — or slave-picked cotton, he wrote.
Much ink has been spilled about Lina Khan’s attempts to remake federal antitrust law as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Less has been said about her disregard for the rule of law and due process and the way senior FTC officials enable her. I have failed repeatedly to persuade Ms. Khan and her enablers to do the right thing, and I refuse to give their endeavor any further hint of legitimacy by remaining. Accordingly, I will soon resign as an FTC commissioner.
Since Ms. Khan’s confirmation in 2021, my staff and I have spent countless hours seeking to uncover her abuses of government power. That task has become increasingly difficult as she has consolidated power within the Office of the Chairman, breaking decades of bipartisan precedent and undermining the commission structure that Congress wrote into law. I have sought to provide transparency and facilitate accountability through speeches and statements, but I face constraints on the information I can disclose—many legitimate, but some manufactured by Ms. Khan and the Democratic majority to avoid embarrassment.
I am not alone in harboring concerns about the honesty and integrity of Ms. Khan and her senior FTC leadership. Hundreds of FTC employees respond annually to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. In 2020, the last year under Trump appointees, 87% of surveyed FTC employees agreed that senior agency officials maintain high standards of honesty and integrity. Today that share stands at 49%.
Many FTC staffers agree with Ms. Khan on antitrust policy, so these survey results don’t necessarily reflect disagreement with her ends. Instead, the data convey the staffers’ discomfort with her means, which involve dishonesty and subterfuge to pursue her agenda. I disagree with Ms. Khan’s policy goals but understand that elections have consequences. My fundamental concern with her leadership of the commission pertains to her willful disregard of congressionally imposed limits on agency jurisdiction, her defiance of legal precedent, and her abuse of power to achieve desired outcomes.
Three additional examples are illustrative. In November 2022, the commission issued an antitrust enforcement policy statement asserting that the FTC could ignore decades of court rulings and condemn essentially any business conduct that three unelected commissioners find distasteful. If conduct can be labeled with a nefarious adjective—“coercive,” “exploitative,” “abusive,” “restrictive”—it may violate the FTC Act of 1914. But the new policy contains no descriptions or definitions of these terms, many of which also lack context in the law. The commission also candidly explained that its analysis under the new policy may depart from prior antitrust precedent, and identified previously lawful conduct as now suspect. In other words, the new policy adopts an “I know it when I see it” approach. But due process demands that the lines between lawful and unlawful conduct be clearly drawn, to guide businesses before they face a lawsuit.
President Biden first broke political norms by installing Ms. Khan as FTC Chair immediately after the Senate confirmed her by a 69-28 vote to serve on the commission. It’s customary for a President when nominating members to independent agencies to announce at the same time if they will serve as chair. Mr. Biden didn’t.
The Chair has considerable power to control hiring, direct investigations and set the agenda. Many Senate Republicans might have opposed Ms. Khan as Chair because of her long record agitating to replace the antitrust consumer-welfare standard that Robert Bork helped develop in the 1970s.
To advance the progressive agenda, she has also breached her ethical obligations. She assured Senators during her confirmation hearing that she would “seek the guidance of the relevant ethics officials at the agency and proceed accordingly” if she were asked to recuse herself from a matter.
Federal ethics rules require that executive-branch employees recuse themselves if “a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would question his impartiality in the matter.” That fits Ms. Khan’s situation on many issues. Prior to joining the FTC, she called for the government to break up Big Tech companies and block future acquisitions.
In 2017 she wrote to then-acting FTC Chair Maureen Ohlhausen asking the agency “to prohibit mergers between Facebook . . . [and] other new and promising products and services.” The letter stated that Meta “has become too big and complex for any executive team to manage responsibly” and that all transactions involving Meta should be blocked.
Yet Ms. Khan declined to recuse herself from the FTC review of Meta’s acquisition of virtual reality app developer Within Unlimited. As Ms. Wilson wrote in a dissent, Ms. Khan either did not “seek the guidance of the relevant ethics officials at the agency and proceed accordingly” or “asked for guidance and then ignored the recommendation.”
Democratic commissioners Rebecca Slaughter and Alvaro Bedoya required heavy redactions of Ms. Wilson’s statement, so we can’t know what ethical advice Ms. Khan received. Lack of transparency appears to be the new norm at the agency.
James Pethokoukis is correct: “Antitrust advocacy should be informed by Business 101.” [DBx: And, I add, also by Econ 101.]
Arnold Kling continues to offer wisdom. A slice:
Robert Higgs argued that the length and severity of the Great Depression in the United States was because we experienced regime uncertainty. Both revolutionaries out of power and radicals within the Roosevelt Administration created doubts in the minds of capitalists that long-term investments would be sufficiently protected to earn rewards.
Regime uncertainty undermines the banking system. If the government will not be there tomorrow to enforce contracts between banks and borrowers, then how can depositors be confident that their own contractual relationships with banks will be honored? When the fall of a government is imminent, worried depositors rush to transfer money overseas.
In fact, for banking to work, banks must convince their customers that the bank is a perpetually-lived institution. Back in the day, that is what those marble lobbies were all about. As soon as the public gets a whiff that the bank might fail, unless another bank or the government steps in with a guarantee, the people will run from the bank, and it will fail.
I don’t think either [Bruno] Leoni or [C.K.] Allen (or Hayek) thought judges were infallible, nor this process always conducive to lasting and uncontroversial outcomes. But you can argue that the pluralism of judges makes human fallibility less of an issue, than attempting to put all your eggs in the basket of legislated law.
In the blink of an eye, the fundamental, bedrock principles on which we have based our lives and centred our grasp on reality have fallen away, to become grains of sand blown about by the wind and waves of a censor’s whim. Among them: individual autonomy and agency, respect for human dignity, the presumption of innocence, freedom of movement and freedom of speech, medical ethics, the right to work, the rule of law, biology itself – the list goes on and on. Ordinary humans are assumed to be a vector for deadly disease. Ordinary debate is categorised as treason. Ordinary grief is denied comfort. Ordinary joy is denied expression.
Ordinariness itself has been shown to be vulnerable to criminalisation by power-crazed Premiers – what is more ordinary than to walk on a beach, or push a child on a swing, or breath fresh air? Or to play golf, or to visit your gran, or have a wedding reception? All of these things, and more, were at one time or another during the last three years against the law in Victoria.
If you wanted to harm the health and well being of the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth, you could not have come up with something more effective than the lockdowns.