Industrial-policy plans often run into unexpected political and legal problems regarding their design and implementation. Even before the VinFast project stalled, North Carolina’s giveaway to a foreign company raised eyebrows. At the time of the award, VinFast had never sold a car in the U.S. Given the state’s long and unsuccessful quest to land an automobile manufacturer, the plan reeked of political desperation, not sound economics. Now it smells worse.
The government’s expedited seizure of local property for manifestly commercial purposes—promised roads and related infrastructure to support only VinFast’s factory—is also a classic case of eminent-domain abuse. While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London (2005) that government may take private property for commercial purposes, many states have since outlawed the practice. North Carolina hasn’t.
Many on the left undoubtedly see these and related problems as mere speed bumps on the road to national progress, whether on climate change or any government priority. But some on the right embrace industrial policy too, with little acknowledgment that it often requires the expansion and exercise of state power in ways that undermine the economy and achieve the left’s priorities. State planning tends to trample on the principles, communities and people that national conservatives supposedly hold dear.
The corporate facility at issue in Kelo was never built, but the “little pink house” was bulldozed anyway. Maybe if the Merry Oaks Baptist Church suffers the same fate, “conservatives” who embrace industrial policy will reconsider their approach.
Antitrust cases cost a great deal of time and money, and yet Lina Khan asserts that FTC will be looking more closely at M&As both past and present — and this assertion should be of concern to any entrepreneur and any corporate investor.
Essentially, the FTC is placing itself as the primary arbiter when it comes to business transactions, and it is conveying that it can predict what the future holds for innovations and acquisitions. This creates an environment of not only great uncertainty for business, especially now that previous transactions may be revisited and reconsidered, but also great risk for the competitiveness of US firms.
The FTC has not only a skewed view of the government’s role for business, but also a limited one in its assessment of the US market. Currently, the Chinese corporation Shein is proving to be one of the fastest growing online apparel retailers with sales surpassing H&M and Zara. The trend for promoting a #SheinHaul is also disrupting sales for Amazon, given the cost-savings consumers can find when buying directly from fast-fashion suppliers, rather than via Amazon’s e-commerce system. So while the FTC calls into question Amazon’s dominant status once again with another antitrust lawsuit, international competition from China may handle Khan’s concerns and quash the American-owned giant in the end. And with Temu hot on the heels of Shein, we may find American firms floundering to keep up at all, thanks to being sidelined by FTC filings.
Max Molden explains that economic competition is a function, not of the currently existing number of competitors in a particular industry (the definition of which, anyway, is always arbitrary), but of the absence of government-erected entry barriers.
Armed with unchecked self-confidence and possessed of an abiding faith in the idea that you must be coerced into altruism, the activists seem to be coming for almost everything you own. In the process, they are waging a crusade against convenience, an assault on comparative advantage, and a war on things that work.
Securing the fossil-fuel-free future that President Joe Biden imagines for us sometime in the 2030s will not be a pain-free proposition — at least that appears to be the conceit of the more radical wing of the environmentalist Left. The scale of the challenge, as they see it, demands sacrifice from us all. One of their most controversial moves is to give up natural-gas-powered appliances, your gas kitchen range foremost among them.
The relentless lobbying of local governments to forbid natural-gas hookups in new buildings had already succeeded in a number of municipalities when the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sought public comment earlier this year on a proposal to impose a ban nationwide. By then, California had announced its own ban, to begin in the next decade, on the sale of new natural-gas-powered appliances, and New York State was set to follow suit.
Or what if you value, you know, value? In most American states, natural-gas appliances cost between 10 and 30 percent less to operate on a regular basis than electric alternatives. What if you can’t afford to switch to the induction ranges — which can cost 60 percent more than gas stovetops — proposed by many anti-gas activists?
The irrepressible self-righteousness of America’s technocratic social engineers may know no limits, but politicians who are responsible to voters just might learn from some of the green movement’s failed experiments. Take the State of New Jersey’s woeful example. In 2022, the Garden State implemented a policy so profoundly foolish that most residents probably doubted it would ever go into effect: an outright ban on single-use packaging — including food containers, plastic shopping bags, and even paper bags — in big-box and grocery stores.
Advocates of this policy routinely present circular logic by insisting that the success of their proscription can be measured in the number of people who comply with it. Yes, banning bags is an effective way to ban bags. But by any other measure, the switch makes little sense.
The alleged environmental benefits are indefinable. Scuttling plastic bags forces consumers to purchase and tote around reusable shopping bags, which require more energy and resources to produce (one European estimate found that reusable bags must be reused 7,100 times before they compete with plastic bags’ carbon footprint) and are less sanitary (as some might recall from the pandemic). The practical impact of the ban was so pronounced for disabled and low-income residents and the charities that serve them that the state baked into the law loopholes that temporarily allowed certain institutions to avoid complying with it.
DeSantis has been marketing himself as Trump with the jagged edges filed off. But Trumpkins love their hero because of his jaggedness. And people repelled by Trump are uninterested in a smoother version of him. Besides, DeSantis is sometimes only slightly smoother.
Wesley Smith, writing at National Review, is correct to write that the emergence of Stanford University’s “Dr. Jay Bhattacharya as a public figure was one of the few salutary consequences of the Covid pandemic.” Another slice:
In the end, the Great Barrington Declaration was validated as probably a better approach than those promoted and/or mandated by our own public-health establishment. (The GBD recommendations were very similar to the approach taken by Sweden, which reaped a lower Covid death rate than most other countries.)
Now, Bhattacharya and colleagues are back with a new Covid-related campaign that they hope will help ensure that the catastrophic failings and consequential loss of trust in our public-health institutions are not repeated.
Known as the Norfolk Group, Bhattacharya and his coauthors hope to create a national commission to explore the official responses to Covid — itemize what went right and wrong — toward the end of planning a better public-health response if/when another pandemic threatens. From the Executive Summary:
In this document we list specific questions on specific topics related to COVID-19 pandemic responses in the United States. We believe these questions are vital for the nation to ask the White House, the CDC, the FDA, and other government officials, as well as state health departments, scientists, and the media. The public deserves answers to these questions so we can learn from our mistakes. Key issues include:
What could have been done to better protect older high-risk Americans, so that fewer of them died or were hospitalized due to COVID-19?
Why was there widespread questioning of infection-acquired immunity by government officials and some prominent scientists? How did this hinder our fight against the virus?
Why were schools and universities closed despite early evidence about the enormous age-gradient in COVID-19 mortality, early data showing that schools were not major sources of spread, and early evidence that school closures would cause enormous collateral damage to the education and mental health of children and young adults?
Why was there an almost exclusive focus on COVID-19 to the detriment of recognizing and mitigating collateral damage on other aspects of public health, including but not limited to, cancer screening and treatment, diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, childhood vaccinations, and mental health?
Why did the CDC fail to collect timely data to properly monitor and understand the pandemic? Why did we have to rely on studies from private initiatives and from other countries to understand the behavior of the virus and the effects of therapeutics, including vaccines?
Why was there so much emphasis and trust in complex epidemiological models, which are by nature unreliable during the middle of an epidemic, with unknown input parameters and questionable assumptions?
Could therapeutic trials have been run in a more timely manner? How was information on drug effectiveness and safety disseminated to doctors and clinicians? Were effective therapeutics easily accessible across the population? How did certain drugs become heavily politicized?
Why did vaccine randomized trials not evaluate mortality, hospitalization, and transmission as primary endpoints? Why were they terminated early? Why were there so few studies from the highest-quality CDC and FDA vaccine safety systems?
Why was the USA slow to approve and roll out critical COVID-19 testing capacity? Why was there more emphasis on testing young asymptomatic individuals than on testing to better protect older high-risk Americans? Why was so much effort spent on contact-tracing efforts?
Why was there an emphasis on community masking and mask mandates, which had weak or no data to support them, at the expense of efficient and critical COVID-19 mitigation efforts? Why did the CDC or NIH not fund large randomized trials to evaluate the efficacy and potential harms of mask wearing? Why didn’t policy recommendations change after the publication of randomized trial data from Denmark and Bangladesh which showed no or minimal efficacy of mask wearing by the public?