from Holman Jenkins, Jr. at The Wall Street Journal, Regulation vs. The American People
If Mr. Obama was “deeply frustrated,” the reason was the American people’s lack of support for his agenda. And what the Times calls his regulatory strategy would better be described as unbridled rent seeking.
That’s the term economists use for exercising government power to create private gains for political purposes. Consider:
Mr. Obama’s bank policy dramatically consolidated the banking industry, which the government routinely sues for billions of dollars, with the proceeds partly distributed to Democratic activist groups.
His consumer-finance agency manufactured fake evidence of racism against wholesale auto lenders in order to facilitate a billion-dollar shakedown.
His airline policy, urged by labor unions, led to a major-carrier oligopoly, with rising fares and profits.
His FDA is seeking to extinguish small e-cigarette makers for the benefit of Big Tobacco and Big Pharma (whose smoking-cessation franchise is threatened by cheap and relatively safe electronic cigarettes).
We could go on. Mr. Obama’s own Council of Economic Advisers complains about the increasing cartelization of the U.S. economy—as if this were not a natural output of regulation. In a much-noted Harvard Business Review piece this spring, James Bessen, an economist, lawyer and software entrepreneur, cites increased “political rent seeking” to explain the puzzle of rising corporate profits in the absence of job creation and economic growth.
The truth is, government playing neutral arbiter over the private economy doesn’t produce rents. A stable and predictable regulatory system produces only mingy or non-existent rents.