By Red State•
Will the Trump administration ensure Hollywood remains driven by market principles?
Past harsh, critical comments from both President Trump and William Barr, his attorney general, demonstrate that the White House accepts the entertainment industry for what it is: a leftist, anti-capitalist blob that seeks not only to distort the culture war and remove Republicans from office, but also to rig the competitive market system to artificially increase its power and influence.
However, the question becomes how does the White House address its abuse in a free market way?
It’s a delicate balancing act, to be sure. While Hollywood often acts anti-competitively for personal gain – see: Steven Spielberg’s attempt to kill Netflix films’ ability to compete for Oscars – like every other industry, it also suffers from big-government edicts that unfairly harm their businesses. And, for all of the donating to Hillary Clinton they just made a few years ago, the movie and music industries have sounded alarm bells with the administration that the latter is a major concern to them.
Despite all the flack that the current White House gets for being rash and careless, the Trump administration is working tirelessly to ensure it treats its Hollywood detractors fairly and in line with the conservative principles it preaches.
Through a sweeping antitrust consent decree review, the Department of Justice is trying to successfully achieve this balance. Since April of last year, it has been examining the antitrust judgements that have been on DoJ’s books for generations. Its objective is to determine which are still needed to protect consumers against anti-competitive behavior, and which, at this point, act more as pointless red tape than anything else.
Seemingly as a result of multiple advocacy pushes, the clear focus of this effort quickly became those governing the entertainment industry. Namely, the Paramount consent decrees, which restrain the movie industry, and the ASCAP/BMI decrees, which created guidelines for the Big Music monopolies to follow.
On Nov. 18, the DoJ came to terms with its first major decision, announcing that it will ask the court to phase out the Paramount movie consent decrees. They prohibit the big five movie studios of the 1940s from harming small theaters by making exclusive deals with regional theaters (“circuit dealing”) and mandating that small theaters purchase their films in bundles (“block booking”).
DoJ made the right move. While at the time these decrees were necessary, modern-day innovation has made them obsolete and harmful to market competition.
Today, the Big Five studios from the 1940s are still far from angels, but there are plenty of new distributors that have taken their power away. Just look at Netflix, which plans to release over 50 films this year – more than Paramount, Disney, and Warner Bros. combined. Unlike in the 1940s, there are plenty of other studios with which theaters can do business should MGM, Warner Bros., RKO, Paramount, and 20th Century Fox – the five companies restrained by the decrees – provide terms to small theaters that are not agreeable. In fact, only two of those companies are still even in the Top 5 for market share.
If the DoJ let the decrees continue to restrict these studios while leaving their major competitors that have risen over the last 70 years unchecked, it would distort the marketplace by picking winners and losers. That would work to the detriment of, not the benefit to, consumer choice.
While the DOJ’s decision on Paramount was the right one for the free market, Barr’s department needs to be extra cautious on its next entertainment industry review – the ASCAP/BMI music consent decrees.
ASCAP and BMI – monopolies that control the rights to music licenses for public performance – are pushing for the DoJ to terminate or modify these antitrust guardrails. In an open letter to DOJ, they claimed that doing so would open the free market, which “would create a more productive, efficient and level playing field for everyone involved.” However, a dozen free market groups, including Frontiers of Freedom, have cautioned the DoJ that, contrary to what those monopolies are saying, doing so would run the free marketplace in the music industry to the ground.
The reason the ASCAP and BMI decrees went into place in the first place was to prevent ASCAP and BMI from enacting predatory pricing on small businesses. After all, the two monopolies’ very existence is emblematic of everything that Washington created antitrust law to prevent.
Both ASCAP and BMI are comprised of otherwise competing songwriters and publishers that banded together into these two groups to set prices for a joint product at a joint price. Both institutions were created with the explicit purpose of working together to increase prices. Put simply, there is nothing competitive or free market about them.
For the relaxation or removal of its decrees, ASCAP and BMI would have to prove that price-fixing is no longer a fundamental concern. As alluded to already, that is going to be hard to do when considering that the whole reason for their creation was to price-fix. It is going to be especially be hard to prove when considering how, unlike in the movie industry, their combined market share has barely moved at all since the 1940s – remaining at 90-percent of all performing rights. The fact that ASCAP had to settle a civil contempt charge with the DoJ for violating its decree just three years ago for nearly $2 million shouldn’t help its case either.
By giving everyone – including its political opponents, like the major entertainment industry conglomerates – the benefit of the doubt and the courtesy of a thorough review of present-day regulations, the Trump administration is yet again proving how serious it is about its deregulatory agenda. It is not governing on partisan or electoral grounds, but rather out of a desire to see fairness and accountability restored for everyone – even its enemies.
The White House is off to a good start, but for the sake of the free market and the consumers who depend on the fair playing field it creates, here’s hoping that it finishes strong.
Hysteria over 'vaping-related lung illness' puts pressure on politicians, but vaping is safer than smoking
There are those who say vaping is a public health menace, that it’s designed to appeal to young people as a gateway to tobacco with no redeeming social values whatsoever. Others who say it’s a public health miracle that’s made it possible for tens of thousands of people addicted to cigarettes to quit and live healthier lives.
It’s not clear who’s right but the evidence thus far hews toward the idea that vaping, from the standpoint of public health, is largely beneficial. There have been a few deaths among young people but, as we’re now finding out, those can be attributed to carelessness, black market formulas based in oil rather than water, and the effort to get a quick high by employing a THC-like additive. They did not result, as the proponents of regulation and abolition led us at first to believe, because all vaping technologies are medically and scientifically unsound.
Vaping is 95 percent safer than smoking, according to some estimates. Unlike inhaling cigarette smoke, vaping is not carcinogenetic and not, as some have claimed, a proven gateway to teen smoking. Yet it’s under attack as never before.
The hysteria over what’s been called “vaping-related lung illness” has generated enormous pressure on politicians from President Donald Trump on down to do something. That’s understandable but not necessarily right. The attack on the science showing that vaping generally leads to reductions in cigarette smoking and that favored vaping is very much a part of helping people quit is leading to a situation where even more people may die.
For more than a few years, the nascent vaping industry has tried to work with the government to set rules everyone can live with. They’re on board with an under-21 vaping ban, and the biggest player in the marketplace, Juul, has voluntarily agreed to withdraw its few flavored formulas from the U.S. market. No more mint, no more crème, no more cucumber, no more fruit and no more mango — even though studies have shown cigarette smokers find it easier to refrain from smoking if the vaping options available to them are flavored.
By The Hill•
Imagine what it must feel like to have a government agent show up at your door, accuse you of violating some rule you’ve never heard of, and threaten you with massive fines and imprisonment if you don’t do what he says.
Wyoming’s Andy Johnson doesn’t have to imagine; he lived it. His alleged offense: he built a pond on his private property without begging D.C. bureaucrats’ permission first. Thankfully, two executive orders issued by President Trump last week aim to make this experience less common.
The focus of these executive orders is agency “guidance” — informal rules that regulate all of us without going through the normal rulemaking process. Before issuing a regulation, agencies are supposed to propose them publicly, explain their reasons, accept public comments and respond to those comments. Although no substitute for democratic accountability, this process at least ensures that Americans have an opportunity to learn about the rules being imposed on them and weigh in against the worst of them.
Unfortunately, agencies often circumvent this process, issuing rules through informal means such as internal memoranda or letters to selected constituents. This means that most of us cannot possibly know the rules that govern our lives, even though we face ruinous punishments should we unknowingly violate one of them.
As Andy Johnson’s experience shows, this results in unfair surprise. Johnson had no reason to expect that building a pond to provide water to his daughter’s horses would turn his life upside down. He got the required state permit and worked with state engineers to maximize the pond’s environmental benefits. The pond, which he built himself, achieved all of them: It restored wetlands in an area sorely lacking them, created habitat for fish and wildlife, and filtered the water that passed through it by allowing sediment and other pollutants to filter to the bottom.
As Johnson was wrapping up this work, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed up. It demanded Johnson rip out the pond or face $37,500 per day in fines. The potential fines would accrue at a rate of about $1 million per month, an incomprehensible sum for Johnson — and most Americans.
He tried to reason with the agency, asking for some explanation of how he could be threatened in this way and what could be done. But the explanation would not be forthcoming. Nor would evidence that Johnson had done nothing wrong make a difference. An expert’s report documenting the pond’s numerous environmental benefits and exemptions from federal regulation fell on deaf ears.
Every month the agency dragged its feet, the fines grew. Two years later, when the potential fines reached $16 million, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on Johnson’s behalf. This forced the agency to finally put its cards on the table, revealing its evidence and explaining how that evidence showed a violation.
EPA asserted the small stream crossing Johnson’s property was a federal waterway, even though it was hundreds of miles from the nearest navigable river. The agency based this claim on a guidance document that purported to stretch the agency’s authority as far as it thought the Supreme Court might let it get away with.
The EPA also pointed to a guidance document to avoid the inconvenient fact that Congress had explicitly exempted the “construction and maintenance of farm or stock ponds” from federal regulation. This guidance interpreted that limit on the agency’s power as narrowly as possible. (If you haven’t noticed, there’s a theme here. Guidance almost always expands agency power and minimizes anything that might get in the agency’s way.)
EPA’s evidence fared even worse. Although it was supposed to show that Johnson’s pond significantly affects a downstream navigable water, the agency’s record showed that no one had ever checked where the water flowed. In fact, the water flows into an irrigation canal and never reaches any navigable water. If EPA had bothered to check, the whole ordeal could have been avoided.
Going forward, President Trump’s executive order will require agencies to review their guidance, revoke much of it, and publicize the rest so that Americans have a fair chance to know the rules that apply to them. The orders will also require agencies to give property owners an explanation of the agency’s allegations and an opportunity to contest them before threats can issue.
Although these orders are a welcome improvement, much work remains if we’re going to hold agencies truly accountable and restore power to the people we elect to wield it. Under our Constitution, only Congress can write laws, not unelected bureaucrats. It’s about time that we return to the Constitution’s design.
Last week, the California Senate passed a new bill that will cause somewhere between one million to two million workers, perhaps even more, to lose their status as independent contractors. If California governor Gavin Newsom signs the bill, an independent contractor will have to satisfy the following legally binding criteria:
The first of these three requirements highlight just how difficult it will be to qualify as an independent contractor in California. And all three requirements taken together will make it nearly impossible to be classified as an independent contractor. The obvious intent of this worker reclassification bill is to force workers who presently work as independent contractors into old-school employer-employee contracts.
Are you looking to hire a gardener, housekeeper, handyman? Be careful, because according to this new bill, all these people may be required to be treated as your formal employees.
This is an incredibly dangerous bill, and not just for gig-economy companies such as Uber and Lyft. Following the bill’s passing in the state senate, media headlines trumpeted “Big Win for Labor,” but this is about as misleading as can be. Rather, this bill is likely to be a big loss for most everyone other than unions, politicians who are supported by unions, and the state’s unemployment and disability reserves. And the biggest losers will be those whom the bill’s “winners” claim to support: immigrants, workers without advanced education, lower-income households, and women, who often require much more flexible schedules than men.
Sharply curtailing the use of independent contractors will raise business costs, which in turn will raise prices, reduce demand, increase business failures, and depress economic activity. When analyzing economic policies, there is no more of an inconvenient truth than the laws of supply and demand, which tell us that this bill will be a huge negative for the State. But the bill’s supporters are turning a blind eye to this.
Higher business costs will not be due to businesses that previously were “exploiting workers and shirking their social responsibilities,” as has been frequently argued by supporters of the bill, including Newsom. Rather, app-based businesses will have to completely change their organizational structure and create entirely different business plans.
App-based businesses such as Uber and Lyft are rightly concerned, because forcing them to hire their independent contractors as formal employees requires them to depart sharply from what they currently do, which is to create proprietary software that matches drivers with riders, and manage how that software is used.
Instead, Uber and Lyft will now become taxi companies, in which they will need a much larger human resources department, as well as a scheduling and strategy department to figure out where to send drivers and when. They would need to deal with the myriad issues that arise when managing employees, including determining which drivers get peak-demand schedules, such as Friday nights, and which get low-demand schedules, such as Sunday mornings.
Not surprisingly, Uber and other app-based companies have pledged $90 million to fight this bill should it become law.
There is no doubt that the costs of complying with this bill will be much higher for gig-economy businesses such as Uber. An important reason this bill is so dangerous is that much of our recent economic growth is from these gig-economy businesses. Forbes estimates that roughly 36 percent of today’s workers are in the gig economy, accounting for about 57 million US jobs.
These 57 million jobs have been created in just the last 10 years. The Great Recession was kept from being much worse because the gig economy developed around the same time and created new and much-needed economic opportunities when jobs across many traditional sectors, including autos, construction, and finance, were plummeting.
Governments should be thanking those who took enormous risks, particularly at the time of the Great Recession, to create these entirely new app-based businesses. They are now a fundamental part of the US economy and are creating substantial new economic opportunities, as well as providing new services that consumers desire.
But instead, California is risking killing the goose that laid those 57 million golden eggs. It is hard to conceive of a worse state-level economic policy that realistically could become law.
So who benefits from this? It is potentially a win for unions, who want the bill because it creates a large new pool of potential union members. I say “a potential win,” because unionization in the private sector is now below six percent, and there is no reason to expect that trying to unionize gig businesses will be any different. And since unions want the bill, it is no surprise that state lawmakers, who are supported by unions, want it.
But this bill can devastate economic opportunities for those who are presently independent contractors and who would be forced to become employees. A recent Los Angeles Times column included interviews with those who presently are independent contractors but who would lose that classification if the bill becomes law.
The interviews predictably show that current independent contractors value schedule flexibility very highly and are extremely concerned about scheduling difficulties should they become employees. One Uber driver noted that his wife was fighting breast cancer, and his ability to determine his own driving schedule meant that he was able to take her to all her medical appointments. He worries about what will happen if he must become an employee and lose his ability to determine his own driving schedule.
Another Uber driver, one who supports the bill, claims that his pay is too low, and hopes that this reclassification will increase his pay. And Uber, which lost $5 billion last year and is currently laying off some of its professional staff, might agree with him that his driving services are undervalued. But what matters is the market value that riders – not rideshare drivers – place on this service. Rideshare drivers who support this bill may very well be in for a negative surprise if this bill becomes law.
Not so long ago, this bill would not have seen the light of day in California. At one time, state political leaders understood that their job was to promote freedom and economic opportunities for all. Sadly, this is no longer the case, and the most vulnerable in the state are the ones who will lose the most if this bill becomes law.
One year ago this month, opponents of the FCC’s decision to loosen Title II regulations told us the Internet as we know it would end. It didn’t.
June 11, 2018, was to be a date that would live in infamy, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed the Obama-era net-neutrality rules. It was a decision met with widespread criticism throughout the country. Fire, brimstone, throttled Internet speeds, the silencing of minority voices, attacks on the LGBTQ community, and the end of the internet as we know it were all imminent, according to liberals. We would be getting the Internet “one word at a time.”
One year after the “day the Internet died,” let’s conduct a post-mortem on the post-mortem.
Starting with Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), who declared that repealing net neutrality would be “the end of the internet as we know it.” He added that it would be “a disastrous decision, it will impact every American. It will give huge advantages to big corporations over small businesses, to big media companies over smaller media outlets.” Has any of this come to pass?
Meanwhile, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer predicted that the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, as the administration called it, would make it impossible to stream content on your phone, and would cause shows to lag on Netflix. Ask Netflix whether its business has taken a hit: The Sandra Bullock thriller Bird Box obliterated its records this past December.
That self-appointed bastion of truth in journalism, CNN, echoed Senator Sanders’s opinion in a headline, opining that with the repeal of net neutrality, it was the “end of the Internet as we know it.”
Senator Ed Markey (D., Mass.) said that repealing net neutrality would “create a digital oligarchy that serves the wealthy few.” Senator Tom Udall (D., N.M.) said that “ISPs would create internet toll lanes” and would stifle innovation and competition. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who has exaggerated once or twice in his life, said that students, innovators, consumers, and entrepreneurs would all suffer because of the repeal. The Twitter account for the Senate Democrats sent a vertically aligned tweet, separated by paragraph breaks, in a hyperbolic attempt to show how burdensome an Internet without net neutrality would become.
The culture industry got in on the act. Hollywood stalwarts such as Cher, Avengers actor Mark Ruffalo, and Alyssa Milano sought to convince the masses that the net-neutrality rules were necessary for Americans to enjoy a throttle-free, open Internet. The tone was apocalyptic.
The ACLU piled on, saying that the quality of Internet connection and the content available on the Internet were “at risk of falling victim to the profit-seeking whims of powerful telecommunication giants.” Inserting class warfare into the fervor, they declared that the FCC could “favor the content providers who have the money to pay for better access.” Anything but net neutrality, we were told, would result in “authoritarian” rule of the World Wide Web.
Yet we’ve seen the opposite of the Internet Armageddon these sages predicted. Internet speeds actually increased by 40 percent in the United States last year. The data show that there has been a record number of broadband deployment in U.S. homes. Investment continued to grow in 2018, as the country, says the U.S. Telecom association, an opponent of Title II regulations, “expanded on the momentum shift we saw in 2017 when the FCC initially signaled its intention to restore a forward-looking regulatory framework for broadband.”
As the United States progress toward 5G, utility-style Internet regulations impede the development of new technology. The stubborn fact is that Americans have access to faster Internet than ever before. A year after the Restoring Internet Freedom Order went into effect, there have not been any attempts to limit access of content providers. ISPs have not changed the way they charge customers, and the doomsday scenario has not come to pass of an Internet where content is provided only on an à la carte basis.
Opponents of net neutrality could have made their case without channeling a dark, ominous, apocalyptic future. For example, some have argued that net-neutrality repeal would permit ISPs greater authority to promote their own services, limiting consumer choice. However, concerns such as these were all too rarely expressed in political rhetoric. Equating the repeal of net neutrality to an attack on the LGBTQ community, an attempt to silence marginalized people, or cutting off access to reproductive rights was an outlandish attempt to mobilize the Left’s political base. A year’s time has revealed as much.
By Ramesh Ponnuru • National Review
Gorsuch confirmed, ISIS defeated, taxes cut: The Trump administration has compiled a solid record of accomplishment in its first year, one that compares well with the records of many of its predecessors.
Two of the biggest accomplishments came late in the year. The prime minister of Iraq declared victory over ISIS on December 9. Republicans reached a deal that seemed to secure passage of a tax bill on December 15. Until then, it appeared possible that 2017 would end without an all-Republican government enacting any major legislation.
Now the Republicans’ policy record looks better, at least as most conservatives see it. The tax bill advances several longstanding conservative objectives. It cuts tax rates for most Americans, slashes the corporate-tax rate for the first time in decades, expands the tax credit for children, limits the reach of the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax, and scales back the tax break for expensive homes. By scaling back the deduction for state and local taxes, it may encourage a more conservative fiscal politics in the states. And it allows drilling to proceed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is taking the lead on this, but expect it to spread to other agencies, including the DOJ. It’s a good start, but there are other problems in the lawfare arena that need to be addressed to ease tensions and restore order to the legal system.
Consider the attacks on Big Oil, which started with a novel legal theory that presupposed the U.S. oil and gas industry deliberately conspired for several decades to deceive the public about climate change.
That theory became an allegation which, when backed by several of the attorneys general of more than a dozen states, turned into litigation that threatens to set a number of dangerous legal precedents while undermining the nation’s economic vitality.
Elon Musk’s business model is a travesty.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been in recent headlines with a recent launch of a spy satellite. In fact, SpaceX is better at well managed and scripted messaging than it is at actually launching cargo into space in a timely and successful fashion. Always the public relations maestro, Musk announced that he plans to reuse every major component of the rocket by 2018. One of the themes SpaceX has carefully crafted is that it represents the future of “free-market” space flight.
The problem with this public relations hype is that it bears little resemblance to reality. Whether it is SpaceX or Musk’s electric car company, Tesla, the business model is based on lining up billions in taxpayer-provided subsidies and obtaining exclusive regulatory benefits and exceptions. Then, they engage in slick marketing to convince everyone how free-market and innovative they are.
Tesla survives on the back of hefty subsidies paid for by hard-working Americans just barely getting by so that a select few can drive flashy, expensive electric sports cars. These subsidies were originally scheduled to expire later this year, and Tesla is lobbying hard to make sure that taxpayers continue to pay $7,500 per car or more to fund their business model. Tesla even tried to force taxpayers to pay for charging stations that would primarily benefit their business. That is not what Musk’s high priced image managers will tell you, but it’s the truth. Continue reading
New burdensome regulation issued every 3 days
The federal government has imposed a new major regulation every three days since President Barack Obama took office, as the administration has shattered the record for implementing regulations costing the economy $100 million or more.
The Obama administration has now issued 600 major regulations, the center-right policy institute the American Action Forum noted in a recent report.
“One year ago, the American Action Forum (AAF) celebrated a regulatory milestone, of sorts: 500 major regulations,” wrote Sam Batkins, director of regulatory policy. “A major regulation has an economic impact of $100 million or more and can significantly affect prices for consumers.” Continue reading
By Rich Lowry • RealClearPolitics
The ride-sharing service is synonymous with the new efficiency and convenience enabled by information technology, and is anathema to regulators and entrenched interests everywhere. Add to the list of its critics the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Hillary Clinton didn’t mention Uber by name but warned about the disruption caused by it and other companies in the so-called sharing economy. Her husband wanted to build a bridge to the 21st century; Hillary worries about the downsides of “advances in technology and expanding global trade.” Continue reading
The law’s perverse incentives will have the nation working fewer hours, and working those hours less productively.
By Casey B. Mulligan • Wall Street Journal
Millions of people pay a significant portion of their income for health insurance so they and their families can get good health care when they need it. The magnitude of their sacrifices demonstrates the importance that people ascribe to health care.
The Affordable Care Act attempts to help low- and middle-income families avoid some of the tough sacrifices that would be necessary to purchase health insurance without assistance. But no program can change the fundamental reality that society itself has to make sacrifices in order to deliver health care to more people. Continue reading
“Clerisy” class does the bidding of tech oligarchs to detriment of the middle class.
by Glenn Harlan Reynolds • USAToday
We’ve heard a lot of election-year class warfare talk, from makers vs. takers to the 1% vs. the 99%. But Joel Kotkin’s important new book, The New Class Conflict, suggests that America’s real class problems are deeper, and more damaging, than election rhetoric.
Traditionally, America has been thought of as a place of great mobility — one where anyone can conceivably grow up to be president, regardless of background. This has never been entirely true, of course. Most of our presidents have come from reasonably well-off backgrounds, and even Barack Obama, a barrier-breaker in some ways, came from an affluent background and enjoyed an expensive private-school upbringing. But the problem Kotkin describes goes beyond shots at the White House. Continue reading
Ride-share services benefit consumers, but the taxi commission doesn’t want to give us a good deal.
The regulatory knives are out for Uber and Lyft, two ride-sharing services that make life easier for consumers and provide employment opportunities in a stagnant economy. Why are regulators unhappy? Basically, because these new services offer insufficient opportunity for graft.
Services like Uber and Lyft disrupt the current regulatory environment. I have the Uber app on my phone. If I need a car in areas where Uber operates, it looks up where I am using GPS, matches me with participating drivers nearby, and in my experience gets me a Town Car in just a few minutes. It’s the comfort of a limo service, with the convenience of a taxicab. I get a better service, the driver gets a job, but now there’s competition for those entrenched companies. Continue reading
by Ramesh Ponnuru
This isn’t a case where the executive branch has simply gone beyond its authority. It’s a case where officials in all three branches of government have found a way to achieve their policy goals while shielding themselves from accountability.
Congress sends bills to the president and the president signs them: That’s how major policy changes are supposed to work. But Congress has never passed large-scale regulations to combat global warming. It has never even voted to authorize such regulations. Continue reading