Consumer Protection Non-Enforcement

Wall Street Journal: New FTC chief is expected to name regulatory skeptic to consumer post. J. Howard Beales III, an academic whose studies have been used by a tobacco company and other large consumer-goods makers to fight federal regulations, could assume the post as early as next week, a government official said.

Once again, President Bush is showing his contempt for coalition politics — and a flat-out return to the days of the Reagan administration despite the lack of mandate.

Reagan and his band of zealots appointed into every major antitrust and consumer protection office people whose jobs were, essentially, to refuse to enforce the law, or at least to enforce the law as little as possible. The new head of the Federal Trade Commission, Timothy Muris, is a hardline advocate of letting business do its thing no matter what the cost to competition and consumers.

Now Muris, plainly with the approval of the Bush people, is putting someone into the top consumer-protection job who doesn’t believe in the mission. If consumers want protection, these people say, consumers can protect themselves.

If the balance were even — if individual consumers genuinely had any leverage against the giant corporations that increasingly run our lives — that argument would make sense. The reality, of course, is that Big Business has the upper hand in almost every contact you and I have with these companies.

Bill Clinton was, contrary to the bleatings of the anti-regulation crowd, no friend of consumers. He routinely took the side of the big companies except in a few highly publicized cases such as the Microsoft antitrust case, where the company’s anticompetitive behavior became too brazen to ignore.

For at least the next three and a half years, if people like Beale ascend to these kinds of jobs, don’t look for any federal help at all. If you get ripped off or otherwise cheated, don’t bother to call the cops. It’s your problem.


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