After stepping off into the snow upon arrival Monday, January 3, President Joe Biden headed back to the White House, where his first action of 2022 was to announce new regulation via an event with farmers and ranchers called Boosting Competition and Reducing Prices in the Meat-Processing Industry. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and White House Competition Council and National Economic Council head Brian Deese also spoke. The Biden “Action Plan” for a More Competitive Meat and Poultry Supply Chain was announced the same day.
When it comes to government central planning, agriculture is about as basic as it gets. The treatment of agriculture as the proper domain of government steering—as opposed to, say, removing extensive elements of government intervention that still cause distortions and preemptl competitive enterprise in the sector—was alarming but not surprising in the #BuildBackBetter era. Biden proclaimed: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism; it’s exploitation.”
The event demonstrated that not only are Biden and Garland are amenable to expanding antitrust and careless government intervention into high-tech and even relatively mundane infrastructure matters, but now we cannot even expect to have freer markets in the agricultural sector.
Biden and his advisors are talking about the government investing hundreds of millions in meat processing, picking winners rather than removing government barriers, and ramping up antitrust enforcement.
Merrick Garland claims that anti-competitive practices are hurting the American people, and that too many industries are too consolidated (as opposed to a federal government lording over them all). In reality, problems of “anti-competitiveness” in industries are not a lack of competition, but of prior government interventions that hinder competition and market entry. Policy based on this misconception is one of the ways in which the costs of regulation and intervention accumulate, lowering GDP and wealth.
Who will push back on this blame of capitalism for the problems that government creates? Not the GOP; Democrats seem to know they can seduce Republicans with antitrust enforcement.
Garland also used the meeting to demean airlines, insurers, book publishers, and more, boasting:
Over the past 10 months, we’ve stepped up our efforts to ensure competition and counter anticompetitive practices across all sectors, from airlines to insurance brokers to book publishers. And we will continue to vigorously enforce our antitrust law — laws, no matter the industry, no matter the company, and no matter the individual.
Garland also announced a “one-stop” portal for people to report violations of the Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts, turning Americans into snitches on one another. When Trump tried to do something similar with social media he was roundly attacked and the effort dropped.
Garland also talked about collaboration between the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission on going after industries. Antitrust stops businesses from colluding with each other, but not government agencies that wield more power than all businesses combined.
Watch for the “American Rescue Plan,” which Biden is using to claim authority for some of these actions, to consolidate federal control in novel ways beyond what we heard at this event. This increase in control can be exploited further by the passage of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which was enacted because the GOP rolls over for “bipartisan infrastructure” the way it does for antitrust regulation. Already, the division of the Office of Management and Budget that is supposed to oversee and restrain regulatory ambitions is instead promising new IIJA-based rules before the Spring 2022 Unified Agenda of federal regulations makes its appearance.
The disregard of expanding competitive enterprise marches on.