Background: the Federal Trade Commission
got a bug up ah, decided that some boilerplate, non-binding, non-enforceable language in the Music Teachers National Association (a small nonprofit out of Ohio) represented an attempt to jack up prices in the high-stakes, ruthlessly competitive world of piano lessons (average lesson, according to the WSJ: $30). Not having any friends in court – and no, I don’t think that I’ll strike that out, given that it’s brutally truthful – the MTNA simply surrendered to the tender mercies of the FTC. The result?
This October, MTNA signed a consent decree—its contents as ludicrous as the investigation. The association did not have to admit or deny guilt. It must, however, read a statement out loud at every future national MTNA event warning members against talking about prices or recruitment. It must send this statement to all 22,000 members and post it on its website. It must contact all of its 500-plus affiliates and get them to sign a compliance statement.
The association must also develop a sweeping antitrust compliance program that will require annual training of its state presidents on the potential crimes of robber-baron piano teachers. It must submit regular reports to the FTC and appoint an antitrust compliance officer. (The FTC wanted the officer to be an attorney, but Mr. Ingle explained that this would “break the bank,” so the agency—how gracious—is allowing him to fill the post.) And it must comply with most of this for the next 20 years.
The MTNA is not yet free of fear; the FTC has still to approve the consent decree. An FTC spokesman told me the agency does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations. The organization to this day has no idea how it became a target, nor will it ever because the FTC doesn’t have to provide it.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: our federal bureaucracy. If you were to ask one hundred Democrats, picked at random, whether or not they intended their support for big government to result in a world where a bunch of unelected bureaucrats could go wilding on a Cincinnati music teachers’ nonprofit, probably about ninety or so would say “No.” The problem is, if you asked them if they ever did anything to make sure that said bureaucrats would not have an opportunity to go wilding on said nonprofit, even more of them would say “No.” Despite the fact that we’ve known for decades that bureaucracies creep, and government expands, and government officials like to exercise their power. Apparently, once the government bureau is set up, Heroic Civic Space Newts are supposed to pop out of the aether and make sure that only the BAD people get drowned in paperwork*. That this does not happen is never adequately addressed by liberals; or, indeed, ever addressed at all. Which is a shame; we might trust big government more if its most devoted adherents showed any sign of wanting to ensure that big government functioned properly.
Assuming that either they, or it, even could.
Moe Lane (crosspost)
*This is a remarkably obscure literary reference, even for me.