Over and over we see how the conventional wisdom is wrong: that Republicans and conservatives are in bed with government, seeking to unshackle business from regulation — but Democrats and liberals are busy crafting effective regulations to protect the common man from the evils of big business. As it turns out, both Democrats and Republicans love creating regulations, and big business loves these regulations.
How can that be? In the following excerpt from his book The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money, author Timothy P. Carney explains that big business is able to use regulation as a blunt tool against competitors, and as a way to improve its image.
How does regulation help big business?
Excerpt from The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money, by Timothy P. Carney
If regulation is costly, why would big business favor it? Precisely because it is costly.
Regulation adds to the basic cost of doing business, thus heightening barriers to entry and reducing the number of competitors. Thinning out the competition allows surviving firms to charge higher prices to customers and demand lower prices from suppliers. Overall regulation adds to overhead and is a net boon to those who can afford it — big business.
Put another way, regulation can stultify the market. If you’re already at the top, stultification is better than the robust dynamism of the free market. And according to Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman:
The great virtue of free enterprise is that it forces existing businesses to meet the test of the market continuously, to produce products that meet consumer demands at lowest cost, or else be driven from the market. It is a profit-and-loss system. Naturally, existing businesses prefer to keep out competitors in other ways. That is why the business community, despite its rhetoric, has so often been a major enemy of truly free enterprise.
There is an additional systemic reason why regulation will help big business. Congress passes the laws that order new regulations, and executive branch agencies actually construct the regulations. The politicians and government lawyers who write these rules rarely do so without input. Often the rule makers ask for advice and information from labor unions, consumer groups, environmental groups, and industry itself. Among industry the stakeholders (beltway parlance to describe affected parties) who have the most input are those who can hire the most effective and most connective lobbyists. You can guess this isn’t Mom and Pop.
As a result, the details of the regulation are often carefully crafted to benefit, or at least not hurt, big business. If something does not hurt you, or hurts you a little while seriously hindering your competition, it is a boon, on balance.
Another reason big business often cries “regulate me!” is the goodwill factor. If a politician or bureaucrat wants to play a role in some industry, and some executive says, “get lost,” he runs the risk of offending this powerful person. That’s bad diplomacy. Bureaucrats, by their nature, do not like to be told to mind their own business. Supporting the idea of regulation but lobbying for particular details is usually better politics.
Finally there is the principal-agent problem. In a business, who is doing the actual lobbying for or against a regulation? It is typically the company’s government relations person. His or her job is to work with regulators and help the company find its way through the maze of regulation. To the extent government gets out of his or her company’s hair, the government relations executive becomes less important.