In a move reminiscent of the George W. Bush administration, the Obama administration is cracking down on the Minerals Management Service…by changing the agency’s name.
The MMS has fallen into disrepute because, well, as E&ENews PM put it, “employees accepted gifts from oil and gas companies, participated in ‘a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity,’ and considered themselves exempt from federal ethics rules.” The “drug and sex abuse [occurred] both inside the program and ‘in consort with industry.’ ” The New York Times reports that MMS employees “viewed pornography at work and even considered themselves part of industry.” Yet this government agency somehow failed to prevent the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
So the Obama administration is giving MMS a makeover. The agency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service will hereafter be known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement.
That’s exactly how the Bush administration dealt with the unpopularity of the Health Care Financing Administration, the agency responsible for Medicare and Medicaid: by changing its name to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. With candor and humor — two scarce commodities in such circles — Bush’s HCFA/CMS administrator Tom Scully explained the rationale:
The health care market … is extremely muted and extremely screwed up and it’s largely because of my agency. For those of you who don’t follow CMS, which used to be called HCFA, we changed the name because it was so well loved. I always say it’s kind of like when Enron comes out of bankruptcy, they’ll probably change their name. So, HCFA—Secretary Thompson and I decided to confuse everybody. We changed the name to CMS for a couple of years so people wouldn’t realize we’re actually HCFA. So far, it’s worked reasonably well.
For more on the pervasive cozy relationship between big business and big government, read Tim Carney’s Obamanomics.
For even more candor and humor concerning Medicare, read David Hyman’s Medicare Meets Mephistopheles.
There’s an article today in the Wall Street Journal showing how already‐established companies and their union allies will use the coercive power of government to thwart competition. The article specifically discusses efforts by less competitive supermarkets to block new Wal‐Mart stores. Not that Wal‐Mart can complain too vociferously. After all, this is the company that endorsed a key provision of Obamacare in hopes its hurting lower‐cost competitors. The moral of the story is that whenever big business and big government get in bed together, you can be sure the outcome almost always is bad for taxpayers and consumers.
A grocery chain with nine stores in the area had hired Saint Consulting Group to secretly run the antidevelopment campaign. Saint is a specialist at fighting proposed Wal‐Marts, and it uses tactics it describes as “black arts.” As Wal‐Mart Stores Inc. has grown into the largest grocery seller in the U.S., similar battles have played out in hundreds of towns like Mundelein. Local activists and union groups have been the public face of much of the resistance. But in scores of cases, large supermarket chains including Supervalu Inc., Safeway Inc. and Ahold NV have retained Saint Consulting to block Wal‐Mart, according to hundreds of pages of Saint documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and interviews with former employees. …Supermarkets that have funded campaigns to stop Wal‐Mart are concerned about having to match the retailing giant’s low prices lest they lose market share. …In many cases, the pitched battles have more than doubled the amount of time it takes Wal‐Mart to open a store, says a person close to the company. … For the typical anti‐Wal‐Mart assignment, a Saint manager will drop into town using an assumed name to create or take control of local opposition, according to former Saint employees. They flood local politicians with calls, using multiple phones to make it appear that the calls are coming from different people, the former employees say. …Former Saint workers say the union sometimes pays a portion of Saint’s fees. “The work we’ve funded Saint to do to preserve our market share and our jobs is within our First Amendment rights,” says Jill Cashen, spokeswoman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Safeway declined to comment. …Mr. Saint says there is nothing illegal about a company trying to derail a competitor’s project. Companies have legal protection under the First Amendment for using a government or legal process to thwart competition, even if they do so secretly, he says.
- Nat Hentoff: If you’re looking for reform in Cuba, don’t rest your hopes on Raul Castro.
- Tim Carney, author of Obamanomics: How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses gives the inside scoop on why big government is good for big business.
- The Patriot Act: What should go, and what should stay?
- Dear Poor People‐ “Please remain poor.” Sincerely, Obamacare.
- Podcast: “Obamanomics in Health Care” featuring Tim Carney.
The late George Stigler, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, is famous in part because of his work on “regulatory capture,” which occurs when interest groups use the coercive power of government to thwart competition and undeservedly line their own pockets. A perfect (and distasteful) example of this can be found in today’s Washington Post, which reports that the IRS plans to impose new regulations dictating who can prepare tax returns. Not surprisingly, the new rules have the support of big tax preparation shops such as H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt, which see this as an opportunity to squeeze smaller competitors out of the market. The IRS and the big firms claim more regulations are needed to protect consumers from shoddy work, but this is the usual rationale for licensing laws and other government‐imposed barriers to entry and the Institute for Justice has repeatedly shown such rules are designed to benefit insiders rather than consumers.
Tax preparers do make many mistakes, to be sure, but that is a reflection of a nightmarish tax code, and the annual tax test conducted by Money magazine showed that even the most‐skilled professionals — such as CPAs, tax lawyers, and enrolled agents — were unable to figure out how to correctly fill out a hypothetical family’s tax return. But since the IRS routinely makes major mistakes as well, perhaps the moral of the story is that we need fundamental tax reform, not IRS rules to create a cartel for the benefit of H&R Block and other big firms. Would any of this be an issue if we had a flat tax or national sales tax?