U.S. Policy Needs More Humility

(Photo illustration by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images.)

Dear Capitolisters,

As a small-L libertarian with at least a modicum of self-awareness, I know that on many political issues I’m just wired a little differently than much of the general public. (An understatement, I guess.) Yet I remain amazed by the ease with which much of modern society and the media seamlessly move from a personal opinion of “I think X is bad” to “Yes, a federal agency should definitely issue a blanket, unilateral ban of X.” This prohibitionist mindset sets off all my libertarian spidey senses—on law, politics, economics, principles, etc.—but it also raises practical and prudential concerns that, I’d think, would move my skepticism beyond the think tank halls and deep into Normieville.

Two recent episodes, however, really have me questioning that assumption: the FTC’s ambitious proposal to make almost all non-compete agreements—including ones already in place—“illegal” under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, and a rumored proposal, since walked back, by the Consumer Products Safety Commission to ban the sale of natural gas stoves.

Judging from the widespread reaction to each proposal online, you’d be forgiven for thinking that both bans were total no-brainers and that opposition came from only cranks and cronies. Non-competes, we were told, do serious and widespread damage to all American workers’ wages and mobility, are never entered into legitimately, and provide absolutely no economic benefits. Anyone skeptical of a total ban thus is just a bootlicking conservative shill for Big Employer. Gas stoves, on the other hand, give millions of American children asthma, promote dirty, rotten fossil fuel consumption, and are totally inferior to new electric induction ranges. Skeptics are just baby-hating, foodie-poseurs and right-wing culture warriors who… as Jonah documented a few days ago, totally made the whole thing up anyway?

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