Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Reagan Revolution at the FTC

Lately I've been giving some thought to Kid-Vid, the attempt of the FTC under Carter-era Chairman Michael Pertschuk to regulate chidren's advertising.  Here's news, via Legal Scholarship Blog, of a conference on the Enlightenment that evidently followed that Dark Age.  It is Lessons Since the Reagan Revolution at the FTC: A 30-Year Perspective on Competition and Consumer Policies, to be held at George Mason University School of Public Policy on Friday, September 30, 2011, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
By the late 1970’s, the Federal Trade Commission had greatly expanded in size and scope of its powers. The Commission’s size, lack of focus, and overreach of its regulatory mandate drew the ire of parents, business leaders, and members of Congress. No less than The Washington Post opined that the FTC was a “National Nanny.” In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed James C. Miller III as Chairman of the FTC. Miller was the first Ph.D. Economist to serve as Commissioner. Under Chairman Miller’s leadership, the FTC was reformed in a number of ways. Miller cut the Commission’s budget and set a new direction involving more private initiative and self-regulation by industry as well as providing more information to consumers to enable them to make their own decisions. He lessened government intervention in the marketplace and was committed to integrating economic analysis into the development of investigations, prosecutions, and justifications of remedies. Miller asserted that our system of competition combined with laws that proscribe only economically inefficient transactions “affects not only our economic well-being, but our basic liberties.”

Stephen Calkins, a leading antitrust scholar and former FTC official, writes “The great thing about Jim Miller, for the FTC, was that he cared about and was committed to the institution, and it showed.” Now, as the FTC once more gains expanded authority and broad new powers for consumer protection and antitrust enforcement, and moves to regulate online privacy, continued discussion of Miller’s reforms is more important than ever. This conference will reexamine the important changes implemented in the early 80’s, evaluate their lasting impact, and consider the insights gained for current and future FTC practices and policies. The conference proceedings will be published in a peer-reviewed journal or an edited volume.