Pluralistic: 18 Oct 2022 Being good at your job is praxis

Today's links

A photocopier in an office copy room; a silhouetted figure is dealing a flying kick to it.

Being good at your job is praxis (permalink)

You know the joke.

Office manager: "$75 just to kick the photocopier?"

Photocopier technician: "No, it's $5 to kick the photocopier and $70 to know where to kick it."

The trustbusters in the Biden administration know precisely where to kick the photocopier, and they're kicking the shit out of it. You love to see it.

Last July, the Biden admin published an Executive Order enumerating 72 actions that administrative agencies could take without any further action from Congress – dormant powers that the administration already had, but wasn't using:

This memo was full of deep cuts, like the Competition in Contracting Act of 1984, Northern Pac. Ry Co v US (1958), the Bank Merger Act and the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, and the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921:

The memo opened with the kind of soaring rhetoric that I absolutely dote on, a declaration of the end of Reagonomics and its embrace of monopoly:

But the memo didn't just offer red meat to tube-feeding activist cranks like me: it also set out 72 specific, technical activities that would make profound, material changes in the economy and improvements to the lives of every person in America, and then the administration executed every one of those actions:

They knew where to kick the photocopier and boy did they kick it – hard.

The White House action has Tim Wu's fingerprints all over it. He's the brilliant, driven law professor who's gone to work as Biden's tech antitrust czar. But Wu isn't alone: he's part of a trio of appointees who are all expert photocopier kickers. There's Jonathan Kanter at the DoJ and Lina Khan at the FTC.

Khan is a model of administrative competence and ideological coherence. Her tenure has included lots of soaring rhetoric to buoy the spirits of people like me:

But it's also included lots of extremely skillful ju-jitsu against the system, using long-neglected leverage points to Get Shit Done, rather than just grandstanding or demanding that Congress take action. Here's the FTC's latest expert kick at the photocopier: action on Right to Repair that exercises existing authority:

The Right to Repair fight is a glaring example of democratic dysfunction. Americans broadly and strongly support the right to fix their own stuff, or to take their stuff to the repair depot of their choice. How broadly? Well, both times that the question has been on the Massachusetts ballot, there was massive participation and the measures passed with ~80% majorities:

But despite this, state-level attempts to pass R2R bills have been almost entirely crushed by a coalition of monopolists, led by Apple, including John Deere, GM, Wahl Shavers, Microsoft, Google, and many other giant corporations who want the power to tell you your property is beyond repair and must be condemned to an e-waste dump:

Right to Repair is a case study for the proposition that "ordinary citizens… get the policies they favor, but only because those policies happen also to be preferred by the economically-elite citizens who wield the actual influence."

Enter the photocopier kickers, wearing boots. The same month that the White House dropped its massive antitrust executive order, it also published an executive order on Right to Repair, including electronics repair:

The EO built on the evidence compiled through the FTC's "Nixing the Fix" report:

But it also identified that the FTC already had the power to do Right to Repair, in its existing Congressional authorization:

The Biden antitrust strategy is powerful because it recognizes that every administrative agency has powers that can be brought to bear to slow down the anticompetitive flywheel that has allowed giant corporations to extract monopoly profits and then launder them into pro-monopoly policies.

Which brings me to today's news: the FTC has carefully reviewed the powers it has under its existing Energy Labeling Rule (you know, the rule that produces those Energystar stickers on appliances) and concluded that it can also force companies to publish repair manuals under this rule:

As USPIRG's Nathan Proctor told Motherboard's Matthew Gault, "When Congress passed energy conservation policies decades ago, it included the ability to require Right to Repair access. While that provision has gone unnoticed for too long, it’s not surprising it was written that way."

The FTC is now planning to exercise that long dormant authority in a game-changing way – to kick the photocopier really, really well. It is seeking public comment on "whether lack of access to repair instructions for covered products is an existing problem for consumers; whether providing such information would assist consumers in their purchasing decisions or product use; whether providing such information would be unduly burdensome to manufacturers; and any other relevant issues"

The Trump years were brutal. Every time we turned around, some Trumpy archvillain was twirling his mustache and announcing an evil plot. Yet so many of these turned out to be nothingburgers – not because they were sincere in their intentions, but because they lacked administrative competence.

Trump embodied administrative incompetence. He was very good at commanding the news cycle, and very good at riling up his base, but he had no idea where to kick the photocopier, and every expert photocopier kicker that Trump hired got immediately fired, because they would insist that Getting Shit Done required patience and precision, not a deluge of chaotic governance-by-tweeting.

To the extent that Trumpland Got Shit Done – packing the courts, handing out trillions in tax gifts to the ultra-rich – it was in spite of Trump and his trumpies, and because of the administratively competent wing of the party: McConnell, Romney, et al. In the GOP, "establishment" is a slur meaning "competent."

This isn't to say that Trump wasn't dangerous – he absolutely was. But it does militate for an understanding of politics that pays close attention to competence as well as virtue or wickedness.

It's one of the things that was very exciting about the Elizabeth Warren campaign – those long-ass policy documents she dropped were eye-wateringly detailed photocopier-kicking manuals for the US government.

Biden himself isn't much of a photocopier kicker. He's good at gladhanding, but the photocopier kickers in his administration represent a triumph of the party's progressive wing. And therein lies a key difference between the parties: in the GOP, the competent are the establishment; in the Democrats, the establishment are the ones who can't or won't act, and the progressives have got their boots on and are ready to kick.

Temple University Libraries (modified)

CC BY 2.0:

(Image: Temple University Libraries, CC BY 2.0, modified)

Hey look at this (permalink)

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago God’s Mechanics: Vatican Astronomer reconciles religion and science

#10yrsago Math journal accepts computer-generated nonsense paper

#10yrsago New Zealand record industry flubs its first three-strikes prosecution

#5yrsago The video game industry’s best-of-class DRM is routinely cracked in less than 24 hours

#5yrsago A curiously incomplete history of the early years of DRM

#5yrsago A working modem using HTML5 sound

#5yrsago Trump’s “free market” FCC loves monopolies, especially when they rip off prisoners’ families

#1yrago At last, a new Econ 101 textbook: CORE's "The Economy" vs homo economicus

#1yrago Copyfraudster censors investigation of implausible covid gadget: When a US law is used to censor Indian scientific reporting

#1yrago Corporatism made John Deere ripe for a strike

Colophon (permalink)

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