FTC Names British Government Agent to Senior Position

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The Federal Trade Commission recently appointed a British government agent to a senior management position, raising serious concerns about the FTC’s commitment to US sovereignty and the increasing role of unelected foreign antitrust regulators in restricting the property rights and economic liberties of American citizens.

On June 22, the FTC named Dr. Alison Oldale as deputy director for antitrust in the agency’s Bureau of Economics. Dr. Oldale, who is not a US citizen, is currently the chief economist for the United Kingdom’s Competition Commission (UKCC). According to a UKCC press release, Dr. Oldale will be “on a year’s secondment” —  in effect, on loan to the FTC — and she is expected to return to UKCC after completing her service in the US. The FTC’s press release on Dr. Oldale’s appointment did not disclose this.

Dr. Oldale joined the UKCC in 2009 after working as a director at LECG Corporation, an international consulting firm that provided expert testimony in antitrust litigation. LECG employees were frequent participants in FTC policy workshops, and David Scheffman, a former LECG director, served twice as director of the FTC’s Bureau of Economics. LECG ceased operations earlier this year.

At the Bureau of Economics, Dr. Oldale will oversee approximately 45 economists and support staff working in two groups to review potential antitrust cases. While the FTC’s Bureau of Competition — one of the agency’s two enforcement arms —  makes the final decisions on what cases to prosecute, the Bureau of Economic plays a critical policymaking role, according to FTC documents:

Staff economists work closely with the attorney staff in designing investigations, formulating candidate economic theories, and searching for confirming or denying evidence in documents, from customers, or industry sources. BE [Bureau of Economics] takes the lead role in data gathering and econometric analysis regarding various issues connected with a case. For antitrust cases, such analysis might relate to demand estimation or price comparisons across markets with differing structures. … Interaction between BE and the parties' economists is now more common that it once was during investigations, due, in part, to the increased use of econometric work by the enforcement agencies and outside parties in merger investigations.

In the course of an FTC antitrust investigation —  which can last for months if not years — Bureau of Economics staff has access to private business documents obtained from investigation targets. The FTC is not subject to the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause and judicial oversight requirements, and antitrust investigations often devolve into fishing expeditions designed to uncover information that can be used (or misused) into forcing companies to take certain actions desired by Commission officials.

As deputy director, Dr. Oldale will be in a position where she can directly influence the decision-making of American companies and, more importantly, provide cover for the predetermined actions of Bureau of Competition officials who wish to oppose a particular merger or business practice for political reasons. This is a sensitive position, and it is highly questionable for the FTC to appoint an agent of a foreign government to it, especially since there is no shortage of similarly credentialed economists in the US who could fill the role.

Indeed, the FTC seems to value its relationship with the UKCC over any perceived duty to serve the American public. David Saunders, chief executive of the UKCC, said in a statement that Dr. Oldale’s tenure at the FTC “will bring longer-term benefits for us and further strengthen our relationship with the FTC.” Yet it’s unclear how Americans benefit from that relationship. The UKCC is a the democratically elected agent of the British people. Like the FTC, it is an unelected bureaucracy with only nominal ties to the elected constitutional government.

These types of inter-bureaucratic relationships only widen the chasm between the public and the government, because they foster the creation of networks that transcend any attempt at constitutional limits. The FTC understands this. That explains not only Dr. Oldale’s appointment, but the Commission’s creation and leadership of the International Competition Network, a UN-type organization composed of unelected antitrust regulators from around the world. The ICN is yet another forum where the FTC can meet with its foreign counterparts away from prying eyes —  their most recent meeting was in the Netherlands — and coordinate policies that directly inhibit the rights and liberties of American citizens.

That said, this is not first and foremost a “one world order” scheme for its own sake. The international antitrust community is ultimately a cartel designed to advance the private economic interests of its participants. Dr. Oldale is a perfect example; a person who has moved between government and private “consulting,” where her value increases as she becomes more and more connected to the key antitrust decision-makers around the world.

That Bureau of Economics attracts dozens of economists in the first place by offering a credential that makes the holder more valuable to future academic and corporate employers. For instance, Dr. Oldale’s predecessor as deputy director, Howard Shelanski, has made a career of going through the revolving door of academia and government, serving stints at the FTC, FCC, and the White House in between professorships at Berkeley and Georgetown. Other academics have taken temporary leave from their grueling teaching duties to serve temporary assignments —  “secondments,” as the British call it —  at the FTC as “scholars-in-residence” or staff economists. As one lawyer told me, the Bureau of Economics is really the FTC’s own private think-tank. Except that it’s forcibly funded by taxpayers who are largely kept in the dark about the group’s actual work.

The presence of academic economists at the FTC does not improve the agency’s work in any sense; it merely furthers the state’s corruption of academia. When would-be scholars know the best way to advance their careers is by currying favor with the lawyer-politicians who run the antitrust agencies, they will adjust their research and temper their criticisms accordingly. The public, and their elected representatives, are in turn less eager to challenge agency decisions supported by the “empirical” evidence that these economists provide. And in the end, if the FTC doesn’t get the results it wants, it can simply go out and hire new economists —  of, if necessary, import them from a foreign country.

S.M. Oliva [send him mail] is director of the National Antitrust Hall of Fame.

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