The American dream is built on the backs of innovators and entrepreneurs. People who create, invent, and work hard, despite the obstacles, can succeed in this country. Unfortunately, bureaucrats and politicians in federal and state government have decided to erect additional hurdles in front of these pioneers. Energy development stagnates through years of environmental reviews. Inventors face unending attacks from antitrust suits.
In a world of breakneck technological development, any hurdle can put a country behind its competitors. While the U.S. government holds its own builders back, other countries push theirs forward. The United States is in danger of letting countries like China dominate in the key economic sectors of the markets of the future. The U.S. government needs to facilitate innovation, not crush it.
Here are three areas where the U.S. government has held its own citizens back.
Environmental regulation is threatening efforts to maintain American energy independence. Years of environmental review prevent critical energy projects from seeing completion. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires any new project requiring federal approval to undergo an environmental review that takes years to complete.
One project that finds itself in NEPA limbo is the Dakota Access Pipeline. Dakota Access runs from the oil fields of North Dakota to hubs in the Midwest, where the American-produced oil is distributed across the country. Allowed to operate undisturbed for years, a judge’s 2020 ruling ordered the pipeline to shutter until a comprehensive environmental impact statement was completed. This ruling was later overturned, but energy infrastructure like Dakota Access live under the constant threat of regulatory harassment.
The Keystone XL pipeline was less lucky. President Joe Biden, immediately upon taking office, cancelled the pipeline’s construction permit. The pipeline would have transported Canadian oil to American ports, and the construction and maintenance would have supported American jobs.
These hurdles could threaten newly-won energy independence. The United States became a net exporter of energy in 2019 and kept that status through 2020. But the United States is slowly coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, and a COVID-driven fall in production could lag behind the coming post-COVID boom in consumption. It takes time to resume energy production operations. By preventing development of American energy infrastructure, the U.S. government is threatening to return the United States to the status of an energy importer.
U.S. politicians are engaging in a bipartisan effort to tear down America’s most successful companies. Republicans and Democrats constantly bemoan the rise of tech innovators. The right demands unfettered access to tech platforms, while the left worries that these companies have become too big and collect too much data.
Politicians have threatened to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects internet platforms from liability for user-produced content. This has allowed American social media and internet commerce to grow in an increasingly digital and open world.
Without this protection, American internet companies could be crushed by litigation or censorship. This would allow foreign countries like China to step into the gap. China is already competing with social media giants with platforms like TikTok, an application that has billions of global downloads. If data privacy is a concern for politicians now, just wait until that data is going to China. The best thing politicians could do to protect Americans is allow American companies to innovate and succeed.
Furthermore, the U.S. government has used antitrust law to harass tech companies. The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) suit against Facebook was thrown out recently after a court determined that Facebook’s practices were not anticompetitive. But the FTC’s pursuit of U.S. companies can threaten national security. Over the past few years, the FTC pursued Qualcomm in an effort to break up the tech company’s business model. Doing so would have undermined a leader in 5G technology and put the United States behind China in the race for a 5G-reliant future. Luckily, an appeals court found for Qualcomm, and the FTC ended its pursuit.
The U.S. health care system, due to government intervention and over-regulation, is hard to navigate for most Americans. The passage of the Affordable Care Act only added to this confusion. In-network, out-of-network, the “lines around the states” — the U.S. health care industry can be a regulatory maze. Congress should work to make this important sector simpler, more efficient, and better managed for all Americans.
FTC overreach has also impacted the health care industry, threatening medical care for many. For example, the FTC has targeted a potential merger between health care companies Illumina and Grail, a company Illumina had previously spun off. Independent of Illumina, Grail developed potentially life-saving cancer detection technology. Illumina then proposed reintegrating the company so that it could make the test “widely available, accessible and affordable” for Americans, according to its CEO. But the FTC’s challenge has delayed the partnership and threatens American health care.
Between burdensome regulation, never-ending government litigation, and legal mazes, the government has gotten in the way of the American dream. It is time to let U.S. businesses do what they do best: build a better a world.
About the author: John Cicchitti is a program manager with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank in Arlington, Virginia.
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