Daniel Oliver

Saving Senator Whitehouse

The senator from Rhode Island should be chastised for belonging to the party of racism; not for belonging to a couple of elite, expensive, social clubs.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D–R.I.) has been caught belonging to an all-white beach club in Newport, Rhode Island, though technically it’s his wife who belongs to Bailey’s Beach Club, not the senator, since he transferred his membership to her. There may be eminently defensible reasons for that transfer (e.g., to avoid the high death taxes so loved by Democrats), but it looks fishy. The senator also belongs to the all-white Ida Lewis Yacht Club in Newport.

Who cares?!

The members of the right-wing press apparently do, and they have gathered triumphantly to have a summer hootenanny at the senator’s expense.

When confronted with the gory details, Senator Whitehouse explained that such social clubs are “a long tradition in Rhode Island and there are many of them, and we just need to work our way through the issue. Thank you.” Thank you for what wasn’t clear. But the senator was verrrry polite, as you would expect a former member of Bailey’s Beach and the Ida Lewis Yacht Club to be.

Senator Whitehouse looks like a hypocrite, and his opponents intend to enjoy themselves hugely at his expense—and you can’t blame them.

But Senator Whitehouse is correct: it is a long tradition in Rhode Island towns for such clubs to be all white, and not just in Rhode Island but probably in every state and town where there are old families and posh clubs that only the rich can afford to belong to, and have belonged to for decades—and where there are few black residents.

A glance at Newport real estate prices is illuminating: look for “mansions for sale” and you’ll find them, starting at $35 million—for a summer house. At the moment there are only 48 listed. It’s a thin market.

The people who buy those kinds of houses are the kind of people who belong to Bailey’s Beach and the Ida Lewis Yacht Club.

Well, actually, that’s the way it used to be: now probably only the nouveau buy those houses—you know, the kind of people who have to buy their silver. The old rich have moved to less ostentatious cottages. But they’ve been in Newport for years, generations, actually: Senator Whitehouse’s grandfather was commodore of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club from 1937 to 1940. It’s a very small, very well-heeled social set.

A club can be all-white for two reasons: either blacks are kept out or no blacks have sought to get in.

How many blacks would you expect to find among the posh Newport set? If you answered “none,” then you shouldn’t be surprised that Senator Whitehouse’s clubs have no black members.

If you answered “some,” please tell us how many ultra-successful blacks have been spending their summers in Newport for the last, oh, decade or so? And tell us how many successful blacks you would expect to start going to Newport for the summer, and why. He (or she) could not realistically expect to join any of those clubs the first summer (or perhaps the first generation) that they were there—even if they were white.

Should Senator Whitehouse be deprived of belonging to clubs he and his family have belonged to for decades just because no blacks are members? Of course not.

Senator Whitehouse was correct when he said, “We just need to work our way through the issue,” though he probably doesn’t understand why he is correct.

“The issue” is that blacks (69 percent of whom born today are illegitimate—and illegitimate with the blessing of the Democratic Party) tend to be poorer and less educated than whites. The net worth of a typical black family is about one tenth that of a white family. Non-rich, less-educated people, whether they’re black or white, don’t belong to fancy clubs: they never have and they never will.

Senator Whitehouse’s real failing (like many rich liberal Democrats, he lives in all-white enclaves but is quick to blame others for being racists) is that he supports policies that keep blacks from rising: minimum wage, rampant immigration, and kowtowing to the politically powerful teachers’ unions, which oppose school vouchers and privatized education (e.g., charter schools), the only hope black children have of escaping from the Democrats’ ghastly public school plantation.

But Democrats are worried. Most blacks have no interest in defunding the police (who will protect them if not the police?). And Donald Trump got way more black votes in the last election than he “should” have. Desperate times call for desperate measures, which is why the Democrats (maliciously and perhaps suicidally) are at war against both blacks and whites. Democrats are all about race and power: they bang the race drum to divide America so they can amass power.

So, yes, we need to “work our way through the issue,” but not by accepting critical race theory or the New York Times’ “1619 Project” version of American history (all slavery all the time), which even Democrat wokeies are probably not stupid enough to believe, but which divide—by design—Americans on the basis of race. Those projects will, also by design, keep blacks down on the plantation for the next decade, or century—and off Bailey’s Beach and out of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club as well.

That’s what Senator Whitehouse should be chastised for: belonging to what is essentially a party of racism (his party’s heritage) at war against Americans, blacks, whites, and everyone else; not for belonging to a couple of elite, expensive, social clubs that few people have ever heard of and even fewer people care about.

Full disclosure: I know Senator Whitehouse, and members of my family have known members of his family for four generations.


June 29, 2021
American Greatness

Updating Antitrust for a Free People

Can it change with the times — and save the country from corporate, anti-constitutional vandals?

The past has its charms, but it’s still the past. Andy Kessler of the Wall Street Journal (and no doubt thousands of others) seems mesmerized by an antitrust theory developed in the 1960s. In case you haven’t been paying attention, a lot has changed since then.

In a recent column, Kessler decried a return of the “Big is bad” theory of antitrust. That theory, he says, was developed by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (1916–39) “who disliked big business, especially railroads.” The Brandeis understanding of antitrust was superseded by Judge Bork’s thinking, compellingly set forth in his brilliant book The Antitrust Paradox. That book was published in 1978, but the first draft was finished in 1969.

In the 1980s, Bork’s theory became the policy of the Reagan administration’s antitrust enforcers. But even 1980 is now a long time ago, closer to the age of radio, even crystal radios, than to the internet age we live in today, and it is surely a mistake to trap the thinking of as brilliant a man as Bork in the amber of his time.

A major change in the country now as compared to 1969, 1978, or 1980 is the raging culture war, which Bork commented on in his book Slouching Towards Gomorrah, published in 1996. Hostilities have escalated dramatically since then, and most of big-corporate America is not only not on the side Bork would be on but is using its market power to hasten the country’s arrival at Gomorrah. Slouching, Hell; now it’s sprinting towards Gomorrah.

Would Bork stick to the position he first staked out in 1969? That seems unlikely.

Antitrust is part of the real world. It’s not a laboratory experiment. What is the purpose of law? What is the purpose of public policy? What is the purpose of antitrust? That debate is the one “conservatives” in this country are now embroiled in.

There are the libertarians who seem unconcerned about the blatant attacks on our liberties as long as that attack is perpetrated by private companies (even if those companies achieved their dominance through government regulations that disadvantaged their competitors).

That is not the position of traditional, cultural conservatives. They value societal, and constitutional, arrangements as much as they value economic efficiency. They know there’s a culture war going on, and they know they’re losing it.

One reason they’re losing is that corporate America is against them. Four of the biggest information companies in the country (Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook) put their hands on the scales of democracy in 2020 to swing the election to Joe Biden. (Please note: that is different from saying the election was stolen, and that comment is different from saying it was not stolen.) The Hunter Biden laptop scandal was buried by almost every major news outlet in the country. Pfizer’s CEO delayed the announcement of the efficacy of his company’s vaccine until after the election. And most of big-corporate America (Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, Cisco, UPS, and Merck, among others) is currently engaged in promoting anti-American woke ideas like critical race theory and the 1619 Project.

As an economic theory, big may not necessarily be bad. But what happens if big always, or often, or even only sometimes, turns out to be bad? Bad for what?

That’s the question.

Which is “better”: a system that lets big corporations do whatever they want — even if those actions are designed to undermine our democratic institutions, suppress dissent, and marginalize those who hold differing values, including traditional American ones like individual responsibility and the “racist” presumption that people should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin? Or is it better to have a system that safeguards our democratic institutions — even from powerful private interests — and promotes traditional American values, or at least protects those that hold them from reprisal?

And here’s a question for the assorted libertarians and “economic conservatives” whose exclusive focus is maximizing economic efficiency: how long do you think those efficiencies will be maximized once our individual liberties are extinguished? How’s that working out for people in China?

Kessler devoted his column to the concept of consumer harm, by which he means only the economic harm caused to consumers by bad (and illegal) corporate practices. But even if we were to grant, for the sake of argument, that consumer prices have any real probative value in an economy awash in subsidies and skewed by regulation (does anyone really think the price of solar panels, wind turbines, and electric cars; primary, secondary, and post-secondary education; double bypass operations; or pretty much any prescription drug sold in the U.S. — to name just a few consumer items — is determined by market forces?), we still have to ask: is economics all we care about? Did we fight a revolution to save five cents on undershirts?

What about suppressing the news? What about changing the election laws in ways that make cheating easier? What about firing people who voted for Donald Trump or attended the rally at the Capitol on Jan. 6? The mega-companies listed above employ more than a million people, which means they have the power to silence a million people and suppress the views and activities of millions of others. The New York Times ran an article three years ago headlined, “How Banks Could Control Gun Sales if Washington Won’t.” Did the Times reject the headline “How Banks Can Repeal the Second Amendment if the Supreme Court Won’t”?

James Damore, a Harvard graduate and software engineer at Google, was fired for writing in a memo that there were differences between men and women. If there had been four other, if smaller, competing Googles, he might not have been let go.

JPMorgan Chase supports Planned Parenthood. If you worked at JP, would you dare say Planned Parenthood is involved in killing babies? When they fired you, could you get a comparable job at a comparable bank? Name one. How many comparable banks are there?

Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) has introduced an antitrust bill that would, inter alia, ban all mergers and acquisitions by companies with a market capitalization exceeding $100 billion. That’s one way to deal with the antitrust problem, but of course it doesn’t address the cultural and constitutional threat big business presents.

On June 11, House Democrats and Republicans introduced bills intended to check the power of Silicon Valley mega-corporations. But the bills seek to outlaw only certain economic activities of the companies (e.g., giving their own products and services preference over rivals) and don’t address the broader, and central, issue: too much power by mega-corporations over citizens’ lives.

Are there other ways to deal with excessive corporate power? Perhaps. The attorney general of Ohio, Dave Yost, has filed a suit against Google, claiming that Google should be regulated as a public utility due to its “discriminatory and anti-competitive” practices. Yost is not seeking monetary damages but instead asks that Google be declared a “common carrier” that could be regulated by a body such as the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

“Google uses its dominance of internet search to steer Ohioans to Google’s own products — that’s discriminatory and anti-competitive,” Yost said in a prepared statement. “When you own the railroad or the electric company or the cell phone tower, you have to treat everyone the same and give everybody access.” Fair enough.

But while using existing concepts and laws may be faster and easier than enacting new antitrust legislation, it won’t solve the problem. Many Americans might believe their constitutional liberties would be more secure if we were to move back toward a more Jeffersonian concept of size (updated for the 21st century), not small perhaps, but at least smaller than gargantuan — and small enough not to be able to dictate what we think and how we live our lives.

In many, and perhaps most, antitrust cases, we can stick with Bork’s analysis because the firms involved won’t have the power wielded by the mega-corporations (however we eventually decide to define them). They’re the problem, and they should be “urged” to stick to their business or be broken up into smaller companies.

Would that be popular? When Americans were asked recently by the Gallup organization how they felt about the size and influence of major corporations, 73 percent said somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. That looks like a majority — you can already hear the mega-corporations demanding a recount.

Would Americans pay a price at the store if, as Bork’s book tells us, the mega-corporations were broken up and the smaller companies were marginally less efficient? Yes. But they also pay a price for having a military, and a highway department, and a municipal water inspector, and national cemeteries. Why not pay a price for keeping mega-corporations from fixing elections? And banning books? And firing people who think men and women are different? And trashing the anti-cheating protections of election laws?

If you think the maintenance of democracy and constitutional government is free, you may want to take a visit to a national cemetery (there are 155 of them) or one of the thousands of war memorials across our country — and you’d best hurry, before they’re all torn down or desecrated by woke mobs spurred on and financed by our leading corporate and other “private sector” interests.

The past is gone. Times change. Americans shouldn’t be, and probably are not, afraid to change with them. It turns out, big can be bad after all. It’s time to update antitrust.

Note: For further discussion of this issue by this author, see the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books.


June 28, 2021
The American Spectator