Yuval Levin writes:
The Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday that 30 corporations (including McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, and a New York teachers’ union) would receive exemptions from a rule that would have required them to raise the minimum annual benefit in their employee insurance plans.
The exemptions themselves are good news, since the rule would have forced these companies to drop their employee coverage, leaving almost a million workers without the insurance they had before Obamacare. But it means that these companies now need permission from the administration to offer their employees a benefit they have offered for years. And of course, many other companies—those without the lobbying operation of a company the size of McDonald’s, or without the access to liberal policymakers that a NY teachers’ union has—can’t get the same permission, and so can’t compete on a level playing field, or offer coverage that might entice the best qualified people to work for them. This kind of government by whim, and not by law, is the essence of the regulatory state.
This is one more example of the pattern we have seen since the closing weeks of the Bush administration. As the bailouts and mind-numbingly complex legislation multiplies, the private sector becomes rife with rent-seekers, looking to spin the dials and eke out some preferential treatment from the heavy hand of government. CEOs are chosen for their political and PR skills, not their prowess as wealth creators. Business judgment is clouded and distorted as businessmen must look over their shoulders to avoid the wrath of bureaucrats and elected officials.
The fact that these judgments are unmoored to any fixed rules and depend on the whim of government officials makes it all the worse. If the rules are unclear and the name of the game is about access, the opportunities for corruption multiply. In fact, it’s hard to tell what corruption is.
This is all a recipe for a creepy sort of corporate statism, where big business and big government are joined at the hip. It is the natural and inevitable result of Obama’s agenda. Unless of course a new set of lawmakers decide they’ve had enough and it’s time to constrain government, keep the private and public realms distinct, and support rather than undermine the rule of law.