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Trump and J.D. Vance embrace populist economics. That’s bad for Americans.

Trump and J.D. Vance embrace populist economics. That's bad for Americans.
Republicans are excited to run against Bidenomics in the 2024 election. So why are some of the loudest GOP members bear-hugging the lie at the heart of Bidenomics?

The populist wing of the Republican Party is increasingly enamored with the idea that Washington, D.C., should control the economy − that politicians and bureaucrats are smart enough to govern the everyday decisions of more than 330 million Americans and job creators.

That view is clear in rising GOP support for everything from tariffs, which former President Donald Trump has proposed, to bailouts to the federal rejection of business decisions. These Republicans are embracing the very government control that has caused millions of Americans to fall behind under President Joe Biden.

Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio, a leading Republican populist, is a case in point. The senator recently declared that Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan – one of the key architects of Bidenomics − is “one of the few people in the Biden administration that I think is doing a pretty good job.”

Under Khan’s leadership, the FTC has blocked numerous business mergers. Vance apparently likes that, saying it helps build “a competitive marketplace” that “allows consumers to have the right choices” and doesn’t ignore “all the other things that really matter.”

Former President Donald Trump and Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio.
Former President Donald Trump and Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio.

FTC’s aggressiveness is hurting American consumers

Yet, far from empowering consumers and increasing competition, the FTC’s actions have done considerable damage to Americans, with worse on the way.

The FTC’s move in February to block the merger between Kroger and Albertsons is the latest proof. The grocery store chains proposed the partnership not to limit competition, but to stay competitive against the likes of Amazon and Walmart. Without a merger, Kroger and Albertsons are more likely to lay off workers, increase automation and raise prices, none of which benefits consumers or workers.

Back off, FTC. Suing to stop Kroger-Albertsons merger exemplifies bumbling bureaucracy.

Nor would it help consumers if grocery chains go out of business and other companies gain market share − the real road to fewer options and higher prices. The true threat to competition isn’t two grocery chains becoming one, but rather two becoming zero, which is more likely after the FTC’s intervention.

Does the prospect of shuttered stores and lost jobs really deserve populist praise? How about the FTC’s attempt to prevent victory in America’s war on cancer? That’s what happened when the commission sued to block the merger of Illumina and Grail in 2021.

The biotech companies saw a chance to transform cancer testing, empowering far more Americans to learn whether they have cancer far earlier. The key to stopping cancer is early detection, which saves lives as well as money on costly end-stage cancer treatments.

The merger posed no threat to consumers or competition because Illumina and Grail don’t compete. They operate in different parts of the health care supply chain, and by joining, they could achieve greater efficiency, which leads to lower prices and faster development.

No matter: After two years of fighting the FTC, Illumina and Grail separated. The FTC put populist demands ahead of people’s health.

The same story has played out over and over under Khan’s leadership of the FTC. It sued Amazon for promoting its own products and pressuring its competitors − the nature of competition − yet the commission is threatening popular features like two-day shipping and rock-bottom prices that customers love.

It’s investigating a financial firm’s acquisition of Subway, threatening a deal that could help the low-margin business grow its store footprint and serve more customers.

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FTC lost lawsuits against Meta and Microsoft

And the FTC has lost lawsuits against mergers by Microsoft and Meta after failing to show how competition or customers would be hurt. The agency is trying to micromanage the most dynamic economy on earth, forcing companies to defend commonsense business decisions in court instead of serving customers and strengthening society.

That’s the real problem − the belief that government has the genius to direct the economy. That misguided view is at the heart of both Bidenomics and Republican populism, as Vance’s comments make clear.

When Vance says that people should have “the right choices” and that markets should focus on what “really matters,” he isn’t just second-guessing private decisions by companies and customers. He’s saying bureaucrats like Khan and politicians like him should substitute their will for the combined wisdom of the American people.

US wants to ban TikTok, but First Amendment demands stronger case on national security

Republicans have already gone too far down that road, and not just Vance. The party of opportunity is substituting economic freedom for government control, economic fairness for taxpayer subsidies and belief in Americans’ individual choices for central planning.

Bidenomics shows where that road leads − fading optimism, and rising fear that our best days are behind us. If more and more Republicans think that approach is correct, then Americans are right to fear for our country’s future.

James Davis is founder and president of Touchdown Strategies, a Virginia-based communications firm.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will Trump help the US economy? His populist ideas are dangerous

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