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The Slate Star Codex blogger decided to read, and belatedly review, The Art of the Deal (1988) by real estate developer and now-GOP nomination frontrunner Donald Trump. Trump and his campaign aside, the book affords insights into the legal and regulatory side of the development business. Following a funny description of the role of the real estate developer in coordinating deals, Alexander writes:
…The developer’s other job is dealing with regulations. The way Trump tells it, there are so many regulations on development in New York City in particular and America in general that erecting anything larger than a folding chair requires the full resources of a multibillion dollar company and half the law firms in Manhattan. Once the government grants approval it’s likely to add on new conditions when you’re halfway done building the skyscraper, insist on bizarre provisions that gain it nothing but completely ruin your chance of making a profit, or just stonewall you for the heck of it if you didn’t donate to the right people’s campaigns last year. Reading about the system makes me both grateful and astonished that any structures have ever been erected in the United States at all, and somewhat worried that if anything ever happens to Donald Trump and a few of his close friends, the country will lose the ability to legally construct artificial shelter and we will all have to go back to living in caves.But if you are waiting for new proposals from Trump about reforming regulation, you might need to go on waiting:
Here is a guy whose job is cutting through bureaucracy, and who is apparently quite good at it. Yet throughout the book – and for that matter, throughout his campaign for the nomination of a party that makes cutting bureaucracy a big part of their platform – he doesn’t devote a lot of energy to expressing discontent with the system. There is no libertarian streak to Trump – in the process of successfully navigating all of these terrible rules, he rarely takes a step back and wonders about a better world where these rules don’t exist. Despite having way more ability to change the system than most people, he seems to regard it as a given, not worth debating. … the rules are there; his job is to make the best deal he can within those rules.
Tyler Cowen's very worried:
One reaction to Hamburger’s book might be that it is interestingly wrong, in an unbalanced sort of way. On that view, the book could be seen as offering a kind of constitutional fiction, an oddly skewed but engagingly dystopian vision of the administrative state — one that illuminates through its very errors and distortions, like a caricature, or the works of Philip K. Dick. The book might then be located in the stream of legalist-libertarian critique of the administrative state, the line running from Dicey, through Hewart and Pound and Hayek, to Richard Epstein. That work is nothing if not interesting, if only because it is so hagridden by anxiety about administrative law.On further inspection, though, this book is merely disheartening. No, the Federal Trade Commission isn’t much like the Star Chamber, after all. It’s irresponsible to go about making or necessarily implying such lurid comparisons, which tend to feed the tyrannophobia that bubbles unhealthily around the margins of popular culture, and that surfaces in disturbing forms on extremist blogs, in the darker corners of the internet.
To appreciate the breadth of power the President can exercise unilaterally via the regulatory state, we need look no further than the executive actions undertaken by Obama and Bush 43 administrations.
Cowen highlights a number of liberty-constricting measures that a Trump administration may consider based on Trump’s comments on the campaign trail—including the FCC banning National Review editors from television, shutting down parts of the Internet, and demonstrating the power of strength like the Chinese government did in response to the Tienanmen Square protests. To be sure, there are statutory and constitutional checks in place that would reign in many of these executive actions; even Chevron deference is not that elastic. But a vindictive President could still utilize the regulatory state as a weapon against those who disagree with him. What would Trump do as Regulator-in-Chief?