“Just think about the children!” has always been the rallying cry of hyperactive regulators. Lately, the FTC claimed it was protecting children — well, actually, their parents — by second-guessing how Apple and Amazon designed their app stores. That prompted a scathing dissent from Commissioner Josh Wright, arguing that FTC enforcement action was “neither warranted nor in consumers’ best interest.”
The FTC’s been down this road before. In the 1970s, the FTC ran amuck with its vague power to declare practices unfair. The FTC chairman talked about regulating everything from funeral homes and labor practices to pollution. But Congress — a heavily Democratic Congress — wouldn’t have it. They reined in the agency, forcing it to narrow its conception of unfairness.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the FTC’s attempt to ban advertising of sugared foods to children. This prompted a 1978 editorial from the The Washington Post, hardly a libertarian bastion, against the FTC’s overreach. That piece marked the beginning of the end of the FTC’s hyper-activist phase — and very nearly led Congress to close the agency for more than just the few days that served as the Commission’s punishment. Now that Congress is starting to look into how the FTC works again, we wanted to share the editorial:
Here’s the the original text: