Friday, August 08, 2003

Antitrust News: Crist on Competition

Few people get more self-satisfaction out of redistributing wealth than state attorneys general:
Attorney General Charlie Crist today presented a $50,000 check to Broward Children's Center, using proceeds from the state's settlement of an antitrust case against two major hospital corporations.

The nonprofit Broward Children's Center in Pompano Beach helps more than 360 children with various handicaps and their families throughout South Florida and around the state. The center also provides residential programs for medically fragile youngsters at three group homes and two preschools.

The settlement between the attorney general's office and Hospital Corporation of America and Cleveland Clinic Florida came in April. The two companies were accused of secretly agreeing to reduce competition by dividing up certain medical services. That's a violation of state and federal antitrust laws.

Each corporation was required to make restitution payments of $100,000 for medical and social services to under-served populations in Broward and Collier counties.

Presentations to several other South Florida charities will be announced later.
This reporter's account makes you question whether Crist's motive was to protect consumers or to hold press conferences presenting giant checks. The latter certainly makes you appear more popular in the eyes of voters.

Crist is also involved in another high-profile "competition" dispute, the Big East schools' lawsuit against the University of Miami and the ACC. Crist intervened in support of Miami, and last week filed a motion to dismiss the case, in which the lead plaintiff is the University of Connecticut, represented by the King of states attorneys general, Richard Blumenthal. In the opening of Crist's motion, he makes the following observations:
Vigorous competition underlies much of what we value as a society, forming the foundation of our economic and political system. It is a principle the parties to this action are intimately familiar with - they compete in lecture halls and laboratories, on their playing fields, to recruit new students and faculty members, to establish alumni bragging rights, and for public and private funds. Underlying competition are the freedom to contract and to freely associate, and fundamental to those freedoms are the abilities to both join and leave the voluntary relationships so created. These principles inure to the benefit of us all, helping to create a dynamic society whose members are motivated to strive for the best, and the Attorney General of Florida has intervened in support of the jurisdictional motions to dismiss because of his concern that Plaintiffs' action could cause long-term harm to these principles.
Crist makes a good point, but he fails to properly emphasize individual rights - the freedom to contract, et al. - as the true moral basis of society. He does say this, but only after lavishing praise on "competition" as the prime virtue. This, of course, is how most antitrust advocates think: competition first, then individual rights a distant second. It's that hiearchy of values that makes Crist able to go after hospitals for exercising their freedom to contract, while simultaneously defending Miami's right to engage in identical behavior without antitrust penalty.

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