As the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) prepares for its annual meeting next week, there remains a great deal of confusion about what the organization supports. ALEC advertises itself as a group that supports free markets, limited government, and federalism. But in reality, ALEC pushes a broad range of oppressive policies that distort markets, attack liberty, and centralize power. ALEC does all of this on behalf of multinational corporations that would not and could not exist without state intervention.
ALEC has supported some of the most tyrannical legislation in recent memory. It wrote SB 1070, Arizona’s infamous anti-immigrant “Papers Please” law. Why would a “limited government” organization support giving police new powers to violate privacy and attack immigrants? Because detaining more immigrants means more profits for the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), one of ALEC’s corporate members. CCA receives taxpayer money to operate prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers. ALEC’s anti-immigrant laws, as well as its harsh sentencing bills, exist to keep prisons full for CCA’s benefit. Locking human beings in cages so that a corporation can receive government money hardly sounds like a free market policy to me.
ALEC also endorsed the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). Like SOPA, its sister bill, PIPA would empower the government to censor the Internet in the name of protecting so-called “intellectual property” (IP). IP “rights” are monopoly privileges granted by government. They coercively limit competition to keep prices artificially high. In addition to enforcing monopoly privileges, PIPA would allow censorship of sites that even link to copyrighted content, flying in the face of the First Amendment.
Consequently, the bill faced diverse opposition from groups including Google, Wikipedia, Human Rights Watch, and the Tea Party Patriots. But ALEC apparently does not support free markets or limited government enough to stop supporting a bill that would eviscerate internet freedom and the First Amendment. As always, corporate profits come first for ALEC.
In addition to advertising itself as an advocate of free markets, ALEC talks a lot about championing federalism. Yet the very nature of ALEC undermines one of the principal advantages of federalism. In theory, federalism is valuable because it keeps decisions under local control, allowing people to influence the policies that govern their lives, and leaving them the option to move if they disagree with local policies. Yet ALEC is a mechanism for multinational corporations to push similar legislation in every state. This erodes local control, putting power in the hands of a national organization run by multinational firms. Furthermore, by pushing similar legislation in all 50 states, ALEC undermines the ability of citizens to ‘vote with their feet’ and leave states that pass bad laws.
ALEC further undermines federalism using their International Relations Task Force. This task force exists to push international trade agreements. While this may seem benign, so-called “free trade” agreements do much more than just lower trade barriers. These agreements create centralized international bodies that can overrule decisions and laws passed by national and local governments. This is the very antithesis of federalism. Is it possible that ALEC supports these international bodies on free market grounds? To the contrary, ALEC pushes trade policies that they say “strengthen the intellectual property rights of our members.” And as we have seen, IP regimes are anti-competitive, not free market, policies.
Ultimately, ALEC’s member corporations do not support liberty. Rather, they fear the freedom and decentralization their stated principles would permit. In a free market, they would not be able to collude with legislators for favors or profit from prisons and IP monopolies. In a society with decentralized federalism, corporations couldn’t use trade agreements to force pro-corporate policies globally. Corporate power needs state power to thrive, so ALEC fights daily for state power, all while talking about “free markets.”