As the Presidential race heats up this year, the left has some internal challenges that might change the whole political landscape, and will decide the direction of the economy. A growing movement on the left is challenging traditional progressivism while calling for the abundance agenda. This movement is an attempt to make progressives put the material well-being of middle and working class Americans at the center of their policymaking. What distinguishes advocates of the abundance agenda from other progressives is that they call for reducing regulations and other types of government interference in the economy, if it is demonstrated that these regulations are harming consumers, workers, and/or benefiting big business at the expense of small businesses.
The abundance agenda is not so much a new phenomena as it is the rebirth of a strain of liberalism that understands how free markets improve the living standards of working Americans. The agenda also understands that regulations can help big business by raising the costs of doing business. Large firms can absorb costs that would cripple their smaller competitors. These insights were behind President Jimmy Carter's deregulation of the transportation industry (aided by Senator Edward Kennedy and Ralph Nader), as well as the “neoliberalism” of the Clinton Administration.
Christian Britschgi’s article in Reason regarding this movement focuses on a potential alliance between abundance progressives and libertarians. At a time when many leading conservatives are abandoning even a rhetorical commitment to free markets and limited constitutional government— and urging Republicans to use state power to punish their enemies and impose their cultural and religious values (so much for the First Amendment), an alliance with abundance progressives may be appealing to some libertarians.
Abundance progressives may find themselves in need of new allies, as they are likely to receive pushback from progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan. Abundance conservatives may have a more difficult time advancing their agenda than their Carter and Clinton era predecessors. The Carter and Clinton presidencies occurred at a time when the value of big government progressivism was being questioned even by many Democrats. Today, thanks in large part to Senator Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 Presidential campaigns, the progressive movement is in ascendance.
Lina Khan is the best representative of the new progressives. Khan came to prominence because of her law review article, penned while she was still a law student, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.” In it Khan argued that the challenges “big tech” companies like Amazon pose to America’s economy, and to democracy itself, require aggressive use of a federal antitrust laws to limit their power. Khan and her allies reject the consumer welfare standard, which has dominated antitrust policy since the 1980s.
As the name suggests, the consumer welfare standard focuses on whether a business’s actions harm consumers. Instead, Khan seeks to return to the “big is de facto bad” school of antitrust that views any action that increases a business’s market share as a step toward a monopoly. Khan advocates for a “holistic” approach to antitrust that allows federal bureaucrats to use antitrust as a tool to second guess almost any decision made by a business.
This is why the FTC has filed a record number of lawsuits against businesses since Khan became Chair. By displacing consumers, who are the ones who ultimately decide who the winners and losers are in a free-market economy, Khan introduces distortions and inefficiencies in the market, harming workers and consumers. Thus, if the abundance progressives continue to gain support (and grow to include Democratic politicians as well as policy advocates and activists) and remain committed to transforming progressivism into a movement that promotes—rather than hinders—economic growth, it must challenge Khanonomics.
Opening skirmishes could occur in the next four years, but the battle will not likely heat up until 2028, when fear of Donald Trump will no longer serve as a unifying force for the Democrats. This battle mirrors one quietly going on in the Republican Party between those who still believe in limited government and “Khanservatives” like Senators Josh Hawley and J.D. Vance.
This could lead to two left-right coalitions: one that seeks to expand government control over the economy, and one that understands the best way to achieve abundance for all is to limit government and maximize freedom.