Sean Heather Sean Heather
Senior Vice President, International Regulatory Affairs & Antitrust, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Published

October 21, 2022

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“Groupthink” has been defined as “the tendency of groups to become so swept up in a spirit of camaraderie and belonging that they stifle their doubts, silence dissenters, and rush to consensus without fully analyzing ideas.” 

Under Chair Lina Khan, the agency is increasingly captured by the same sort of group psychosis. Chair Khan has stifled dissent, pushed out senior staffers who voice disagreement, overruled experienced employees to pursue discredited theories in court, and prepared a reckless privacy rulemaking that some alumni warned could cripple support for the agency in Congress and the courts, quite possibly leading to the end of the FTC as we know it.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, surveys from the Office of Personnel Management reveal that morale among FTC staff has plummeted since Chair Khan took over. Among other results, 28.8% of respondents “disagree or strongly disagree” that the agency’s leadership “maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.” 

The problem may lie, in part, in Chair Khan’s tendency to speak in an echo chamber. For example, this past summer, both Chair Khan and Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter spoke at a conference organized by two groups that openly espouse socialist and Marxist philosophies, the Economic Security Project and the Law and Political Economy Project of Yale University. The conference’s goal was “to teach attendees how to advance the goals of socialism,” studying concepts like “intersectional exploitation,” “mediating tensions between capitalist order and democratic self-rule,” and “the relationship between market supremacy and racial, gender, and economic injustice.”   

The stakes for our economy are high. Chair Khan is escalating the government’s role in managing the economy, imperiling hundreds of billions of dollars in investment and innovation. At the event. Chair Khan argued for the government to play a larger role in “shaping markets and economic outcomes” while decrying the free market as a “product of metaphysical forces.” This speech follows from her work as an Academic Fellow at Columbia Law School, where Khan once gave a speech entitled, “Progressivism, Socialism, Nationalism.” Another FTC Commissioner, Christine Wilson, has decried the rise of Marxist thought at the agency, but under Chair Khan, the FTC has embraced it.   

In her other events, Chair Khan has tended to speak to people who already agree that the government should play a larger role in managing the economy. For instance, she addressed the American Economic Liberties Project, and the National Community Pharmacists Association, a group of independent pharmacists that wants the FTC to intervene in pharmacy benefit markets, even as she attempted to bias a commission study of that same industry on their behalf. Similarly, speaking in Brussels to European regulators who historically have been much more interventionist than their American counterparts, Khan criticized the foundations of antitrust law, including the traditional distinction between horizontal and vertical mergers. She also attended a reception with the Omidyar Foundation, which advocates for more regulation of the tech sector, while reportedly resisting invitations to address the Antitrust Section of the American Bar Association, which itself is hardly a bastion of conservative thought. 

Based on her course of conduct, Chair Khan seems to think that her job is to preach to the progressive choir and to bast in their praises, and to decry the evils of capitalism and markets, rather than to act as an objective policymaker charged with considering diverse perspectives.  

Exercises in groupthink rarely end well, and in this case the credibility of the Federal Trade Commission hangs in the balance.  

About the authors

Sean Heather

Sean Heather

Senior Vice President, International Regulatory Affairs & Antitrust, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Sean Heather is Senior Vice President for International Regulatory Affairs & Antitrust.

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