The business of government

Former President Barack Obama is infamous for his claim that, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” He might well have added, “and we in Washington will be more than happy to tear it down.”

Obama was attempting to give government the credit for America’s free enterprise system. He was wrong, of course.

Not only does government not build businesses, it also seems intent at times on destroying them.

Howard Root, who owns a medical device company in Minnesota, wrote about the problem in an op-ed piece published Feb. 17 in The Wall Street Journal. In it, he describes how and, just as important, why the Justice Department accused his company of making false claims about a product.

The firm was not guilty of that, a jury found. In fact, Root wrote, one juror described the government’s action as “nothing short of criminal.”

Root traces the prosecution to a 2015 memo distributed in the Justice Department by then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. If the name sounds familiar, it is because President Donald Trump fired her for insubordination.

Yates’ memo encouraged government attorneys to pursue cases against companies in a manner calculated to collect the most money possible.

Root’s story of what looks very much like harassment is disturbing enough. It illustrates what can happen when some in government decide harming companies is as important, if not more so, than protecting consumers.

But the most unsettling part of Root’s story is that defending his company cost $25 million. “Fortunately, my company had the money to fight back,” he noted.

What about businesses without that kind of money to protect themselves against a predatory government? Are they just collateral damage — or preferred targets?


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)

Starting at $4.39/week.

Subscribe Today