The University-to-Policymaker Pipeline under Biden

In the acknowledgements to her infamous Yale Law Journal article of 2017, the Biden administration’s hipster Federal Trade Commission (FTC) chair, Lina Khan, thanked Berkeley Law professor David Singh Grewal “for encouraging me to pursue this project.” The article, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” argued that Amazon should no longer be treated as a private-sector company but as an “essential facility” that the government could regulate at whim. Any acquisitions it made, Khan wrote, should be treated with “a presumption of predation.”

The FTC should have blocked, for example, Amazon’s acquisition of Diapers.com owner Quidsi in 2010 because following acquisition, Amazon gained market share and raised prices (ending “the 20% discount on baby wipes” and “memberships in its Amazon Mom program.”) In addition to noting Singh Grewal’s encouragement, Khan cited one of his articles on why governments should feel free to intervene in digital “infrastructure” in support of her claim that Amazon’s “integration across related business lines” should be stopped.

Two years into her stint as FTC chair, Khan is widely seen by conservatives as an unmitigated disaster. Amazon’s share of the U.S. baby supplies retail market, the specter of expensive baby wipes haunting the faculty lounge that solidified Khan’s appointment, is unchanged at about 20%. Her overreach on behalf of novel theories of anti-trust has chilled mergers and acquisitions in the country. Her biggest blunder, which may yet cost her the job, is the attempt to block Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, maker of the video game Call of Duty, which, apparently, takes up a lot of mental space for 30-somethings like Khan. The attempted block, one of an unprecedented 22 by the Biden administration, lacks legal, economic, or even consumer sense, which is why Khan’s FTC is losing the fight in courts. But it is wildly popular on the Elizabeth Warren Left, which, ultimately, may be of more electoral significance. Khan is on a campus crusade for the craft economy, and one wonders who inspired this nonsense.

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As so often these days, the crazy social and economic ideas appearing in the real world were hatched on campus. And since the American university campus is no longer a place where ideas are tested and modified through the scientific process of debate and evidence, bad ideas survive and then escape the lab, causing a pandemic in society. Groups, like the National Association of Scholars, that were created to reform higher education and protect its scientific mission have now fallen back to the final battle lines of defending society from the strange ideas being transmitted from campus.

The university-to-policymaker pipeline under Biden has carried some alarming sludge, some of it too toxic even for the Democrats. Until it became plain that her advocacy of socialized banking was a non-starter, University of California, Irvine law professor Mehrsa Baradaran was the front-runner to take over the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The next nominee, Cornell law professor Saule Omarova, who attended Moscow State University on a V.I. Lenin Scholarship, also withdrew over concerns about her Soviet-style ideas. These included how the Federal Reserve could replace commercial banks with a digital currency and how oil and gas companies could be bankrupted by the People for failing to toe the party line on climate change. She has since proposed the establishment of a National Investment Authority that would make Papa Stalin proud.

Cecilia Rouse, chair of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, is notorious for her claim that abortion is good for the labor supply. At Priceton, she oversaw the renaming of Princeton’s Wilson School while dean there (at first opposing it as ridiculous but later swinging to “I supported this decision 100%” because “removing Wilson’s name sent the message to our community and the broader world that our School will not tolerate racism, sexism, or discrimination of any kind.”). She has also promoted such kooky DEI ideas as training faculty to walk around providing “micro-affirmations” to supposedly disadvantaged colleagues. Two other academic economists in the Biden administration, Columbia University’s Judith Scott-Clayton and Jordan Matsudaira, are widely seen as the architects of the college debt amnesty debacle. Shutting down this pipeline is important for the republic and a free society.

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Singh Grewal is a socialist professor at Berkeley—I know, I know—who has spent his career jetting across fly-over country from the Ivy League to the Golden State. He raved about French Marxist Thomas Piketty’s work on overthrowing capitalism, which Singh Grewal argued could come about only via “revolutionary tactics as against parliamentary socialism.” Lina Khan, apparently, adopted the “revolutionary tactics” of her master all too well. He was her advisor at Yale Law School when she wrote the infamous article. The Financial Times in 2021 quoted Singh Grewal as saying, “What she’s doing is really just returning antitrust and market policy to the status quo ante, of the 20s through the 60s, even the 70s.” Khan, like Singh Grewal, harbors a nineteenth-century understanding of the modern economy. She frequently refers to railroads as an analogy for her “essential facility” argument.

In an interview with The New Yorker in 2021, Singh Grewal praised Khan as “a visible symbol of a younger generation,” which is all too true. She was not a “typical playing-it-safe law-school kid trying to advance in the world,” he noted, but instead “went for the intellectual jugular.” If his praise of her radicalism is unintended, it is certainly accurate.

A final aspect of the university-to-policymaker pipeline under Biden is too obvious to ignore: the strong whiff of upper-caste, South Asian radicalism, with all the attendant Cambridge socialism and word salad about “the masses.” This is symbolized most clearly by Biden’s Tamil Brahmin vice president, a Berkeley faculty brat. But its broader presence in the administration and its roots in South Asian intellectual radicalism are less noticed.

With Khan, we have a sort of freak confluence of several flows into the pipeline: Brahmin, Bolshevik, and Berkeley. Any one of these should sound alarms about the need for an emergency shut down. Taken together, they make Vladimir Putin’s pipeline to Europe look like a harmless distraction.


Image: Adobe Stock

Bruce Gilley

Bruce Gilley is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Ph.D. Program in Public Affairs and Policy at the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University, and President of the Oregon Association of Scholars. His research centers on comparative and international politics and public policy. His work covers issues as diverse as democracy, climate change, political legitimacy, and international conflict. He is a specialist on the politics of China and Asia.

7 thoughts on “The University-to-Policymaker Pipeline under Biden

  1. Those are reasonable responses but I disagree. Yes, every culture has its radical tradition, the English radical tradition being the one we know best, and the French and perhaps Latin American radical traditions not far behind. But the South Asian radical tradition is potent on university campuses for specific reasons: the South Asian intellectuals who end up as academics are not a cross-section of South Asian society but instead a highly specific slice of the caste/stratified social systems whose intellectual roots are inherently collectivist and anti-democratic. Conservatives have never ignored identity: they have seen in a nation’s identity a key ingredient of its success or failure. Ignoring the South Asian radical tradition that is now widespread on American campuses and, as a result, is now making its way into the democratic and not-so-democratic left is willful blindness. Neera Tanden, Bharat Ramamurti, etc. are not your normal lefties.

    1. Don’t forget the Soviet influencs in South Asia – but it is a modified form of Marxism and you are right to identify it as such. .Or is it racist to use the term “Jacksonian Democracy” now?

  2. I was going to make Jonathan’s point but he beat me to it. I’ll put it differently: There are many left-wing nuts who endorse the ideas Bruce Gilley describes who are not Brahmins, not from Berkeley, and despite their fancy credentials could never explain what a Bolshevik is. So I don’t see the point of focusing on a “freak confluence of several flows.” For example, Thomas Piketty strikes me, based on “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” as a fascist sociopath who is drunk on power, yet is a French elitist. Bruce Gilley’s “snide swipe,” as Jonathan puts is, echoes the descent of conservative intellectualism into identity politics over the last seven years; there are only a few more steps before we receive panicky e-mails to donate to stop this pipeline before it’s too late.

  3. Wow. Now Bruce Gilley is exercised about Berkeley Brahmin influence. That snide swipe at the elected VP. I guess recolonization to fight devolonization. A great way to advance the causes of the National Association of Scholars.

    1. Anyone remember the “snide swipe[s]” at an elected VP named Dan Quayle? Or another named Dick Cheney? Or is that somehow “different”?

      Remember all the concern expressed about Donald Trump’s father? Can you imagine if his great-grandfather had not only owned slaves but had the most in all of Jamaica, where slavery was far more brutal than in the US???

      Kamala Harris *is* a Berkley faculty brat — an arrogant one who says stupid things with some degree of frequency. She’s either not very bright or too arrogant to do her homework — or more likely, both…If she leaned any further to the left, she’d fall over….

      1. I don’t remember anyone sneering at their racial/religious/ethnic background. If you think that is a good way to win over public opinion, good luck. (I do kind of remember people on the right sneering about Biden’s supposed dementia, but that really is a different matter.) And talk about “faculty brats” is not likely to help with winning over fellow academics. I know quite a few faculty with children, and I doubt this will work with them. I would be interested to know how much influence Bruce Gilley is having in Oregon academia. Posts like these strike me as poison. Perhaps I’m missing the charm component.

      2. Jonathan, Google “Boston Brahman” — it’s a different meaning, and associated with Harvard.

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