Opinion

Republicans Turn Their Backs on Private Enterprise

Florida’s retaliation against Disney marks an escalation.

Disney World Florida
Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, Florida, January 25, 2020 (Unsplash/Christian Lambert)

What happened to the party of free enterprise?

In Florida, Republicans are revoking Disney World’s self-government and not even pretending it’s anything but retaliation for the company’s opposition to their education policy.

“I will not allow a woke corporation based in California to run our state,” Governor Ron DeSantis said. “Disney has gotten away with special deals from the state of Florida for way too long.”

Disney World is Florida’s largest employer and manages its own utilities, including firefighting, garbage collection and water reclamation, in the so-called Reedy Creek Improvement District. It can also build homes and attractions without permission from the state or local government.

The arrangement dates from the 1960s, when Disney committed to develop the former swampland into a theme park and town.

The entertainment giant drew DeSantis’ ire when it came out against his Parental Rights in Education law. It prohibits teaching gender identity and sexual orientation to children under the age of 10 in ways that are not “age-appropriate” — without specifying what age-appropriate means. Critics have dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Whatever the merits (for the record, I think schools should teach what they think is best, parents should be able to send their kids to whichever school they think is best, and the Florida law is at a minimum poorly written), punishing a company, or indeed anyone, for their beliefs is an overreach. It is neither conservative nor liberal, and the sort of thing we’d expect in China, not the United States.

It is also rushed. DeSantis does not appear to have thought through what will happen to the Reedy Creek Improvement District’s $1 billion in debts. Taxpayers could be on the hook.

Yet his is not an isolated case.

Trump’s mixed record

Since Republicans nominated Donald Trump for the presidency in 2016 — over the objections of Republican-friendly business groups like the Chamber of Commerce — they have turned their backs on private enterprise.

Trump did cut corporate tax from 35 to 21 percent, bringing the American rate in line with the rest of the developed world. But also raised the equivalent of $80 billion in taxes by putting tariffs on Canadian, Chinese and European imports.

He consistently sided with employers against trade unions in labor disputes. (Be skeptical of Republicans who claim they’ve become the party of workers.) But he also tried to ban Chinese-owned TikTok and WeChat. (Joe Biden repealed the ban before it could go into effect.)

Trump deregulated fossil fuels. But he taxed the faster-growing solar industry, which employs 250,000 Americans. He claimed to be for nuclear power, but licensed no new plants.

Over the edge

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed business-wary Republicans over the edge.

Alabama and Texas banned companies from firing employees who refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Texas even made it illegal for businesses to refuse service to unvaccinated customers.

Republicans in Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin tried but failed to pass similar legislation.

Texas banned social-media companies with 50 million monthly users or more — so in effect the California-based Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — from removing users for their political beliefs.

In addition, the state requires that the same companies produce regular reports of the content they remove.

Republicans in Florida passed a similar law, but it has been put on hold by a federal judge.

Capitalism

Conservatives have reason to be upset at schools and social media.

There are 130,000 public elementary schools in America with 1.8 million teachers. Inevitably there will be some that go overboard in teaching gender and sex to kids.

Twitter and YouTube do appear to more frequently ban users for what they perceive to be far-right than far-left beliefs. Not in the least Trump himself, who was banned from Twitter after inciting the 2021 attack on the Capitol. (Facebook is more reluctant to police content, and has been criticized for this by Democrats.)

But you either believe in free enterprise or you don’t. If you don’t like Disney’s views on sex education, go to Legoland. If you don’t like Twitter’s content-moderation policies, try Reddit. That’s capitalism.

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