Can we stop pretending that Ron DeSantis is for free markets?

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters

A quick read of Gov. Ron DeSantisThe Wall Street Journal op-ed touting his recent elimination of the Walt Disney Co.’s self-governing status may leave you with the impression that Republican from Florida is a strong defender of the free market and the impartial rule of law.

That law he signed took down “an indefensible example of corporate welfare,” DeSantis wrote. It put an end to unfair government favoritism secured by the “unmatched political power of the corporation”, broke with “old-guard corporate republicanism” that “award[red] special advantages to entrenched corporate interests” at the expense of the public and will force Disney “to live under the same laws as … every other business in our state.”

Ron DeSantis’ Anti-Free Speech Crusade Would Cancel Fox News

But a closer look reveals that freeing up Florida’s markets and leveling the legal playing field — as his defenders has framed the change-is not DeSantis’ concern here. At his own expense, this is not a principled position against corporatism and is neither his moves against Disney primarily an economic project. His goals are explicitly political, and his means create market conditions as unjust as the old corporatist dispensation he has done away with.

Disney’s previous arrangement, called Reedy Creek Improvement District, began in 1967 – a date whose relevance will become apparent in a moment. It let the company act as its own county government, administering local services (such as road maintenance and sewage) and regulations (such as zoning ordinances and building codes) for about 39 square kilometers, consisting mostly of (but technically not quite) of Disney properties. The district has the power to tax (which generally means to collect taxes on Disney itself) and even to use eminent domain beyond its own borders.

The bill DeSantis signed made some significant changes to how this district will operate. It “ends Disney’s exemption from state regulatory reviews and approvals that other companies must go through,” as a Journal report summarized. “It also eliminates the company’s ability, under current law, to build nuclear facilities, airports and toll roads, as well as to unilaterally make boundary changes on company property.”

Some of this won’t mean much – Disney has never exercised its right to build a nuclear reactor, and that retains the right “to build a fifth theme park, two more water parks and thousands of hotel rooms on 850 acres” between now and 2032. But after the law takes effect in June, the company will face higher costs and a greater regulatory burden. And local taxpayers will have to pay for infrastructure maintenance and other local public services such as policing that previously went on the company’s tab.

But the most important part of this legislation is not about infrastructure or economics. It is about political power.

Florida’s anti-politics blog proposal is as crazy as it sounds

The new law does not eliminate Disney’s special district. It renames it, and it takes authority to appoint the district’s five-member board away from Disney — and gives it to Ron DeSantis.

Predictably, DeSantis promptly populated the board with political allies, and even though their legal remit is mundane local services, he openly envisioned them using the power they now have over Disney to force the company into culture war concessions. “When you’re lost, you have to have people who will tell you the truth,” DeSantis said. “I think all of these board members would very much like to see the type of entertainment that all families can appreciate.”

He also emphasized the political logic of his op-ed. The “woke rise” of corporate America is what forced him to reject the old GOP corporatism, DeSantis explained. “When corporations try to use their economic power to advance a vigilante agenda, they become political” actors, he said, and must be fought with political weapons.

The details of the new legislation reiterate how little this has to do with liberty or equality before the law, despite DeSantis’s lip service to those ideas. When he first flowed the idea of ​​changing Disney’s status last year, he talked about the state legislature repealing “all special districts enacted in Florida before 1968” — and Reedy Creek, I recall, dates to 1967.

But as it turns out, terminating all pre-1968 special districts would affect much more than Disney.

As DeSantis acknowledged in that Journal op-ed, “special districts are common in Florida.” In fact, the state has more than 1,900 active special districts per list currently available from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Around 300 of them was established in 1967 or earlier, which is likely part of the reason the final legislation did not proceed along the lines DeSantis originally outlined.

On the contrary, the new law canceled exactly zero special districts, not even Disney’s. “The Reedy Creek Improvement District shall continue to be a public corporation of this state and to have perpetual existence,” the stated legislation. It simply redistributed power away from Disney and to the state of Florida.

This is not a shift from bigger government to smaller, from control to freedom, from special privileges to fair play.

Here’s how Florida could become the capital of armed libel

maybe it is correct to say that it is a step away from corporatism as Disney seems to have had an easier path to development than nearby competitors. But it is not a step towards a clear principle of freedom – the chosen solution was not to give these competitors the same right to self-regulation – nor towards a meaningful unwinding of this strange public-private amalgam, like half a century of Disney- Florida conditions. has born. If anything, should the new board use its purse strings to manipulate Disney programming, the state-corporate nexus will be stronger than ever.

You don’t have to disagree with DeSantis on culture war issues, or worry about free markets, or, in the governor’s phrase, revert to “reflexively deferring to big business” to see the risk it poses.

As another GOP governor, New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu, warnedif the Republicans “try to beat the Democrats by being authoritarian big government, remember what’s going to happen. Finally, [Democrats will] have power … and then they’re going to start punishing conservative businesses and conservative nonprofits and conservative ideas.”

So they will. And nothing in this episode suggests that DeSantis has any real qualms about big, authoritarian government. He just wants it to do his bidding.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast’s biggest scoops and scandals delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and get unlimited access to the Daily Beast’s unrivaled reporting. Sign up now.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button