Opinion

The Hollywood-Washington revolving door tilts trade policy

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Timothy P. Carney,Media,Revolving Door,Government Regulation

Hollywood is politically powerful. Tech writer Tim Lee has noticed that the U.S. Trade Representative has tended to advance Hollywood's agenda on content rules. He has also noticed that Hollywood tends to hire up USTR alumni.

At Vox, Lee walks through some of the specifics, but also takes up the difficult question of causality. The revolving door seems to have an effect on the policies advanced by our public servants. But without positing evil bureaucrats or corruption that belongs in, well, a Hollywood script, what's the mechanism by which this all happens.

Here's Lee's stab:

... I doubt public servants like McCoy consciously pursue dubious policies in an effort to curry favor with future employers. ... I assume McCoy sincerely believes the Hollywood-friendly policies he advocated at USTR were in the interests of the nation.

But the revolving door between USTR and industry groups creates a strong but subtle pressure on USTR's culture. Like many government agencies, USTR regularly turns to outside experts to help it sort through complex trade issues. Naturally, they turn to people they trust: their former colleagues — or even former bosses — who now work at trade organizations with plenty of resources to devote to understanding the minutia of trade policy.

And of course, as Holleyman's hire illustrates, the revolving door can carry people in either direction. A USTR staffer's former colleague who works at an industry trade group this year might be her boss next year. So over time, the culture and values of industry groups like the MPAA, BSA, and RIAA seeps into USTR. USTR staffers who cater to the interests of these industries are seen as team players and get promoted. Those who push for a more balanced approach are seen as trouble-makers and get marginalized.

I have plenty to add at some later point, but so far that sounds right to me.

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