For a couple of years, in my late-middle and early-high school days, I took piano lessons. Every Monday after school, my mom would take me to a historic home on the campus of Oxford College where Mrs. Jean Phillips would invest an hour of time in a talented kid who didn’t practice enough. My parents paid Mrs. Phillips $10 a week to teach me how to play.
Looking back at those days, two thoughts come to mind. First, I wish I had practiced more, because then my parents would have let me take lessons longer. Second, Mrs. Phillips was a little old lady from church who charged a paltry sum to teach kids piano. These days, she might have caught the eye of the feds. You read that right – the federal government is now going after piano teachers for price gouging and suppression of competition.
This is no joke, as Kim Strassel reports in the Wall Street Journal:
Every month, it seems, brings a new story of this presidency leveling the intimidating powers of the federal government against some law-abiding citizen. Now comes a terrifying tale of how the Federal Trade Commission, a governmental Goliath, crushes an average David—because it can.
In March of this year, a small nonprofit in Cincinnati—the Music Teachers National Association—received a letter from the FTC. The agency was investigating whether the association was engaged in, uh, anticompetitive practices.
The association’s sin, according to the feds, rested in its code of ethics. The code lays out ideals for members to follow—a commitment to students, colleagues, society. Tucked into this worthy document was a provision calling on teachers to respect their colleagues’ studios, and not actively recruit students from other teachers.
That’s a common enough provision among professional organizations (doctors, lawyers), yet the FTC avers that the suggestion that Miss Sally not poach students from Miss Lucy was an attempt to raise prices for piano lessons.
Essentially, the FTC is accusing the MTNA of allowing its teachers to be mini-monopolies, cruelly price gouging poor students who supposedly can’t jump ship to an instructor who charges less. It goes without saying that the FTC view of things is far from reality.