Donald Trump's cabinet picks have shown that he's willing to cede the functioning of the government to the radical anti-government agenda of his Vice President-elect Mike Pence. He's named a climate change denier as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency and a fast food CEO as labor secretary. Most members of his team openly want to dismantle the agency they'll be overseeing. They are poised to vastly reduce what the government does.
If Trump's cabinet manages to pull it off, their massive government rollback will create a lot of disruption. Much of the negative consequences will be borne by those already vulnerable. We are in store for a massive conservative experiment in what happens when assistance programs are slashed and there is significantly less regulatory oversight. It isn't clear exactly what the consequences will be.
Trump's latest potential appointee with an extreme anti-government vision is Jim O'Neill, who's being tapped to head the Food and Drug Administration. O'Neill has argued that the FDA should stop verifying whether or not drugs actually produce the results they claim. He instead wants the agency to simply verify that drugs aren't toxic, and let the free market decide if they are actually effective.
An FDA applying such an insanely light regulatory touch would have a lot of implications. Of most interest to readers of this blog would be the impact on the agency's proposed vaping regulations. And it really could go one of two ways.
The optimistic scenario is that O'Neill sticks to a libertarian ideology and kills the new regulations on the basis that there's insufficient evidence that they're unsafe. That would preserve the ecosystem of small vaping businesses that produce a wide variety of products. The new regulations would have made it incredibly expensive for a company to get FDA approval for its vaping products. The agency itself estimates that it would cost $466,000 to bring each individual device or flavor to market. As a result, Big Tobacco corporations like Phillip Morris are already going through the FDA approval process so they can take over the market vaping market when the new regulations driving smaller vendors out of business.
The other option, however, is that the Trump administration just sides with Big Tobacco and leaves the new regulation in place. Trump has already made some high profile "jobs" deals with international corporations, which he may be invested in and thus profiting from. Trump may be only interested in pursuing a pure small government conservatism when it serves his purpose. The president-elect could just buy a stake in Phillip Morris, which he wouldn't have to disclose, and then make a killing when the company becomes one of the sole companies selling e-cig and vapes in the United States. Given his history in casinos and vodka, Trump would probably be comfortable being in the vice business. And Trump of course would only want to deal with one major corporation, rather than invest in the many small businesses that produce the diverse range of vaping products currently on the market.
On the other hand, maybe O'Neill will resist going in that direction if he's ultimately appointed. He's clearly a strong believer in innovation, running a venture capital firm that invests in medical tech companies. It's possible he's more interested in preserving the market as it is rather than homogenizing it. O'Neill's also involved with a company that wants develop Utopian societies at sea. He's a weird dude.
It's an open question how much interest Trump will take in day-to-day operations of the government. Maybe the conservative, anti-government ideologues he's tapped to run all the cabinet-level departments will be left to do as they please. Or maybe they'll have to spend their days responding to Trump's micro-managing schemes and plans. Only time and Twitter will tell.