Steve Chapman

But deciding who will take better care of an area's customers is normally left up to those customers. If Tesla treats them badly, it's not likely to survive. Ask the former owners of online retailers like Lillian Vernon and RedEnvelope, which went from success to bankruptcy.

The correct complaint about Tesla is that it relies so heavily on federal loans and tax credits aimed at promoting greater fuel efficiency. But General Motors got some help, too, and no one is trying to punish it.

There is no reason to expect direct sellers to mistreat consumers. Amazon has become a $60 billion operation by serving them better or cheaper than local stores. Michael Dell made his fortune shipping computers directly to consumers. At this point, direct sales are not a fearsome leap into the unknown.

Glaser conjured another reason why the people at Tesla should not be allowed to operate as they prefer. "You tell me they're gonna support the little leagues and the YMCA?" he demanded. Tesla says, actually, it will -- not that sponsoring youth athletics is, or should be, required to do business in America.

A more honest assessment came from Bill Wolters, president of the Texas Automobile Dealers Association, who fears that "if they change the franchise laws, it allows every other manufacturer to come in and do what Tesla is going to -- compete with our family-owned businesses."

Among those li'l ol' businesses is Red McCombs Ford in San Antonio. McCombs used to own the San Antonio Spurs and the Minnesota Vikings, and his net worth is about $1.4 billion. But never mind that. Since when is "compete" a bad word in free-market Texas?

This is not about protecting consumers or even assuring the survival of Little League baseball. It's about established businesses leveraging government power to enrich themselves. They get the express lane to themselves, and consumers get left by the side of the road.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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