Lina Khan’s FTC Has Identified the Real Enemy, and It Is McDonald’s Broken Ice Cream Machines

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AP Photo/Nati Harnik

The Clown must go down. At least, that seems to be the aim of Federal Trade Commission chief Lina Khan.

Khan has not had a stellar run as leader of the FTC, losing a lot of high-profile cases. These include a failed attempt to block Facebook parent Meta from buying a virtual reality company, a fight to stop Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard (the FTC is still appealing that decision). 

She’s also spearheading the effort against Amazon’s Prime subscription service, arguing that it’s “too difficult” to unsubscribe from it (NOTE: I had no problem doing so once upon a time, but that could possibly be chalked up to white privilege… I have since resubscribed).

But Khan’s FTC isn’t done yet. She has now set her sights on Ronald McDonald and his perpetually broken ice cream machines.

In a letter to the U.S. Copyright Office this week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) antitrust division called for exemptions for “commercial soft serve machines” from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a law that makes it difficult for franchise owners to do their own repairs or hire a third-party repair technician. 
Currently, only technicians licensed by the company that makes McDonald’s soft serve ice cream machines are allowed to do digital repairs.
The joint letter to the Copyright Office said, “In the Agencies’ view, renewing and expanding repair-related exemptions would promote competition in markets for replacement parts, repair, and maintenance services, as well as facilitate competition in markets for repairable products.”

I feel for the folks who are mad that their favorite McDonald’s location always seems to have a broken ice cream machine when they crave a McFlurry the most, but that doesn’t warrant federal action.

The FTC is in the business of making sure antitrust law isn’t being violated. Near as I can tell, the reason they’re getting involved is the exclusive contract McDonald’s has with Taylor, the company that makes and maintains their ice cream machines. By their logic, misguided though it is, an exclusive contract between the two companies is too monopolistic. But if that’s a “monopoly,” the FTC is essentially setting a really broad precedent that would allow the federal government to get involved in even more private business deals. That’s a dangerous precedent to set, but it’s also exactly what the Big Government, anti-capitalist folks like Khan and her acolytes want.

On the face of it, it seems very silly to go after broken ice cream machines at McDonald’s, but what it represents is a very real threat to a very common business practice. Exclusive contracts between companies are a standard part of doing business at any level. Is the FTC going to start going after every vendor contract that gets signed from here on out? Because this will definitely open the door to that.

Customers, and, to an even greater extent, franchisees have every right to be upset about the state of ice cream machines. But that doesn’t give the federal government the right to interfere in agreements between two businesses when that agreement doesn’t come anywhere close to what we would consider a monopoly by any reasonable definition.

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