David Warsh has an excellent column on economists, auctions and the politicians who oppose them:
…the US Department of Transportation earlier this month canceled plans to auction landing slots for New York’s three busiest airports. The Bush administration had sought the measure, hoping to cut delays at the chronically congested airports (and, of course, raise some much-needed cash). The airline industry lined up against the proposal, so did Democratic congressmen. Incumbent airlines will continue to profit; frequent travelers will continue to suffer delays.
Similarly, the banking lobby, among the nation’s strongest interest groups, has so far successfully opposed Treasury Department attempts to put up for bid banks’ questionable (now “legacy”) assets. The reason is simple: when the asking price is, say, 90 cents on the dollar and the bid is closer to 40 cents, no manager will willingly take part in an auction that seems certain to lower book values.
[Similarly]…President Obama campaigned on a promise to auction the [carbon] permits. But a coalition of Midwestern and Southern Democrats teamed up to alter the bill, and when its language was released last week it turned out that fully 80 percent of the permits would be given away at first to electricity utilities and their big industrial customers…