Saturday

Price Fixing Becomes Legal

What has your court done to you?

While integration issues took center stage last week with the much-talked-about decision from the US Supreme Court, a more far-reaching decision slipped out completely unnoticed. In a 5-4 split decision, the high court wiped out 96 years of consumer protection and made price-fixing legal again.

The court ruled that manufacturers can set prices and forbid sellers from offering any discounts. This court decision is one that you could quickly feel in your pocketbook. Under the old law, price competition could be fierce, resulting in door buster specials that stores used to draw customers. In the process, smart shoppers could sometimes find money-saving bargains. Well, that may quickly become a thing of the past.

In a case about handbags made in California, the conservative judges ruled that price-fixing deals between manufacturers and their retailers were legal, even if it ends up costing consumers millions of more dollars in excess profits to big corporations. Holding that the rule was "out of date and out of step" in an increasingly global economy, the judges apparently based their decision on the idea that manufacturers would still compete between each other, even if retailers no longer did.

So, when Sony says that new flat panel tv is gonna cost $2,500, it won't do you any good to shop the price at Best Buy or Circuit City or anywhere else.

Whether it's lemonaid or an LCD tv set, one thing is clear: consumers need protection now more than ever. Big business won't protect you and big government gets its money from big business.

I'm not sure if the moral of the story is go out and buy that flat screen tv right away (before they start rigging all the prices), or if we just need to get some new judges up there.