Chris Christie Takes a Break From Exalting the Free Market to Block Tesla Sales in New Jersey

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 12 2014 12:19 PM

Free-Market Cheerleader Chris Christie Blocks Tesla Sales in New Jersey

Chris Christie bans Tesla sales in New Jersey
Gov. Chris Christie, champion of the free market except when it hurts the car-dealership lobby.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Like a lot of Republicans, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie likes to talk about how the government should get out of the way of the free market. In a speech last week in Washington, D.C., he railed against President Obama’s economic interventions. “We don’t have an income inequality problem, we have an opportunity problem in this country because government's trying to control the free market," he said. And he urged his fellow conservatives to shout their opposition to government regulations from the rooftops. “We need to talk about the fact that we’re for a free-market society that allows your effort and your ingenuity to determine your success, not the cold, hard hand of government determining winners and losers.”

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

Then Christie came back to New Jersey and signed off on a cold, hard government regulation that blocks Tesla from selling its cars in the state.

Advertisement

The rule change prohibits automakers from selling directly to consumers, as Tesla does. Instead, it requires them to go through franchised, third-party dealerships, as the big, traditional car companies do. In other words, it requires that the middle-men get their cut. The Christie Administration made the move unilaterally, via the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. It was urged on by lobbyists for the state’s existing car dealerships, which fear the competition. The upshot is that Tesla will be forced to stop selling cars at its two existing dealerships in the state, and drop its plans to build more. It’s unclear what will happen to the employees of those dealerships.

New Jersey is the third state to effectively block Tesla by banning automakers from selling their cars directly. The other two are Texas and Arizona.

In a blog post, Tesla blasted the Christie administration for enacting the rule change administratively, rather than waiting for the legislature to resolve the ambiguity in existing law. A spokesman for Christie, on the other hand, told me the governor views the new rule not as a policy change so much as a clarification of the status quo for car sales in the state. He added that the governor might be open to approving a law overturning that ruling, but noted that the legislature has not presented any such bill so far.

Tesla, needless to say, is not thrilled. The Christie administration and its bureaucrats, the electric-car company alleged, are “thwarting the Legislature and going beyond their authority to implement the state’s laws at the behest of a special interest group looking to protect its monopoly at the expense of New Jersey consumers. This is an affront to the very concept of a free market.”

The auto industry, it's worth noting, is already something less than free, with both Tesla and traditional U.S. automakers benefiting from various forms of government largesse. That said, blocking Tesla from competing with existing car dealerships seems like a particularly blatant form of "picking winners and losers."

If there’s a silver lining for Tesla, it’s that when bills banning direct sales do make it to state legislatures, they tend to get defeated. It turns out the public likes being able to buy cars from whomever it wants, rather than having its choices constrained by Republican governors and their bureaucrats.

Previously in Slate:

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?