The Federal Government Apparently Finds Ethics Suspicious, And Other Alarming Developments

And not just ethics—music teacher ethics.

Thank God we have a federal government poised and ready to come down hard on monopolist schemers like her...

Thank God we have a federal government poised and ready to come down hard on monopolist schemers like her…

Like many professions, music teachers regard it as uncollegial, unprofessional and wrong to poach another music teacher’s clients—that is, little Marvin who’s learning the violin, or little Patrice who is practicing the piano. Thus the tiny Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) included a provision in its code of ethics condemning such conduct, and declaring that no ethical music teacher sets out to actively recruit another studio’s or teacher’s students.

Regulators are hired to regulate, which means, though big government fans refuse to admit it, that we have tax-payer funded government employees who spend their time looking for ways to justify their existence. One such employee at the Federal Trade Commission must have really been desperate, because the MTNA received an official letter from the FTC announcing that because of the association’s ethical ideals, the 22,000 member group of mostly piano teachers was under investigation for fostering non-competitive practices that would lead to price-fixing. Yes, the Feds find professional courtesy suspicious. Can’t have that.

This came as a shock to the association, since…

  • The Code of Ethics had been around since the association was founded,
  • It was aspirational only,
  • That provision about poaching had never been enforced or the basis for a complaint,
  • This was incredibly stupid.

That part, at least, should not have been a surprise.

The association’s management flew to Washington. It explained all of this. It also explained that the FTC has no authority over non-profits, and indeed exceeded its power by sending the letter. As we know, however, the current version of the U.S. government doesn’t really pay much attention to laws, limits on power or that Constitution thingy. The MTNA doesn’t have the resources to engage in a fight with the feds over principle, so it capitulated and eliminated a perfectly reasonable ethical exhortation from its ethics code. Nonetheless, the MTNA staff still had to spend thousands of hours compiling the mound of documents, going back decades, that the FTC demanded, including reports, publications and anything ever written regarding the code.

In October, the MTNA had to sign a consent decree, neither admitting nor denying guilt. As part of the agreement to get the FTC out of its business that the agency has no legal right to be involved in anyway, the association must have a statement read out loud at every national MTNA event, warning members against collusion on pricing or making agreements not to steal each other’s students. That statement must also be sent to the membership and  and posted on the MTNA website. All of the association’s more than 500 affiliates must also be so educated, and the MTNA has to require them to sign compliance statements.

Wait, I’m not done yet.

Then the association has to develop and put in place a detailed antitrust compliance program, including annual training for  its leadership regarding the non-existant but insidious threat of anti-competitive piano teaching practices. (Think about it: the average cost of music lessons is 30 bucks an hour. How much price-fixing could there be?) The MTNA  then must submit regular reports to the FTC and appoint an antitrust compliance officer. The requirements of the consent decree will be in effect for the next 20 years.

By then, of course, the momentum of statism as seeded by the Obama administration will have made this unnecessary. By that enlightened time, a yet unchartered federal agency, probably championed by fourth term President Elizabeth Warren, will tell families which of their children can study which musical instruments, and provide government lessons for those deemed worthy at taxpayer expense. After all, there is a right to be a musician and to be able to join a musician’s union, and the old-fashioned music teachers were practicing discrimination by insisting that students pay anything at all.

I know–I sounded like conservative rant-master Mark Levin just then. One can only shrug off as trivial aberrations so many examples of government abuse of power and outrageous interference with our enjoyment of life, however, before you have to begin wondering:

What kind of people have we placed in power and are allowing to bully and command us this way?

Why do so many Americans entrust their welfare to people whose judgment is this wretched, and whose sense of proportion is so warped?

Could there be any regulatory conduct more cowardly and despicable than picking on tiny associations of innocuous professionals, while banks, stockbrokers and investment houses largely escaped any consequences from the toxic practices that led to the economic meltdown in 2008?

What will it take for a majority of voters to perceive that  government micro-managing of every aspect of our lives is strangling the nation’s spirit, prosperity, and joy?

Are big government progressives really unable to see the danger that an incident like the MTNA mugging illustrates, do they see it but think it’s fine, or do they just not care about the collateral damage to liberty as they push on to their idea of utopia?

Yes, it is just a a bunch of piano teachers, and most of us will shrug and say, “Hey, it’s not my problem.” I abhor cliches, so I won’t bore you with the well-known quote about the ultimate consequences of such thinking, but you should know the one. If it isn’t our problem yet, it will be. All we have to do is sit back and wait.


Pointer: Legal Ehics Forum

Facts: Wall Street Journal

Graphic: Ehow

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

38 thoughts on “The Federal Government Apparently Finds Ethics Suspicious, And Other Alarming Developments

  1. The government is rightly the focus of your post, but isn’t there also an issue of putting things into an ethics code that you don’t actually mean?

    • Don’t actually mean, or aren’t going to enforce? Ethics Codes are not properly enforcement documents, but aspirational and for guidance. They typically, or should, mark the exemplary standards, not the lowest acceptable standards. I’m sure the association meant the warning that targeting specific students to take away from their teachers was a lousy way to do business, and it is. (And prohibiting it isn’t price-fixing.)

      So no, I see nothing wrong with Ethics Code provisions that an association isn’t prepared to enforce. Simply marking an unethical practitioner as unethical should be enough.

  2. Mr. Marshall:
    I would bet that Teddy Roosevelt would have beaten this FTC hack soundly with his big stick for bastardizing the intent of anti-trust law.

    Irrespective of the resources that the group has to fight the power, we have to ask why this group was singled out – how did this FTC official even find them? Does this administration need a win that badly? How exactly does this even fall under the Commerce Clause which would give them the ability to bring a suit against the organization? The actual commerce in question is inherently local. More importantly, what are we willing to do about these abuses of power?

    If the FTC believes that price fixing in the private music teaching industry is a threat to national competitiveness why does it look the other way when executives of the health insurance industry are brought to the White House to discuss what products will be offered; and I bet at what price? Where is the promised transparency?

    Perhaps the President and his sycophants in Congress can expend as much time explaining the need to create a national exchange for music teachers to protect the unwitting public from unscrupulous and greedy music teachers who have organized to carve up the market. Where is Eric Holder when we need him?

    Have we lost all common sense?

  3. Thank goodness someone finally put a stop to the MTNA. You know it’s board of directors are all hand selected members of the Skull and Crossbones fraternities and that they were slowly infiltrating the Trilateral Commission and have connections with the banks colluding to adjust the LIBOR interest rate?

      • Jack: This may be a case of federal bureaucrats basing an entire campaign on what they learned from a screening of “The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T” while on a Vegas vacation. It makes as much sense as any other explanation!

      • Most disturbing of all, the members reportedly taught students to only play the white keys…
        Think about it…the very appearance of the piano is racist, the black keys are smaller and less prominent.
        Therefore, the piano is racist, and so, by association, is anyone who plays a piano. (Ray Charles not included.)
        That is one reason why you do not hear the piano in Rap “songs”.

        If we stamp out the racist element in our country we will all be the better for it.

        • Actually, if someone only played on the black keys, someone else could slightly plausibly argue that it was racist, only in a different way. It has been known for a long time that playing that way sounds Scottish.

  4. So… wait, the head of the MTNC flew to Washington and pointed out that nonprofits were outside FTC Jurisdiction, and the FTC just said “so what?” Because it’s bad enough when the government breaks its boundaries and acts against the law to increase control, but it gets my head real explodey when it’s pointed out they are breaking the law and the response is “we sure are, but you can’t do anything about it.”

    • “…it’s bad enough when the government breaks its boundaries and acts against the law to increase control, but… they are breaking the law and the response is ‘we sure are, but you can’t do anything about it.’ ”

      Stop being so racist, or else, I’ll sic Oprah on you.

      • Psh, Oprah can’t touch me, I’m not a racist because I have lots of black friends. Well, one black friend. But he said to call him “Milk Dud,” which is practically the same as permission to use the N-word, so I’m good.

    • “we sure are, but you can’t do anything about it.”
      But Luke, isn’t that the very essence of Obama’s presidency?

  5. Ethical or not, I will sleep well tonight with the sound knowledge that the Feds are protecting me from those evil music education barons.

  6. I feel like my brain is going to explode — there HAS to be more to this story. Original sources are needed before I decide whether or not painkillers are in order.

    As a FYI, this is the MTNA’s mission statement (for lack of a better description) of why to get a certificate from them:

    “The MTNA Professional Certification Program exists to improve the level of professionalism within the field of music teaching. Certification helps readily identify competent music teachers within the community and provides these teachers with prestige, recognition and the potential for student recruitment and increased earning power.”

    So, maybe it is a cartel in the making. 🙂 But if it is, it is not a very good one. My instrument lessons cost about $30/hr. twenty years ago in the Midwest. And, certainly in other parts of the country they are significantly higher.

  7. Most piano teachers I know are part timers, small enough to be reasonably confident that their small business flies under the IRS radar. Could this be the first step in regulating, certifying, licensing and finally taxing? Enough to make a mom earning a few bucks on the side to break under the new compliance burden. All that will be left are the mall instrument stores who hire college music majors for far less than $30/hour.

  8. I wonder I there is a parallel organization out there, because many disciplines have multiple professional organizations. If so, does this group have a similar code that is equally harassed?

  9. I can see it coming. No more Beethoven, Mozart, or Mahler. Too right wing. Maybe Shostakovich and proletariat music would be acceptable.

  10. Wow. I think this is the first time since I started commenting here, that I have felt compelled to repeat part of my comment in another thread Jack posted the very previous day:

    “A government can make anything it wants into criminality, as well as make laws specifically calculated to inflict the lawmakers’ (or their supporters’) desired amounts of chaos and harm on certain targets. We are seeing such laws in effect today, this hour, along with their intended and unintended consequences.”

    Maybe I should have put quotes around my first use of “law” above. But other than that, I now feel confidently self-validated at least almost to the level of one of my favorite fellow commenters here, ablativmeatshld.

    Now I, too, can say, “I told you so” – and I almost did it even without saying “fuck” once.

  11. Good God! As a young girl in another decade, it was an “absolute’ that properly-raised young women had taken piano lessons and ballet (I did both for 10 years). And, at that time, small associations of piano/ballet teachers were neither known about or (!) considered to be within the purview of the FTA (frankly, we didn’t even know what the FTA was, then).

    Why is this going on? Why is a country that is basically owned by China, in trouble overseas, looking and being less and less of a world power than ever before, spending money on the “ethics” of piano teachers? I took ballet from a local teacher who was augmenting her income as a public school gym teacher; I took piano lessons from the brilliant president of the Washington Music Society. Neither “marketed” to us: they were just available to us.

    Were I among the growing number of paranoid, conspiracy theorists I would figure it out the way that Wayne (above) did, and more: manage the arts and manage the people. Very totalitarian. You can’t stop Broadway (on its last legs anyway), but if you CAN take certain key parts of our (free) culture on the purely local level and make them pay obeisiance to the Feds, you’re working toward a totally managed society. Public schools the same. If the FTA has to justify its existence, find a more likely candidate to run over.

    It’s bad enough that some jurisdictions have limited the kinds/types/authors of books in their libraries. Soon this will be a Federal issue?

    I am in complete despair, and frankly, fear.

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