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Volume 11, Issue 5: Anvil

Soft on Microsoft

Douglas Wilson

The “antitrust” action recently taken by the Justice Department against Microsoft has proven for us, once more, that dinosaurs still roam the earth. A few reminders on basic economics are perhaps in order.

Reminder #1: Destructive monopolies are usually the result of government regulations. In a true free market situation, monopolies can develop temporarily as long as the companies are faithfully serving their customers. But when the companies in question grow fat and sassy, the field is open for competitors to arise—in order to woo the increasing numbers of disenchanted customers away. But in a regulated economy, when a company grows fat and sassy, they hire fat and sassy lawyers and lobbyists to get legislation passed that makes it difficult or impossible for true competition to arise. When this has happened, the government might periodically exercise some sort of arbitrary authority in order to break a monopoly up into more manageable chunks. But this is not the same thing as a free market.
Breaking Microsoft up into “Baby Bills” in order to foster competition between them is the free market equivalent of professional wrestling. But try as you might, you will still have trouble convincing your Aunt Hermione that the competition is not for real.
Reminder #2: You get more of what you subsidize, and less of what you penalize. The goverment cannot have it both ways—they cannot simultaneously encourage companies to remain in the States while diligently chasing them away. When you make things too hot for someone in Situation A, they sometimes, when they can, seek out Situation B.
In the old days, antitrust action was far easier because U.S. Steel was not exactly portable. But in the new global economy, companies now have the very real option of running for the metaphorical tall grass. Can anyone explain why it would not be possible (say) for Microsoft to move to Singapore? We have already seen the development of numerous international corporations, which have a very tenuous link with their country of origin. In other words, exactly how meaningful is antitrust litigation in a global economy?
Reminder #3: Attacks on business monopolies by the civil government diverts attention away from the real problem monopoly, which is to say, the civil government.
Take all the concerns raised about the monopoly under attack. Too big? And so the Justice Department is small? Arrogance of power? The federal government is a model of humility? Charges too much? No, I haven’t sent any money to DC lately. For the money I gave to Microsoft, at least I got a decent program.


 

The Meaning of Campain Placards

By Douglas Jones

It’s that time again. Those little campaign placards in the shape of real estate lawn signs have recently and will increasingly fill our horizons. They will show up like mushrooms in private yards, bare street corners, and roadsides—in any bit of open dirt. Piles of names, just names. They’ll be climbing too, up bigger signs and telephone poles and building sides. The names start appearing, and we know the high holy days of American politics approach.

But what are we as voters supposed to gain from these signs? What is their purpose? It would be different if these signs displayed syllogisms or poems, but they’re generally just names.
Obviously they want us to recognize the names. But what does that mean in a campaign? When Nike stamps its name on a sports pro, I’m supposed to want to be like him because he’s supercool. But most street corners I know tend to lack that special allure.
So, apparently, the hope is that if I see the name all over the place, then I’ll get so comfortable with it, I might just step into the voting booth smiling and accidentally mark the name. “His name is everywhere; that makes me feel good.” In other words, placards might help idiots vote.
But perhaps these signs are supposed to give us the impression that vast numbers of people support this candidate. Maybe we’re supposed to picture people holding these signs like mini political conventions in every open space. Then I’m supposed to think, “Well, gee, everyone seems to be supporting this name, so I should too.” Placards, then, would be a great help for sheep.
At least we get a little more reasonable when we stick these things in private yards. Then we’re back to personal endorsements. “I’m a good neighbor, so trust me and vote for Jeb.” Most of the time we don’t even know our own neighbors’ names, so why would I trust his political pronouncements? “I may have borrowed sugar, but this name on my lawn will take much more. Have a good day.” Political season always forces an extra chill into quiet neighborhoods.
It appears, then, that these placards perform a great service for idiots, sheep, or people overly impressed by neat yards. Can you imagine Caesar, Charlemagne, or Napolean posting such things around town? They wouldn’t stoop. And yet, many of our politicians swing far more power around than Caesar ever drooled at. We simultaneously trivialize and magnify political power. A deathly mix.

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