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September 21, 2007

Comments

Mean 3Monkey

I strongly disagree with your assessment of microsoft's monopoly position. I think that Ayn Rand's graveyard spin is being induced by microsoft's business practices, and she would accept government intervention as a necessary evil to restore a competitive environment. Monopolies are not especially dangerous when the industries in question produce stand-alone products. If I manufacture really good hammers at a low price and consequently sell 95% of the hammers in the marketplace, my market dominance has relatively little effect on the sale of nails or wood planks, let alone saws or screwdrivers. If you start producing a better hammer at a still lower price, everyone will switch to it. This is similar to google's dominance of web search, which raises relatively few hackles considering their current power. If yahoo, microsoft, or some upstart start-up got their act together and produced a better search engine, everyone would change their homepage overnight and google would be out of business.

Microsoft, on the other hand, uses their large market share in operating systems to both secure the future dominance of windows and to push their other products. The manufacturer of hammers has designed their product to be incompatible with nails or wood planks sold by other companies. They make deals with all the hardware stores, forcing retailers to refrain from selling other companies' hammers in return for the privilege of carrying their own hammers. They patent trivial and obvious components of their products, preventing others from designing new products because of the excessive cost of licensing (or fighting litigation over) what should be valueless "intellectual property." They sneak components of their intellectual property into what should be neutral standards on the interoperability of construction tools.

I'm hardly an anti-microsoft crusader. I'm writing this message on a computer running windows. My familiarity with the detailed history of microsoft's anti-competitive behavior is limited. But I can confidently assert that microsoft's near-monopoly has allowed them to stifle competition and innovation. I can't imagine that Ayn would approve of that.

md

Mean 3Monkey:

What do you think about Apple/iTunes/iPod integration -- it does many of the same "anti-competitive" things that Microsoft does but has had much less complaints. The anti-iTunes investigation in the EU currently is about national/regional pricing, but not, as far as I know, about their monopoly on digital music players.

md

Another article upset by the same paragraph:

http://blogs.zdnet.com/carroll/?p=1752&tag=nl.e622

Mean 3Monkey

Apple's practice of tying hardware with software, or hardware with music distribution, also stifles competition. I think the iron chain binding mac OS with macintosh hardware is actually more objectionable than the ipod/itunes link. You can own and use and ipod without purchasing a single song from the itunes store. You don't even need to use itunes to manage the music. But so far as I know, you can't buy a macintosh without also purchasing the mac operating system, and the hardware is designed to make it difficult to install a different operating system.

So I agree that all of these business practices are anti-competitive. But where does that leave us? If our goal is to promote innovation (I presume Ayn would sign on for that), then the laws should be structured to completely prevent companies from artificially bundling separate products. If instead we side ethically with the anarcho-capitalists (I think they call them libertarians these days, no? Would Ayn not also fall into this camp?), then companies should be allowed to do whatever they please, and the public good be damned. A reasonable person would probably take a stance somewhere between the two.

There's a vast field of gray in this debate. What about razor manufacturers who sell the handle at a loss but artificially inflate the price of the blades while preventing their competitors from selling compatible replacement blades? Or ink jet printer manufacturers with their proprietary ink cartridges?

But now I am curious: where do you think Ayn would fall on this spectrum?

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Ahem

  • If Ayn Rand and Walter Benjamin got in a cage fight and then made up over foie gras, single malt scotch and indie pop, you'd have the delightful adventures of "That Was Probably Awkward." Plus or minus the single malt and foie gras, depending on the week's finances. But always the indie pop. Sad, stirring indie pop. And a decent happy hour.

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