Monopolies And What They Want

     I’ve got news for you, Gentle Reader: You are a monopoly.

     Surprised? It’s true, though: You are the one and only source for goods and services made by you. Because of the 13th Amendment, you have absolute control over the source of those goods and services. Assuming you’re not incarcerated for a felony crime, of course.

     Monopolies aren’t usually thought of in quite that fashion, of course. Our “naive” view of monopolies is based on a goods category: cars, computers, chimichangas, and so forth. Yet even that kind of monopoly is more common than many would suppose. Consider regional cable-television providers as an example.

     Every now and then some large organization will be targeted by the bien-pensants as a monopoly. The masters of that organization will struggle to come up with some countermeasure for the negative characterization. It’s not easy, given the connotations of the term. When we consider that in denotative terms a true monopoly – one with absolute control of access to some category of good – is exceedingly rare, it complicates matters still further.

     Some years ago, a regional movie-theater chain was forbidden to acquire the theaters of another, smaller chain by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC’s rationale was that the would-be acquirer already owned 10% of the theaters in its region! God forbid that such a monopoly should grow any more “dominant.” If this seems to you to put an unjustifiable strain on the notion of a monopoly, you’re not alone.

     Before I proceed further, allow me to reassure you that I’m no fan of giantism. In the usual case, a giant organization is massively inefficient and glacially torpid in the face of change. Most giant organizations got that way by failing to concentrate on their core specialty and haring off after other prizes. This is neither good for the organization nor good for those it purports to serve.

     That having been said, under a specified set of conditions, some sorts of enterprise must be huge to be viable. That will naturally limit the number of competitors in that economic sector. However, such an enterprise will be unusually vulnerable to changes in those enveloping conditions. For example, General Motors, which once sold over half the cars produced each year, was very slow to react to the technological advances that made much smaller, more lightly capitalized automakers viable. It cost GM quite a lot of market share.

     In brief: In an environment susceptible to significant social, economic, technological, and legal changes, the larger the monopoly or quasi-monopoly, the shorter its period of viability. Of course, those who captain such organizations dislike to face the music. When change threatens them, they man the barricades. Far too often, they seek assistance from the biggest, most threatening monopoly of all: government.


     Elon Musk, whom I’m beginning to like quite a lot, has ruffled some feathers:

     Musk — who serves as chief executive of both Tesla and SpaceX — made the remarks during The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit, where he also slammed President Biden’s domestic agenda.

     “It does not make sense to take the job of capital allocation away from people who have demonstrated great skill in capital allocation, and give it to an entity that has demonstrated very poor skill in capital allocation, which is the government,” he commented.

     “Government is simply the biggest corporation, with the monopoly on violence.”

     Incontrovertibly true…but it won’t make him any friends in Washington D.C., nor in the Mahogany Rows and corporate boardrooms of other large companies. The big secret is that our grotesquely swollen government is a cancer that’s poised to eat the rest of the body politic. Without that cancer, which has obligingly created levels of taxation and regulation that promote giant corporations while disfavoring small ones and inhibiting startups, the American economy would look much different.

     I’ve already written about this. The analysis hasn’t changed over the twenty-six years since I penned that essay. We’re nearer to the collapse of the thing than we were, but nothing else has changed, except for the number of Americans whose livelihood depends on giant corporations.

     Giant corporations are like “the High” in 1984. Their aim is to remain “the High.” They’ll sacrifice quite a lot of other things to remain viable. Compare this to the behavior of politicians and bureaucrats. I trust I need say no more.

     Now the widely respected Elon Musk has used the word monopoly in characterizing government. Perhaps that will open a few eyes. At any rate, more Americans listen when he talks than when I do. Just an early-morning thought.

1 comment

    • Steve Walton on December 9, 2021 at 12:20 PM

    I have always liked Elon Musk, though perhaps that reflects some reprehensible self-love because he is in most respects my doppelganger. He grasps the big picture, and acts on that vision. He’s not afraid to tell it how it is, and he is frustrated by those who cannot see.

    I would hate to be in the room when that frustration cuts loose, though.

Comments have been disabled.