RE: POL: Reaction to Microsoft Ruling

From: Matt Gingell (
Date: Thu Apr 06 2000 - 22:26:29 MDT

On Thu, 06 Apr 2000, Billy Brown wrote:

>And here we have the phenomenon that bothers me most about the Microsoft
>case. The theories behind current antitrust law are about as thoroughly
>discredited as anything in economics ever gets. Natural monopolies may or
>may not actually be possible, but they are definitely far less common than
>most people seem to think. In the MS case the government doesn't even have
>that excuse - they're reduced to saying "Microsoft is really big, and it
>plays hardball, so that must mean it has some kind of unfair advantage
>somehow, and we should stop them".
>The problem is that the government's arguments for Microsoft's supposed
>unfair advantage are an incoherent jumble of discredited theories and naive
>nonsense. Microsoft is in the same position as any major company in a
>competitive field - they look really intimidating until they screw up, and
>then they fall on their faces just as fast as the little guys.
I appreciate the argument that monopolies are unstable - maybe that's
so. It's a punctuated equilibrium model - a stable looking
configuration can spontaneously shatter and something totally
unexpected and new can replace it. On the other hand, maybe a monopoly
is a kind of local maximum - a bottom up economic optimization system
gets stuck and it needs to be perterbed from outside before it can get
going again. What does seem clear though is that, presently, there's a
problem. Whether government intervention is necessary or beneficial
is a separate question. Maybe, left alone, the market will change and
the situation will resolve itself - or maybe we can save 20 years of
stagnation by stepping in and doing something about it now.

>Microsoft got where it is by giving its customers what they wanted. The
>instant they cease to do so, someone else will step forward and take away
>their market. The actions the government is accusing Microsoft of taking
>are all perfectly normal business practices, which would not merit a raised
>eyebrow in any rational legal system. The whole case is simply a matter of
>companies that don't want to bother competing in the market crying for the
>government to stamp out competition for them.

This is an over simplification. If Microsoft gains a competitive
advantage from control of the Windows platform, rather than because
they're offering a better product, then superior products will fail
for reason irrelevant to their quality. I would like to see an
environment where products succeed on their own merits, not because
their maker controls the distribution channel or a proprietary
standard. For instance, I'd like to see a public operating system
specification - something like Posix - and a law prohibiting
government agencies from purchasing operating systems that do not
conform to that standard or buying application software which doesn't
run on some minimalist public reference implementation. Vendors could
than compete and differentiate themselves on the basis of efficiency,
robustness, etc, of their particular version.


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