Ralph Nader will forever be remembered as an intellectual and figurative presence who created safety and environmental standards regarding the automobile industry. It’s crucially important we remember people this way when regarding their specific industries because it standardizes comparisons which we are able to look upon in the future. Another Common figure that is regarded with the same type of historical respect is The Iron Lady. While Ralph Nader fought for increased government regulation in the U.S., Margaret Thatcher destroyed public unions and re-established the U.K. as an international power whilst her countrymen suffered though famine and national frustration. The story of the two characters may seem at odds but they represent two sides of the same coin when discussing the issue of a problem that reaches an oft overlooked problem that reaches across the isle when concerning American politics. Google, Facebook, and Amazon represent an existential threat to our American ideal of freedom that seems very apparent however nobody can seem to pin down why that is the case. So as your resident freedom extremist let me make my case and explain to you exactly why monopolies are something that should not be feared but instead appreciated while they exist.
The first and historically appreciated as the strongest monopoly in the modern western world is the Dutch East India Company. During the 16 and 1700’s the Dutch funded corporation operated as not only the primary importer of spices to the European countries but as the military influence that capitalized the corporation as well as the Dutch people as an influence around the world. Two centuries would pass before this incredible stage of Mercantilistic influence would pass. The entire lifespan of Catherine the Great, The French and American revolutions, and Queen Marie Antoinette all occurred during the companies lifespan yet pale in importance when considering the importance that the Dutch East India Company had on the worlds economic system moving forward. Not only was the company a monopoly in the sense that it dominated an industry and was the sole provider of a specific good to a large portion of the world, the Dutch East India Company also created the first known example of a publicly traded company. Gathering spices from ships built in western Europe that would return with spices traded from Oriental Asia was monumentally risky business at the time but the trade off for shareholders was potentially enormous. This was not only achieved during a time before the modern ideals of liberalism were implemented across governments in the western world but while most educated societies still believed the Earth was flat and existed as the central astronomical figure in the universe. This should not stand as an embarrassment to the human society as a whole but instead as an example of pride when considering just how far we’ve achieved through the scientific process.
This scientific process was unfortunately underutilized by the American government in 1890 when the Sherman Antitrust Act was passed through congress. During concentrated fear that trade would overtake the power of the government the Sherman Act was passed as a way to prevent companies from restricting trade of competitors over state boundaries. When Americans think of monopolies we historically recall Standard Oil as the greatest example. Not only did John D. Rockefeller create an empire in his home state of Ohio but utilized the idea of horizontal integration to buy out his competitors and use the power of fear and coercion to convince his adversaries to sell oil at a higher price than his company. When we imagine a greedy monopolistic American company, there is no better example than Standard Oil. The company reduced costs of oil and was a contributing factor of cementing the U.S. as the economic leader of the world in the early 20th century. Under public pressure and using the Sherman Act created almost 40 years earlier, the company was dissolved into over 30 different companies shortly before the great depression.
Monopolies will always exist within a society, the question is how we decide to live alongside them. With this in mind I remind you of the two opposing ideologues introduced earlier. Ralph Nader was an American policymaker who was almost singularly responsible for a number of safety measures regarding cars in the states. Every American learns to drive at the age of 16 because not doing so leads to an incredible disadvantage in society. The reality is America is a massive country and the idea of driving multiple hours for something as simple as your workday is common. Margaret Thatcher on the other hand represents the other side of the ideological spectrum. Whilst seeing her country in decay the Iron Lady took arms to destroy the coal unions that had dominated the public conversation in her country for decades. These figures fought the ideological monopolies that opposed them, Nader against the car industry who most people felt generally should be left alone and Thatcher against the public sector coal unions who oddly worked at a loss because of how powerful the unions were.
Monopolies come in may forms and die in many ways but what exactly is the existential threat? We have been told there is one, but is a large company who provides you with goods and services based on mutually beneficial transactions somehow less trustworthy than a large government who forces its’ citizens into taxation at gunpoint? Milton Friedman argued that monopolies could not exist in a free market and only do so because of subsidies and government regulation which destroy competition. This was certainly the case for the Dutch East India company whose power was driven by the state, as well as Standard Oil which was given exclusive oil rights in many places including the whole of Pennsylvania. Thatcher had to fight monopolies that were so strong they forced their employees to work at a loss, this structure was done through enterprise owned by the government. When Volvo created the seatbelt, instead of being able to advertise their product as safer than the competition, Nader used government intervention to not only break the patent but force automotive dealers across America to utilize the creation.
The call to regulate monopolies is born out of fear, one of the strongest tools man wields. A monopoly can only be so strong if it is regulated into absolute authority. Senator Lindsey Graham asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg if he would be willing to work with the government to regulate social media platforms. This is no stupider than asking a cheetah just how fast a Gazelle is allowed to run before it is run down and mauled by the alpha predator. Thankfully businesses have a way of thriving and dying off in an S shaped economy, so monopolies should be no more feared than the dark. After all, it only consumes you until someone flips a switch… Or until someone taller and stronger breaks the lightbulb.