Amazon and Apple have an illegal price-fixing conspiracy

[SPOILER ALERT!] The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Cory Doctorow


An old-timey cash register displaying $999.99. Its makers’ mark has been replaced with Apple’s ‘Think Different’ wordmark; one of the decorative arrows has been replaced with Amazon’s arrow-tipped ‘Smile’ logo. A modified version of Monopoly’s Rich Uncle Pennybags is popping out of the cash drawer. He wields a scythe and his face is a skull-mask. Perched atop a protrusion on the register is a trustbuster era editorial cartoon image of Roosevelt, swinging his ‘big stick.’ Image: Andrés Moreira

A class action law firm has filed a suit against Apple and Amazon, accusing the companies of price-fixing Ios devices through an agreement that blocks third-party sellers from Amazon unless they’re authorized by Apple. The suit should be a slam-dunk — but even more, the conduct it accuses Apple and Amazon of should never have been permitted in the first place.

40 years ago, antitrust law underwent a revolution. The pro-monopoly “scholars” of the Chicago School of Economics, led by the Nixonite criminal Robert Bork, argued that antitrust enforcement should limit itself to punishing companies that used market power to raise prices.

Proponents of this “consumer welfare” standard claimed that they just wanted to bring some “objectivity” to the question of monopoly. They said that asking the courts to tame corporate power led to an inconsistent, chaotic world where you couldn’t make a commercial plan without the fear that some judge would block it, because it smelled like an antitrust violation.

The pro-monopolists were unabashed about their support for monopolies. Bork and co. claimed that monopolies were “efficient” and could unleash wonders if we’d only let them dominate their markets and end pointless “wasteful competition.” This sentiment is echoed by today’s robber barons — think of Peter Thiel’s “competition is for losers” or Warren Buffett’s unslakable lust for businesses with “wide, sustainable moats.”

But the monopolists claimed that they weren’t in it for themselves. They said that they wanted to rule without challenge on our behalf — that they would lower prices, improve efficiency, and make us all better off. Indeed, they exhorted regulators to go hard after monopolists that raised prices.

This was a smokescreen. The monopolists insisted that appearances were deceptive…