Anything That Can’t Go On Forever Will Eventually Stop
A lot of regulations went up in flames in the Reagan/Thatcher era: labor laws, environmental rules, finance frameworks. But the most consequential shift of the age was the change in antitrust law, specifically, the advent of the “consumer welfare” standard that supposed that monopolies were mostly totally amazing, miracles of coordination and efficiency that would make all our lives better thanks to the singular genius of the men (and a few women) who led them.
Starting in the 1980s, and increasingly ever since, our governments have acted as though monopolies were precious resources to be nurtured and protected.
If pressed, the new antitrust establishment would grudgingly admit that there were some bad monopolies, but these were so incredibly rare that there should be a general presumption in favor of market-concentrating tactics like mergers, acquisitions, and predatory pricing. If a bad monopoly happened to slip past the regulators, it would be quickly competed away, and the good monopolies were so fantastically efficient that it was better to let a thousand guilty monopolies go free than to put a single innocent monopoly to death.
Monopoly’s cheerleaders have written endless books making the case for letting monopolists run free, but if you read between the lines, the argument breaks down into two pieces:
- Giants walk among us. Some people are born with such a spark of special genius that they alone represent our species best hope for a better future, and any restraints we put on these ubermeschen would cost us all the benefit of their singular genius; and
- Kissing billionaire ass. If your think-tank, political party, university department or NGO would sing the praises of the ultra-rich, name schools and galleries and buildings and endowed chairs after them, then they will share in the bounty.
Point 1 was spoken aloud, and point 2 was generally a mere implication just below the surface, of course.