Friday, July 24, 2009

That's Why We Have Anti-Trust Laws

Holman Jenkins, Jr. wrote a curious editorial in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal.

In the piece, he spent considerable ink asking why Google and Microsoft don't figure out how to collude in staying out of each other's way. By comparing Google's relationship with Apple, on whose board Google CEO Eric Schmidt sits, Jenkins noted the animosity present between the other pair of companies.

Going through various detailed examples, such as Microsoft's new Bing search engine and Google's online office applications, Jenkins contended, probably correctly, that each has less prospect of gaining much revenue from encroaching on the other's turf than they have profit to protect by demonstrating their ability to hurt each other.

Somewhere in the piece, Jenkins noted the likely cross-ownership of Google and Microsoft by many shareholders, reasoning that, because of this, it would be a good thing if the two firms could somehow learn to back off and let each other's businesses alone.

But that is exactly why we have anti-trust laws. Microsoft is already moving to cut prices on Office applications and ready its own free internet version because Google entered the business with its own free online applications.

The two also tangle in search applications.

If Google weren't threatening several of Microsoft's businesses simply by its existence, we'd all be paying higher prices for less productive software from the Redmond giant.

Anti-trust law is a good thing. I don't quite understand Jenkins' contention that if only it were legal, gee whiz, these two large companies could save so much money by not building businesses which antagonize and threaten each other.

If that were so, the entire Schumpeterian dynamics process in the businesses in which Google and Microsoft engage would be slowed to a crawl.

The two firms' mutual pressures on each other to continue to innovate, offer more value for price, and worry about the other's encroachment all serve consumers well.

Why change that?

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