Motley Fool Staff
Nov 10, 1999 at 12:00AM
Capitalism, USA (November 10, 1999) -- On Monday, in a display of power that can only be regarded as sublime, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) and the DOJ met in classic Western showdown style on a dusty street in a place called "Capitalism." There were no blustering judges screaming at those giving testimony, no high fives and back-slapping States Attorney Generals licking their lips for a big payoff under the guise they were protecting consumers. No, this was just a crowd of silent onlookers called "we the people" here for one purpose and one purpose aloneï¿½ to protect Capitalism.
Lining the street are common folk, good folk. They don't come here with fancy words. These are working people with mortgages, car payments, families, children in college, decent values, and a good measure of common sense. They came here today not because they agree with everything in this world but because they like to decide things for themselves. They have generally found it easier to try and settle their own differences rather than having the government dictate to them and tell them how to think.
They only have one barber in this town, one general store, one hotel, one saloon, but nobody is screaming "monopoly power" and trying to burn them to the ground because collectively they recognize each is free to exist in the marketplace. It's a matter of freewill. All the businesses in town know they could charge more if they wanted, but sooner or later somebody else would come along with the same service at a lower price. So the businesses try to be fair. Commerce here is the meeting of equals, not a relationship of victims to executioners.
A few years ago, a blacksmith came to town and put together a pretty good carriage and charged a pretty hefty price. Some could afford it, most couldn't. So one day the owner of the lumber mill looked at the carriage and thought he could make a good carriage, maybe not quite as nice initially but one that would get the job done. In fact, he started to wonder how many people would want the carriage if it was very inexpensive. This was a growing community with homesteaders. So he thought to himself, "What if I build these carriages and give them away for free to anyone who buys wood from my lumber mill to build a house?"
So, that's precisely what he did. He didn't raise the price of the lumber one penny. He simply gave the carriage away with the purchase of the lumber to build a home as promised. He reasoned that this would be good for long-term business. Customers could come to town more often and could carry away their own future supplies. This would build customer loyalty and it would be good for commerce throughout the town.
Word spread and pretty soon people were coming in from everywhere to buy lumber to build their new homes. And so the lumber mill owner decided to package the lumber on the carriage in a special way so that the customer could just drive it home over the very rough terrain instead of having to deliver the carriage and wood separately. Business was great and a whole town began to spring up with loyal patrons. Sure, sometimes a wheel would squeak or lock up, but for the most part, customers were happy. In fact, most everyone was happy except for the blacksmith, who called in a notorious gunslinger named "Reno" to even the score.
So into the town called Capitalism rode Reno's gang, pushing people around and threatening everybody. They had just come out of Waco and were still slapping each other on the back about what a great job they did over there. It had something to do with burning a place to the ground in an effort to protect the children who were inside the building. Didn't quite get that myself, but Reno claimed full responsibility. Like one of the town's people said, "Reno don't have to make sense, nobody's going up against Reno's gang."
By now, you've heard the rest of the story. Hangin' Judge Jackson came into town and said the lumber mill was guilty of using its monopoly power to do significant damage to the blacksmith. It didn't seem to matter that most everyone had a house and carriage now; this was somehow not good for the consumer. The judge ordered the lumber mill to separate the lumber from the carriage. The lumber mill said, "We can't do that. The bolts that hold the lumber in place also hold the wheels on the carriage." So the judge appointed an expert from some fancy Eastern university who said he has a tool to take the lumber off the carriage. Well, he didn't really get the lumber off the carriage but he did manage to disable the carriage. To this, the Judge responded, "See, now you can offer the blacksmith's carriage with every sale of lumber used to build a home."
"This is ridiculous," said the lumber mill and the judge screamed, "CONTEMPT OF COURT!" The judge ordered an injunction that the lumber mill stop shipping carriages and lumber together.
So the lumber mill went to the appeals court, which reversed the judge's injunction and said he overstepped his bounds. The appeals court also threw out the judge's expert carriage master from that big Eastern university. You know the rest of the story.
It was 9:30 a.m. Monday when the two met in the street. The fear was palpable. Without warning, both sides unleashed a barrage never before witnessed on any place on Earth. 120 million rounds were exchanged and when the smoke cleared, the town's people stood in fearless defiance with free-enterprise having sent a resounding message to Reno's gang: Hands off!
For it is "we the people" in the final analysis that should have the final say. For too long now, the DOJ has used it's three-lettered agencies to terrorize ordinary citizens. Always they are protecting us, but never do they trust us or the marketplace to solve our own problems. As long as companies compete there will be conflicts. There will be companies that thrive and those that fail, those that believe in proprietary technologies and those that believe in open standards. But common sense -- not a parasitic locust attack by lawyers and big government -- can solve the problems.
On Monday, November 8, in the streets of Capitalism, Reno's gang was given a thumb in the eye. The seeds of fear they had planted were washed away in a deluge, and for a few brief moments baby, Capitalism rocked!
Motley Fool Staff
- Nov 10, 1999 at 12:00AM