Bill Gates, Microsoft, Dot-Com Companies, Dot-Com Bubble, Green Energy and Green Energy Companies

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 18th, 2012

History 101

Investors poured Money into Dot-Com IPOs to get in on the Ground Floor of the next BIG Thing

Cash is king.  It is the lifeblood of a business.  The most serious business issues are discussed in blood metaphors.  When a company’s operations are losing money the company is ‘in the red’.  When the company’s losses are so great that there is a high probability of bankruptcy business analysts may say the company is ‘bleeding (or hemorrhaging) red ink all over their balance sheet’.  Indicating the death of the business is imminent.  For if the company is bleeding too much cash it simply won’t have the cash to pay its people, its vendors, its taxes, etc.  And it will cease to be.  Like any living organism that loses too much blood.

Healthy cash flows in a business are so important that analysts, investors, bankers, etc., will review one particular financial statement, the statement of cash flows, for an immediate assessment of a business’ health.  This statement shows the three sources of cash a business has.  Operating activities, investing activities and financing activities.  A successful business can generate all the cash they need from their operating activities.  To get there, though, they need startup capital.  Which comes from their financing activities.  The companies that are preparing for a surge in growth will look for venture capital.  And the inevitable initial public offering (i.e., going public).  For many companies the IPO is the measure of success.  Because going public is what makes these entrepreneurs millionaires.  And billionaires.

In the Eighties one such entrepreneur that became a billionaire is Bill Gates.  Mr. Microsoft himself.  Who made a fortune.  And is now working to give it away.  Just like Andrew Carnegie.  And John D. Rockefeller.  This geek made so much money with his software company that he made a lot of people wealthy who were smart enough to buy Microsoft stock early.  How these stockholders loved Bill Gates.  And every investor since has been waiting for the next Bill Gates to come along.  So they can get in on the ground floor of the next BIG thing.  And they thought they found him.  Rather, they thought they found a whole bunch of him.  Pouring their money into IPO after IPO.  Just waiting for the nascent dot-com companies to take off and soar into the stratosphere of profits.  For the Internet had arrived.  Few knew what it did.  But everyone knew it was the next BIG thing.

The Dot-Coms survived on Venture Capital and the Proceeds from their IPOs as they had no Sales Revenue

And these dot-coms took their money and spent it.  They hired programmers like there was no tomorrow.  They built office buildings.  Cities even offered lucrative incentives to attract these dot-coms to tech corridors they were building in their cities.  And splurged on infrastructure to support them.  The dot-coms bought advertising.  They spent a fortune to develop their brand identity.  Making them common place names in the new high-tech economy.  There was only one thing they didn’t do.  Develop something they could actually sell.

Those on the Left keep talking about how great the Clinton economy was in the Nineties.  Despite higher marginal tax rates than we have now.  These people who don’t even like Wall Street say the stock market did better under Clinton.  Apparently getting rich in the stock market was okay in the Nineties.  Today it only attracts occupy movements to protest the evil that stock profits now are.  But there was one subtle difference between the economy in the Nineties and the boom of the Eighties.  Most of the Nineties was a bubble.  A dot-com bubble.  It wasn’t real.  It was all paper profits that sent stock prices of companies that had nothing to sell soaring.  As all those stockholders sat and waited for these companies to sell the next BIG thing.  Taking them on a whirlwind ride to riches that never came.  Because once that startup capital petered out so did these dot-coms.  Leaving George W. Bush to deal with the resulting Clinton recession.

A review of their statement of cash flows for all of these failed dot-coms would show the same thing.  They would show tremendous flows of cash.  But it all flowed from their financing activities to their operating activities.  Which was nothing but a black hole for that startup capital.  All of these companies survived on venture capital and the proceeds from their IPOs.  They paid all their programmers, bought their buildings, paid for advertising and developed their brand with money from investors.  A healthy business eventually has to replace that startup capital with money from their operating activities.  Businesses that don’t fail.  Because even the most diehard of investors will stop investing in a company that can’t do anything but bleed red ink all over their balance sheet.

Instead of Investors taking the Loss on Green Energy Investments it’s the American Taxpayer taking the Loss

Bill Clinton had his dot-coms.  While President Obama has his green energy companies.  Which are similar to the dot-coms but with one major difference.  Instead of investors pouring money into these companies for a whirlwind ride to riches they’re sitting out the green energy industry.  Because it is a bad investment.  There will be no Microsoft in green energy.  Because it is a horrible business model.  The cost to harness the free energy out of wind and solar is just prohibitive.  The amount of infrastructure required is so costly that there can never be a return on investment.  Like there can be for a coal-fired power plant.  Which is something investors will invest their money in.

Green energy cannot compete in the marketplace unless the government subsidizes it with tax dollars.  Green industries cannot even build a factory.  While they have some private investors it is never enough.  Most green investors typically support these companies with a token investment.  But the real investors who expect a return on investment look at a green energy prospectus and say, “Thank you but no.  It is a horrible investment.”  And the people who want to build these plants know they’re horrible investments as they want to risk other people’s money.  Not theirs.  Which leaves but one source for startup capital.  A source that is so inept about business that they will pour money into a horrible investment.  The government.

The Energy Department invested heavily into these bad investments.  And a lot of them ended the same.  Just like the dot-coms.  The cash on their statement of cash flows went from financing activity to operating activities.  Another black hole for investment capital.  They spent that startup capital on plants and buildings.  Hired people.  And paid themselves very well.  But eventually they ran through that startup capital.  And were unable to get any more.  And with their operating activities unable to generate cash like in a healthy business many of the green energy companies went the way of the dot-coms.  Only instead of investors taking the loss it’s the American taxpayer taking the loss.  As it is their money that is bleeding out in red ink all over these green energy balance sheets.

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Bill Gates trying to Reinvent the Toilet for Countries without Clean Drinking Water and Wastewater Treatment Plants

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 19th, 2012

Week in Review

Our bodily excretions are among the less pleasant things we do as humans.  For there is little dignity while having a bowel movement.  In modern countries we can at least do that behind closed doors.  But in developing countries they have no such luxuries as a closed bathroom door and a flush toilet to sit on.  And a sink with clean water to wash our hands in afterwards.  It’s kept us clean as a people.  And allowed people to work more closely together.  Even filling massive high-rises full of people.  Who can at anytime go to a clean restroom on their floor for a discrete and clean bowel movement.  Something we all take for granted.  Little realizing what a great gift that is (see Bill Gates challenges scientists to reinvent toilet by AP posted 8/15/2012 on The Telegraph).

Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder has challenged scientists to reinvent the lavatory for the 2.5 billion people in the world who have no access to modern sanitation…

The United Nations estimates disease caused by unsafe sanitation results in about half the hospitalisation in the developing world. About 1.5 million children die each year from diarrheal disease.

Scientists believe most of these deaths could be prevented with proper sanitation, along with safe drinking water and improved hygiene…

Flush lavatories waste tons of potable drinking water each year, fail to recapture reusable resources like the potential energy in solid waste and are simply impractical in so many places.

Yes, flush toilets are horrible.  Except, of course, in preventing mass hospitalization and death by diarrheal disease for millions of children.  Which is pretty nice to prevent.  But apart from making the developed world a much healthier place to live and to raise your children, what has the flush toilet done for us?

Yes, building a better toilet for the undeveloped world may help the undeveloped world.  But developing the undeveloped world would help them more.  It would give them flush toilets AND clean drinking water, hospitals, schools, grocery stores, etc.  And you don’t need to be blessed with natural resources to make this happen.  Two of the best places to live, Hong Kong and Singapore, are not blessed with natural resources.  But they have vibrant economies.  And it’s that vibrant free market economy that makes them great places to live.  And, of course, flush toilets.

High-tech toilets are nice.  But there are things better than high-tech toilets.  Like clean drinking water.  And wastewater treatment plants.  They’ve done great things in the developed world.  Even gave us the wealth to help the undeveloped world.  Because our hospitals aren’t full of people dying from diarrheal disease.  Instead they’re living healthy lives and contributing to vibrant economies.

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Public Goods

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 9th, 2012

Economics 101

You can’t put a Price Tag on Units of National Defense or Sanitary Sewers and Wastewater Treatment Plants

The free market works because people only trade when buyers and sellers agree on price.  Those agreed upon prices are fair to both.  For the sellers place a higher value on the money they receive than the things they’re selling.  And the buyers place a higher value on the things they’re buying than the money they’re spending.  And because of property rights this can happen.  After these transactions the buyers have exclusive use of what they just bought.  And the sellers have exclusive use of the money they just received.  And this holds true whenever we’re buying and selling private goods.  Things people own and use exclusively.  And have the right to buy and sell.  Thanks to property rights.

There are things, though, in our everyday lives that we don’t use exclusively.  Or own exclusively.  Things that we can’t exclude others from using even if they don’t pay to use these things.  Such as the military.  You can’t put a price tag on units of national defense that people can buy.  Some people don’t like the military and would never buy units of national defense.  If the country was under attack, though, our military couldn’t exclude these people from the common defense they provide.  Because there is no way to exclude them. 

You have another problem with sanitary sewers.  Those pipes under our roads that pipe our toilets to a wastewater treatment plant.  We have to pay for our toilets and the pipes running from our houses to the common sanitary line in the street.  But developers built that common line in the street long before someone built our house.  As they built the wastewater treatment plant long before they built our house.  These go in before they build neighborhoods.  But we still have to pay for these long after we build them.  And once our streets are paved you can’t expect new homeowners to install new sewer lines from their newly built homes to the wastewater treatment plant.  And you can’t build new wastewater treatment plants for each new house built.  They tend to take up a lot of real estate.   And need a place to discharge the treated water.  Usually into a river, lake or ocean.  So it just doesn’t make any economic sense to build more than one sewer system and treatment plant in a given geographic region.

Government Typically provides Public Goods because there are no Viable Private Sector Alternatives 

The military is a public good.  Sanitary sewers and wastewater treatment plants are public goods.  Public goods share two characteristics that make them public goods.  They are non-excludable.  Like the military.  Where it’s impossible to exclude people from the common defense while providing the common defense.  Because it’s common.  Everyone benefits from our warships that protect our shores from invasion.  Whether they pay for them or not.  And public goods are non-rival.  Like sanitary sewers and wastewater treatment plants.  When my neighbor flushers his or her toilet it doesn’t prevent me from flushing my toilet.  That is, their use of the good doesn’t reduce my use of the good.

Because public goods are non-excludable and non-rival it is impossible to put a price tag on them for individual units of use.  This is why we pay for public goods with taxes.  Because we need these public goods and everyone benefits from these public goods we force people to pay for them with taxes.  Something only the government has the power to do.  So government typically provides public goods.  Because there are no viable private sector alternatives. 

There is an option to a public sanitary sewer system, though.  And we use them all the time.  For houses in the country.  Where they pipe their toilets to a septic tank that collects much of the solid waste.  The septic tank then drains the residual wastewater into a septic field.  Where it leaches back into the water table.  But if we don’t connect a house to a public wastewater system we typically don’t connect it to a public water system.  Meaning these people draw their water from a well.  That draws water from the water table.  So septic fields and wells can’t be too close together.  So you don’t end up drinking your wastewater.  Which limits how close you can build homes together.  Not a problem in the country.  But a problem in the city.  Which we can’t build without city water and sanitary sewer systems.  Public goods.  That we pay for with a water meter on every house.  That charges for each unit of water we use.  And each unit we use includes a cost for our sanitary waste.  Because all wastewater starts off being clean city water.

Health Care is NOT a Public Good because there are Viable Private Sector Alternatives

Charities can provide some goods that can appear to be public goods.  Like feeding the hungry.  Housing the homeless.  Or leaving an endowment to a university or a hospital.  But charity doesn’t pay for warships or wastewater treatment plants.  So we generally think of public goods as government-provided goods.  But not all government-provided goods are public goods.  Because they aren’t both non-excludable and non-rival.  Such as feeding the hungry.  And housing the homeless.  Charities were doing these long before government stepped in to provide them.  And continue to do so today.  Soup kitchens and homeless shelters clearly show that these aren’t true public goods.  Because there are viable private sector alternatives.

Government welfare, then, is not a public good.  But the government has taken over welfare from those who have historically provided for them.  Charities.  Churches.  And rich people wanting to give back to the country that was so generous to them.  Andrew Carnegie had a passion for knowledge and built public libraries.  John D. Rockefeller had a passion for education and public health and poured his wealth into these.  John Hopkins built hospitals.  They did these things, and others, out of the goodness of their hearts.  Becoming philanthropists after making their wealth.  To help other people.  Rich people are still doing so today.  After creating great wealth Bill Gates is planning to give pretty much all of it away through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Like other great philanthropists before him.

And speaking of health care, health care is not a public good.  Because it is NOT non-excludable.  Your health care is exclusively yours.  There is a direct relationship between patient and health care services.  You consume hospital stays, medicines, rehabilitation, etc.  If you’re not a patient that treatment doesn’t happen.  Unlike a warship protecting our coast.  And health care is NOT non-rival.  When people consume health care services other people can’t consume those same services.  An MRI can only scan one person at a time.  A radiologist can only look at one x-ray at a time.  Hospitals can only transfer someone out of the emergency room when a bed is available elsewhere.  So when people consume these services it reduces the amount available for others to consume.  Which makes health care NOT a public good.  And one the government shouldn’t be providing.  Because there are viable private sector alternatives.

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LESSONS LEARNED #65: “The only thing the market is inefficient at is funneling money to anti-business politicians.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 12th, 2011

Microsoft Learns the hard way about the Costs of Lobbying

Once upon a time Microsoft had no lobbyists.  Microsoft grew to dominate the PC operating system with no help from the government.  Bill Gates became the richest man in the world with no help from the government.  And how did that go over with the government?  Not well.

Because of complaints by Microsoft’s competitors, the U.S. Justice Department began antitrust proceedings against Microsoft.  The complaint?  Microsoft was giving away something for free that others wanted to sell.  A web browser program.  Internet Explorer (IE), to be specific.  The competitors said that Microsoft had an unfair advantage when they bundled IE with their operating system.  Because why would people pay for something that they can get for free?  Consumers never complained about getting something free.  Just other corporations trying to make consumers pay for something that they could get free from Microsoft.  So the Justice Department went after Microsoft so consumers could no longer get something for free.  In other words, the antitrust case against Microsoft was to raise prices.  Which is kind of the opposite reason for an antitrust case.

Government may not know how to create or expand business activity.  But they sure know how to hurt a business.  Microsoft still bundles IE with their operating system.  But they learned a very important lesson.  And, today, Microsoft spends millions of dollars on lobbyists.  To lobby politicians for nothing in particular.  But to pay tribute.

There was no Health Care Cost Crisis before World War II

Once upon a time people paid their doctor’s bill.  Really.  They’d see their doctors.  The doctor would bill them.  And they would pay.  Of course, that was a long time ago in a mystical place.  The United States.  Before World War II.  Yeah, I know.  Crazy talk.  Paying your doctor’s bill.  But some crazy sons of bitches really did. 

Of course, back then, medicine wasn’t socialized yet.  Market forces controlled medical costs.  How, you may ask?  Simple.  The people ‘buying’ the medical services paid the bill.  Medical services were just another service provided by licensed professionals.  Like a plumber.   And though plumbers are expensive, they are affordable.  Because if they weren’t affordable, there wouldn’t be a market for their plumbing services.  As it was for doctors.  Before World War II.  Doctor services were affordable.  Because if they weren’t, there wouldn’t be a market for their medical services.  And it worked like this until World War II.  When health care became a benefit.  And benefit administrators came between buyers and sellers of medical services.

Let’s do a little experiment.  Let’s say you work for a company that is putting together a company picnic.  The company is paying the tab for all 20 employees attending.  And you get a company credit card to buy the food with no restrictions given.  What are you going to buy?  Hotdogs and hamburgers?  Or filet mignon?  Now, later in the summer, you’re having a family BBQ.  There’ll be 20 people in all.  But this time you’re paying the entire bill.  What are you going to buy?  Hotdogs and hamburgers?  Or filet mignon?  Chances are that you’ll be eating different food at these events.

The Price Mechanism doesn’t work if someone else Pays our Bills

Do you see how having someone else pay for your benefits affects your purchasing decisions?  You’ll be enjoying filet mignon on the company’s dime.  But you’ll be satisfied with hotdogs and hamburgers on your dime.  This is the problem in post World War II health care.  There are no market forces anymore in health care.  Someone else is paying for your benefits.  So you don’t care what the costs are.  So you’ll never object to getting the filet mignon of health care benefits.  Even if you’re a single guy.  And your employer is paying for insurance that includes breast and cervix exams.  If you were paying the full cost of your health insurance bill, though, you probably would not pay for breast and cervix exams.  Sure, they’re nice.  But as a guy you would probably never use these benefits.  So you probably wouldn’t pay for them.

This is a big reason why health care costs are so out of control today.  There are no market forces in play to control costs.  Other people pay for our benefits.  So we never ask, “Can I afford this?”  Which everyone does before hiring a plumber.  Dr. Gratzer, a physician and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote that Americans pay only twelve cents for every dollar of health care services they receive.  Which means 88% of the American health care is already socialized medicine.  In other words, other people pay for 88% of an American’s health care.  And when other people are paying, how often do you ask, “How much does this cost?”

This is why health care costs are out of control.  Elsewhere in the economy prices serve as a mechanism to adjust supply and demand.  Not in health care.  No one knows the prices in health care.  Because no one asks.  And the further we go in this direction the worse it’s going to get.  Yet that is exactly the direction some in government want to take health care.  Why?

Politicians Matter more than the Cost of Health Care

Because the market is efficient.  It works very well when left alone.  Just ask Bill Gates.  Or anyone who saw a doctor before World War II.  The market works.  But it has one drawback.  It doesn’t need government.  And for those who are looking for a career in politics, that’s a problem.

Microsoft wasn’t harming any consumers.  They were hurting other businesses that couldn’t make consumers spend more money.  So the politicians stepped in.  To show they mattered.  And cared.  Also, Microsoft was obscenely wealthy.  A little lobbying on their part could fill a few campaign war chests.  And provide a nice vacation or two.  They just needed to see the light.  How things worked in Washington.

But becoming a senator or a representative needs more than a fat war chest.  You need people to vote for you.  And a good way to do that is to get as many people dependent on government as possible.  Either as patients in a new national health care system.  Or as employees in a vast new bureaucracy for the new national health care system.  Which is why they’re not turning to the free market to fix the cost problems in their health care system.  Like they are in the UK and Canada.  They don’t want to fix the cost problems.  They want the dependency created by a new national health care system.  They can worry about costs later.  After they’ve taken over one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

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LESSONS LEARNED #20: “It is never a consumer that complains about ‘predatory’ pricing.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 1st, 2010

ECONOMIES OF SCALE and vertical integration can do two things very well.  Make industrialists rich.  And make the things they sell cheap. 

The more you make, the less each thing you make costs.  Businesses have fixed costs.  Big one time investments in plant and equipment.  Businesses have to recover these costs.  Each thing they sell has a portion of these fixed costs added to its price.  The more they sell, the less they need to add to each unit sold.  This is economies of scale.  Think of bulk goods.  Warehouse clubs.  Places where you can buy large quantities of things at lower unit prices.  You may buy an ‘economy pack’ of 3 bottles of shampoo shrink-wrapped together.  The purchase price of a 3-pack will be greater than the price of a single bottle of shampoo at your convenient corner drug store.  But the unit cost of each of the bottles in the 3-pack will be less.  You save more over time by buying 3 bottles at a time.  Spending more, then, means spending less.  In time.

Few of us buy raw materials.  Few have a need for crude oil.  Iron ore.  Coal.  Limestone.  Manganese.  But they make the stuff we buy.  A lot of things have to happen before those raw materials make it to us in those things we buy.  It has to be mined or drilled/pumped.  Transported.  Processed.  Stored.  Transported again.  Processed again.  Stored again.  Transported again.  There are many different stages between extracting raw materials from the earth and incorporating them into a final product we consumers buy.  At every stage there are costs.  And inefficiencies.  Which add to costs.  By reducing these costs along the way, the component materials used at the final manufacturing stage cost less.  This reduces the selling price of the final product.  This is what vertical integration does.  It puts everything from the extraction of raw materials to the incorporation of those processed materials into the final product for sale under control of the final user.  It brings in a high level of quality, cost containment and reduction of inefficiencies into the entire process resulting in a high quality, mass produced, inexpensive product.

Not everyone can do these things.  You have to live and breathe the industry you’re in.  You have to understand it intimately.  An industrialist at the top of his game can do this.  A politician can’t.  States trying to take control of their economy have failed.  Every time they’ve tried.  Why?  Politicians are ‘intellectuals’.  They’ve never run a business.  They only thought about it.  And, somehow, that gives them the moral authority to tamper in something they are simply unqualified to do.  And when they meddle, they destroy.  Purposely.  Or through unintended consequences.  In the process, though, they enrich themselves.  And their cronies.

ANDREW CARNEGIE WAS a brilliant entrepreneur.  After working for a railroad, he saw the future.  Railroads.  And he would build its rails.  And its bridges.  With his Keystone Bridge Company.  Which used steel and iron.  So he built his Union Mills.  Which needed pig iron.  So he built his Lucy blast furnace.  Which consumed raw material (iron, coke, limestone).  So he secured his own sources of raw materials. 

His Lucy blast furnace set world records, nearly doubling the weekly output of his steel competitors.  No one made more steel than Carnegie.  For less.  In about 20 years, he brought the price down for steel rails from $160/ton to $17/ton.  And got rich in the process.

Economies of scale.  Vertical integration.  And innovation.  Carnegie hired the best people he could find and used the latest technology.  Always improving.  Always cutting costs.  Always making steel more plentiful.  And cheaper.  His steel built a nation.  Dominated the industry.  And destroyed the competition.  Of course, that drew the attention of the government.  And they tried to break up the steel giant because it was unfair to the competition.  Who couldn’t sell steel as cheap as he could.

JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER was a brilliant entrepreneur.  After trying the oil drilling business, he saw the future.  The refining business.  For America lit the night with kerosene.  And he would provide that kerosene.  At prices that a poor man could afford.  And he did.  And he saved the whales in the process (his cheap kerosene put the whale oil business out of business).

Like Carnegie, cutting costs and production efficiencies consumed him.  He built his own kilns and used his own timber for fuel.  He made his own barrels from his own timber.  He used his own horse-drawn carts, boats, rail cars and pipelines.  He bought up competitors.  He grew to dominate the industry.  By far the biggest shipper, he got better shipping rates than his competitors.  And he constantly innovated.  When others were dumping the gasoline byproduct from refining kerosene into the river (no internal combustion engine yet), he was using it for fuel.  He hired the best talent available to find a use for every byproduct from the refining process, giving us everything from industrial lubricants to petroleum jelly (i.e., Vaseline).

His company, Standard Oil, was close to being a monopoly.  When they controlled 90% of the market kerosene was never cheaper.  He brought the price down from $0.26/gallon to $0.08/gallon.  And that was an outrage.  We can’t allow any one company to control 90% of the market.  Sure, consumers were doing well, but the higher-cost competitors could not stay in business selling at those low prices.  So the government broke up Standard Oil via antitrust legislation (the Sherman Act).  To protect the country from monopolistic practices.  And cheap kerosene, apparently.

BILL GATES WAS a brilliant entrepreneur in building Microsoft.  The personal computer (PC) was new.  You couldn’t do much with it in the early days unless you were pretty computer savvy.  But programs were available that made them great business tools (word processing and spreadsheet programs). 

IBM created the PC.  And they licensed it so others could make IBM-like machines.  IBM clones.  The PC industry chewed each other up.  But Gates did well.  Because all of these machines used his operating system (Microsoft’s Disk Operating System – DOS).  Apple developed the Macintosh (with a mouse and Graphical User Interface – GUI) but it was expensive.  Anyone who used one in college wanted to buy one.  Until they saw the price.  So they bought an IBM clone instead.  And when Gates came out with Windows, they were just as easy to use as the Macs.

Because of the higher volume of the IBM platform sold, Microsoft flourished.  Software was bundled.  New machines came preloaded with Windows.  And Internet Explorer.  And Windows Media Player.  You got a lot of bang for the buck going with a Windows-based PC.  And Windows dominated the market.  Consumers weren’t complaining.  Much.  Sure, there were things they did bitch about (glitches, drivers, viruses, etc.), but it sure wasn’t price.

Of course, Microsoft’s competitors were hurting.  They couldn’t sell their products if Microsoft was giving away a similar product free.  Because they were hurting their competitors, the government tried to break up the company with the Sherman Act. 

THE NORTHERN SECURITIES SUIT of 1902 found a holding company guilty of not yet committing a crime.  Teddy Roosevelt’s administration filed a Sherman antitrust suit against Northern Securities.  This was a holding company for Northern Pacific, Great Northern, and Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroads.  What’s a holding company?  It replaced a trust.   Which large corporations created in response to government’s attacks on large corporations.

Small competitors feared large corporations.  They could not compete against their economies of scale and vertical integration.  The little guys couldn’t sell things as cheap as the big corporations could.  So the government intervened to protect the little guy.  So they could sell at higher prices.

But businesses grow.  All big corporations started out as little guys.  And the growing process doesn’t stop.  So the big corporations had to find other ways to grow.  They formed trusts.  Then the trust-busters busted up the trusts.  The next form was the holding company. 

The trust-busters said that the big corporations, trusts and holding companies were all trying to become monopolies.  And once they eliminated all competitors, they would raise their prices and gouge the consumers.  Northern Securities never did.  But they could.  So they were guilty.  Because they might commit a crime.  One day.

ALL BUSINESS OWNERS aren’t morally ethical and honest.  But the market is, albeit cruel.  Economies of scales will always put the little guy out of business.  Sad, yes, for the little guy.  But for every little guy put out of business, millions of consumers save money.  They can buy things for less.  Which means they have more money to buy more things.  New things.  Different things.  From new little guys who now have a chance with this new surplus of purchasing power.

But when politicians get involved, consumers lose.  When they help a competitor, they help them by keeping prices high.  To keep competition ‘fair’.  For the politically connected.

Consumers never complain about low prices.  Only competitors do.  Or their employees.  Those working on whaling ships didn’t like to see the low price of Rockefeller’s kerosene.  But the new refining industry (and its auxiliaries) created far more jobs than were lost on the whaling ships.  We call it progress.  And with it comes a better life for the many.  Even if it is at the expense of the few.

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