Pluralistic: Surveillance pricing (05 Jun 2024)

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2024-06-06 00:30:03

Noted anti-capitalist agitator Adam Smith had it right: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."

Despite being a raving commie loon, Smith's observation was so undeniably true that regulators, policymakers, and economists couldn't help but acknowledge that it was true. The trustbusting era was defined by this idea: if we let the number of companies in a sector get too small, or if we let one or a few companies get too big, they'll eventually start to rig prices.

What's more, once an industry contracts corporate gigantism, it will become too big to jail, able to outspend and overpower the regulators charged with reining in its cheating. Anyone who believes Smith's self-evident maxim had to accept its conclusion: that companies had to be kept smaller than the state that regulated them. This wasn't about "punishing bigness" – it was the necessary precondition for a functioning market economy.

We kept companies small for the same reason that we limited the height of skyscrapers: not because we opposed height, or failed to appreciate the value of a really good penthouse view – rather, to keep the building from falling over and wrecking all the adjacent buildings and the lives of the people inside them.

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