The Urge to Converge

in General Discussion edited January 2014
William Safire is one of my favorite conservative commentators because he's an independent thinker and doesn't just parrot the party's ideological line. In <a href=""; target="_blank">today's column</a> he voices alarm over the trend of corporate consolidation/synergy, and makes the point that since the left is dismissed as anti-business anyway, it's up to conservatives to stand up to the Microsofts, Disneys and AOL Time Warners of the world.

[quote]By William Safire

WASHINGTON ? "Mere size is no sin against the law," President William Howard Taft told Congress in 1911, in defense of the legislation that had enabled his G.O.P. predecessor, Teddy Roosevelt, to bust the trusts stifling competition. (Taft weighed over 300 pounds at the time.)

The principle that it was not a corporation's size itself, but only the purpose or effect of its size and power on competition, lay at the heart of antitrust law for the past century. It is the basis of the Ashcroft Justice Department's recent cave-in to the growing monopoly that is Microsoft.

In the legal world, the result of the seeming sinlessness of size has been the megamergers that have concentrated economic power in a few predatory oil companies, a handful of accountancy firms and an ever-dwindling number of banks.

In the world of telecommunications, the urge to converge has led to the creation of worldwide media empires that promised the happy marriage of news and entertainment content with the computer, wireless telephone and video ? all supposedly lowering prices to consumers with no restraint of trade or news.

Does anyone believe that is what has been happening?

In the real world, intimidating "mere size" has become, when not sin itself, the occasion of sin. Today's any-merger-goes regulators permit cross-ownership of content and distribution while encouraging corporate titans with swollen egos to gobble up competitors or suppliers. Where does this power grab leave the innovative entrepreneur, the small business, the individual talent and the consumer?

Hugeness is necessary to compete with foreign biggies, goes the monopolist mantra ? as if most multinationals were not rooted in the U.S. Only the monster conglomerate can afford to invest in new technologies, complaisant Washington regulators tell us ? as if innovation and invention were not also found in small laboratories and the brains of creative loners.

The swallowed-up company's resulting loss of corporate identity and dilution of mission can be found in the case of the Disney empire's decision to ruin the reputation of one of its purchases, ABC news. Ted Koppel's "Nightline," a respected news program turning a profit and holding its own against the late-night entertainment competition, is to be replaced by the David Letterman show, if Disney can entice the comedian from CBS.

The reason is not so much the size of the audience reached, but its makeup. Letterman's banter appeals to youthful acquisitors, whom advertisers lust after; Koppel's news interests older people, who do less buying and more dying. Disney decision: Scrap the news, go with the jokes.

Koppel's reaction was dismayingly mild, holding on this page that "it is perfectly understandable that Disney would jump at the opportunity to increase earnings. . . ."

Now, if The Times were to replace this column with a comic strip, I like to think you would hear a geshrei from me and a keening wail from even critical readers that would rattle corporate rafters. The Times would not sacrifice serious opinion-mongering for comic relief because this focused $3 billion pygmy understands that its reason for being is primarily to inform. The Disney combine's mission, contrariwise, is to dispense profitable entertainment, and its misbegotten purchase of a news medium allows it to prostitute ABC News's journalistic mission to conform to the parent company's different goal.

With the roundheeled Michael Powell steering the Federal Communications Commission toward terminal fecklessness; with the redoubtable Joel Klein succeeded at Justice's antitrust division by an assortment of wimps; and with appeals courts approving the concentration of media power as if nothing had changed since President Taft's day, the checks and balances made possible by diverse competition are being eradicated.

The longtime anti-business coloration of liberals reduces their ability to take on the convergence con. It is for conservatives to ask ourselves: Since when is bigness goodness?

The Constitution's brilliant system of checks and balances restrains each government branch's power. We oppose the concentration of authority in the federal government, urging its devolution to states and localities. We seek to empower productive individuals by cutting taxes. Our mothers' milk is market competition.

Why, then, should we supinely go along with the seizure of economic power by today's triopolies and duopolies on their march to becoming tomorrow's monopolies? <hr></blockquote>


  • Reply 1 of 3
    pfflampfflam Posts: 5,053member
    That's a very good article, and quite a surprise from such a conservative.

    I read it in the paper this morning and didn't even notice it was safire. The whole time I read it I was thinking "this is the smart thought that reactionary conservatives love to hate" . . . . nice to see I was wrong in this case
  • Reply 2 of 3
    amorphamorph Posts: 7,112member
    I don't often agree with the likes of Safire, but that article is 100% bang on correct.

    I was wondering when the pro-competition crowd would notice that the M&A madness that's been on for twenty years is fundamentally hostile to the existence of a free market - or, put another way, that a free market is not at all the same as an unregulated market.
  • Reply 3 of 3
    sebseb Posts: 676member
    Good article.

    I could easily relate to the part about conservative's and their dislike of big government (as I share the same dislike).

    I've always wondered many of the things Safire ponders on. Only not out loud and, of course, not so eloquently.

    The things he touches on are the main reasons why I've never been able to label myself a democrat or republican. Dems want big gov't and smaller companies (for the most part) while Reps want smaller gov't and bigger companies - or at least less gov't regulation of big companies.

    I guess that's why I turned to the Greens - I disagree with a lot of the Green agenda as well, but most of my disagreements with the Greens are pipedream topics anyways, or not nearly as relevant to me in my daily life. i.e. Death Penalty - it's important, but the chances of it affecting me personally are, I hope, rather slim, whereas taxes and corporate influence touch me more directly on a daily basis.

    I read an interesting article recently mentioning how often one company makes the movies that market the music that markets the soft drinks that market the clothes that market the food that markets the movies that market...

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