Monday, October 29, 2012

Any bets?

An Ngram search establishes the post-1950 decline in the use of the word "monopoly". 

Most people can easily see the battle between Apple, Microsoft, Google and others and gather that these giants are anything but monopolists.  Most economics textbooks, nevertheless, still preach that monopoly is a "market failure" to be corrected by government action.  Go figure.

But we know that the real monopolies are the ones established by law.  And even these are precarious in modern times.  The U.S. Postal Service has a legal monopoly on the delivery of "first-class" mail, but that has become mostly an expensive jobs program.  Most of us no longer use USPS.  In an election season, we see that it is simply a means to clutter our lives with junk mail -- delivered at subsidized rates and felling trees that could be absorbing CO2.

Today's WSJ includes "Taxi Apps Face Bumpy Road ... E-Hailing Startups See Soaring Demand, but Cities Say They Violate the Law." Most cities work hard to protect licensed taxi operators.  The rising price of a NY taxi medallion (the legal right to operate in a restricted market) tells the story.  

Inter-city travelers using a taxi at both ends of the trip often see that their taxi expenses are not so much less than their flight costs.  On an LA-SF run, a bargain air fare makes it very close.

But in the race between tech (app developers and the supporting smart phone infrastructure) and city hall (politicized regulators), who will you bet on?