Anti-Trust Scrutiny of Microsoft Looks Very Smart in Retrospect

A blog about business and economics.
June 21 2012 1:48 PM

Anti-Trust Scrutiny of Microsoft Looks Very Smart in Retrospect

One strange tick I sometimes hear from conservatives is the habit of citing the results of successful government interventions in the economy as an argument against the need for public policy interventions. This often habits in the case of environmental quality, but Casey Mulligan brings it to economic policy today by mocking the Justice Department's late-1990s antitrust case against Microsoft. His argument is basically that it looks silly to have been worrying about Microsoft crushing rivals when just 15 years later Microsoft is now struggling to get a toehold in the Apple-and-Google dominated mobile marketplace.

But as Dean Baker points out, it's unlikely that Apple would exist at all today absent the antitrust concerns around Microsoft. At a time when Apple was teetering on the brink of liquidation, Bill Gates teamed up with Steve Jobs to announce both a strategic capital investment in Apple and Microsoft's commitment to releasing a new version of Microsoft Office for the Mac. The overwhelming conventional wisdom at the time was that Gates was acting in large part to try to assuage antitrust concerns that were very live at the time. If Gates had, instead, loudly announced that Microsoft was killing Mac Office, then Apple might well have gone under. Similarly, absent antitrust issues Microsoft would have been free to more or less guarantee overwhelming browser market share for Internet Explorer and through that for MSN Search. The march of technological progress would still have continued, and our Windows Mobile and BlackBerry smartphones would seem pretty snazzy but we'd very likely have lost out on a lot of beneficial effects of competition.


Long story short, it's very true that the high-tech industry is full of competition and vulnerable incumbents. But that's in part because we do antitrust enforcement, it's not a reason to stop doing it.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.


The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Are the Attacks in Canada a Sign of ISIS on the Rise in the West?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Is It Offensive When Kids Use Bad Words for Good Causes?

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data


The Real Secret of Serial

What reporter Sarah Koenig actually believes.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
Oct. 23 2014 3:55 PM Panda Sluggers Democrats are in trouble. Time to bash China.
Business Insider
Oct. 23 2014 2:36 PM Take a Rare Peek Inside the Massive Data Centers That Power Google
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM What Happens When You Serve McDonald’s to Food Snobs and Tell Them It’s Organic
Oct. 23 2014 4:36 PM Vampire Porn Mindgeek is a cautionary tale of consolidating production and distribution in a single, monopolistic owner.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.