Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Free Market Myth

You hear a lot of noise from conservatives about how the free market is the be all and end all of all things good. This is far from the case when government is in bed with private industry. Here are a few cases where the free market isn't free.

1) Cell Phone Service
Every day in almost every newspaper in the country there are full page ads from cell phone companies offering essentially the same type of service with the exception that the instrument that you can use is in the exclusive domain of one company. Cell phone users are paying for all this advertising and hardware exclusivity. The price of cell phone service is outrageous compared to internet phone service. Had the government invested in the infrastructure for high speed internet service in cities and along interstate highways, mobile telephone service would have been nearly free everywhere, as it is on the internet now.

2) Cable TV
Here again we have multiple companies charging high prices for nearly identical services, where you have little choice in what is available for purchase. Services are bundled for the convenience of the supplier and investor, instead of the consumer. If you're interested in only HBO you can't get it without subscribing to a whole raft of channels you don't want. HBO now has HBO Go which allows streaming of content on the internet, but it's not available unless you pay around $100 a month for HBO and a bunch of junk you don't need from a cable company.

3) Commercial Television
We are still locked into an outdated system where programming is interrupted by commercials. Now commercial channels don't even allow you to watch the program without pasting animated advertising at the bottom of the screen during the program. If you prefer to watch the same program uninterrupted and are willing to pay for it, it's not available.

Where is the free market that is supposed to be the best way to satisfy consumer needs? It's a myth. What is sold is determined by what is best for the companies selling it. This happens because politicians are owned by corporations. Ala carte cable TV services aren't available because cable companies write the laws that control cable TV. And, cell phone companies write the laws that control mobile phone service. And, commercial TV companies write the laws for commercial TV.

Recently there have been articles in the news about building high speed internet infrastructure. Cities are looking at 100 Mbps, Google at 1000 Mbps. This is ten to one hundred times the fastest service available now. It will enable phone, data, and TV in HD over the internet. It is the future, but will it come to pass. It is unlikely, because it would deny commercial TV, cable TV and cell phone companies the profits they now make due to laws written for them.

What we have now is not capitalism. It's state capitalism. They used to call it fascism. And, people seem to be the proverbial frog in the heating water, accepting more and more intrusion into the decisions they should be making as consumers.

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