Understanding Microsoft

Part 17. The Company Town

Classical economic theory has an example of a local monopoly called "the Company Town." In this case the "company" is usually a mining or manufacturing company, and it is basically the main source of employment for nearly every employed person in the geographical area. If you want to get a job, you work for the Company or one of its subsidiaries. And it has many subsidiaries; for instance, you can dole out food to the workers at the Company-owned town restaurant, or let out library books at the Company-owned library, or sell groceries at the Company-owned general store. About the only thing the Company does not own is the Post Office and maybe the school.

I once rode through a small Tennessee town that was just like that theoretical Company Town. Every store had the same family name, including the drugstore, the grocery store, the general store, and even the town newspaper business. One family had a monopoly on products, services, and even the news media. I thought to myself, What if I wanted to get a job here, but Mr. X of Family X didn't like me? What if he wanted me to engage in some corrupt act, and I refused? I could not get a job anywhere in that town, or probably even in the surrounding county. If the family was quite powerful, perhaps nowhere in that area of the State was going to accept me as a member of the community. I might have to move hundreds of miles away to look for a job, just because of the economic stranglehold of one family.

Similarly, if one corporation or one business has a disproportionate influence in one area, they create a "dead zone" for anyone they consider a nuisance or a threat, such as someone who doesn't like their products. In the economic model there are no alternatives, but in real life things usually are not so bad. Moving from one part of the country to another is much easier than it used to be, with modern transportation and communication available. It is much easier to find out where there are alternative jobs, and it is much easier to transport a family to another state nowadays. Thus, the economic model of the Company Town has fallen into disuse. Nobody really takes that model seriously anymore, except in a few very isolated places.

However, a new form of Company has emerged in the last ten or twenty years, the global multinational corporation. This type of company has a stranglehold on a particular industry, and its influence is not limited to any one geographical area. Occasionally this Company may actually consist of two or three commercial entities that on the surface appear to be competitors, but in reality work together as smoothly as a partnership. The Company which appears now to be grasping for global control instead of just local or regional control is Microsoft.

Imagine a situation in which every country you move to, you must use Microsoft products. Imagine trying to work in real estate, or banking, or architecture, or industrial design, and you are required to become a Company man. At work you use Company tools you bought at the Company store. At home your children use Company products bought through a Company mail-order firm on computers supplied by Company-controlled PC manufacturers. You watch Company television and read Company-sponsored newspapers. You entertain yourself with Company-approved movies. Perhaps you even worship at Company-friendly churches.

Now where will you move your family if you don't like Microsoft products, or if Microsoft considers you a nuisance because of some personal disagreement with a member of the Microsoft elite? And how will you find out about your alternatives when Microsoft owns your media channels? The Company World is coming, Planet Microsoft. Choose your alternatives carefully, while you still have them.

Most recent revision: December 29, 1997
Copyright © 1997, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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