Sunday, May 04, 2003

Once a monopolist, always a monopolist

Last Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a profile of New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. You may remember Klein from such antitrust cases as "Microsoft: the Silent Killer," and "Breaking the Glass Trust Monopoly." As head of the DOJ's antitrust division under Bill Clinton, Klein was a merciless anti-capitalism, always confidant in the ability of antitrust lawyers to run the economy over the objections of actual businessmen. Yet now that he's running the New York City schools—arguably the nation's largest and worst-run monopoly after the Postal Service—Klein seems to have experienced a conversion to the wonders of business thinking.
Lesley Stahl reports:

STAHL: The mayor is at heart a businessman. He's running the city, and the schools, much like his old corporation, even moving out of his private office at City Hall and into an open bullpen like the one he used at Bloomberg News. He's ordered Klein and his people to work the same way and to adopt his business battle cry: no frills; be efficient and eliminate duplication.

Mr. KLEIN: Think of these 40 districts we're talking about. They're all buying their own books. You think they're getting bulk purchasing rates on that? We can save real money here, and we need it for our kids.

Just a few years earlier, Klein considered Microsoft's efficiency to be evidence of illegal activity. Indeed, the antitrust lawyer's mantra is that competition is a primary value, and efficiency is only good when one company doesn't get too good at it. Then again, competition isn't a problem for Klein, since it's essentially impossible to compete with the New York City schools. Unlike Microsoft, Klein has the ability to force parents to enroll their children in public schools (via truancy laws.) And for all the talk of running the schools like a business, they're not. A business survives when it makes profits by persuading customers to purchase its goods. The government schools survive by simply taking what they want. Klein doesn't seem to appreciate that difference, which shows that ideologically he's the same now as he was at the Antitrust Division. In the end, Klein doesn't trust in people's ability to run their own lives (and economy) without his Divinely imparted wisdom.

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