Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Antitrust du-jour

More European antitrust fines for Microsoft:

The European Union fined Microsoft Corp. a record $1.3 billion Wednesday for the amount it charges rivals for software information.

EU regulators said the company charged "unreasonable prices" until last October to software developers who wanted to make products compatible with the Windows desktop operating system.

The fine is the largest ever for a single company and brings to just under $2.5 billion the amount the EU has demanded Microsoft pay in a long-running antitrust dispute.

Microsoft immediately said the issues for which it was fined have been resolved and the company was making its products more open.

The fine comes less that a week after Microsoft said it would share more information about its products and technology in an effort to make it work better with rivals' software and meet the demands of antitrust regulators in Europe.

But EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes remained skeptical and said Microsoft was under investigation in two additional cases.

"Talk is cheap," Kroes said. "Flouting the rules is expensive."

Microsoft's actions have stifled innovation and affected millions of people around the world, Kroes said. She called the record 899 million euro fine "a reasonable response to a series of quite unreasonable actions." [Aoife White, AP Business Writer]
When I read about Microsoft's continuing antitrust woes, the one thing I feel is absolutely no sympathy for the firm. Microsoft has shelled out billions upon billions of dollars in antitrust fines and its every move is scrutinized by government regulators (and competitors that seek to use antitrust as a competitive club), yet Microsoft has never publicly condemned antitrust as such. Just how many billions will Microsoft have to pay before its management discovers the moral backbone to say enough is enough?

And while some may argue that to take a public stand against antitrust would only invite more antitrust scrutiny, I take a different view. Not to attack the moral and economic claims behind antitrust grants the regulators a legitimacy they simply do not deserve. The claim that a business in the free market wields coercive power over the market is patently absurd, yet this lie remains utterly unchallenged by American business—and it is for that reason that I say Microsoft and other firms shackled by antitrust get exactly what they deserve. Antitrust may be foul, but the continued sanction of its victims is far worse the crime.

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