Does Microsoft Violate Your Rights ?by Doug Mataconis
In the course of our exchanges yesterday about markets, monopoly, and morality, Eric made this comment on the impact that scarcity and monopoly power have on individual liberty:
Monopolies do impact Life, Liberty and Property. Specifically liberty and property. You argue that you can always choose not to buy from Microsoft. I argue that you no longer have that choice. And that PC’s are such an integral part of US culture and economy that it is impacting your Liberty. Monopolies never price things in response to market demand (i.e. scarcity) because the monopoly now controls scarcity. The monopoly artificially manipulates scarcity to increase their profit. Since money is a representation of wealth and property, it seems clear to me that artificial scarcity leads to an infringement on my property. If I have a choice, then you trying to maximize your profits doesn’t do that. If I don’t have a choice, it does.
This leads to what I think is an important question for those of us who believe in the free market; when talking about third party conduct as oppposed to state action, what exactly constitutes a violation of my rights ?
On the surface, this seems like a pretty simple question. If someone steals my property, they’ve violated my property rights. If they imprision me against my will and without authority, they have violated my right to my liberty. If they kill me, they’ve violated my right to live. Often, whether these actions constitute a crime, or determining what kind of crime they comprise may depend upon whether the act was intentional or accidental, but for the purpose of determining if a rights violation has occurred, it doesn’t matter if you intended to violate my rights or not.
So, does a monopoly or dominant market player violate my rights due to the fact that it has, allegedly, cut off competition and created scarcity that would not exist if competition had been allowed to play itself out ? I think the answer is clearly no.
If a corporation seeking to maximize its profits constitutes a violation of individual liberty, then doesn’t that mean that the entire capitalist system is one big violation of human rights? If Microsoft violates individual liberty by creating artificial scarcity in the market for PC operating systems, then can’t the same thing be said of Apple, which has retained exclusive control over the operating system for Macs ?
The existence of a company that sells something people want is the definition of capitalism. Unless you’re asserting that we all have a right to whatever products we want at the price we choose, then I think its stretching the definition of individual liberty to contend that my rights are violated because Microsoft charges “too much” for Windows or Office.
Corporations can violate individual liberty as easily as individuals can, but if all they are doing is selling a product that people want and trying to maximize their profits (which is, after all, what they are supposed to be doing), then the fact that they aren’t selling it on terms that we would prefer does not constitute a violation of anyone’s rights.