It is a rare and beautiful spectacle when a company such as Apple, seminal in the field of consumer electronics, after decades of playing second fiddle in the eyes of the average consumer, emerges triumphant in the span of a few short years to not only match, but exceed all competition in the realms of home computing, mp3 players, music downloading services, and, most recently, tablet computing (I should disclose here that this article was composed, edited, and uploaded all via iPad). It’s meteoric rise has been a vision of innovative genius in technology and marketing alike. With the recent appraisement by analysts at CNBC (contested by some) that Apple should hold the honor of “World’s Most Valuable Company”, the scope of their success was reiterated.
As true in business as it is in any competitive endeavor, the esteem of attaining the number one slot is countered with the glares and fevered envy of embittered competition, as well as the audacity of others to insist that the achiever, by virtue of his successes, bears some inherent obligation to others. Apple is no exception to the legacy of great American enterprises. Despite the immeasurable value which it has contributed to the American economy in what shall indeed be remembered as one of it’s darkest hours, despite the popularity of its products and the myriad ways in which they improve their users’ quality of life, their value to education (in an eyeball survey of a college town coffee shop, not a single laptop is visible that does not bear the Apple insignia), and the efficiency which they afford business, American technology’s greatest modern success story, with the ready endorsement of the immoral and collusive elements in our economy, may be gaining the ire of the American government’s greatest assault on individual rights to date: the antitrust division of the Department of Justice.
Though the DOJ has thus far refrained from comment, the persistent goading of companies such as Adobe, which last year came to blows with the tech giant over Apple’s choice not to support Adobe software products on their mobile devices, and this week’s spat over the terms by which Apple will allow publishers to provide subscription services on the iPad are beginning to suggest the shape of things to come. Under an administration that, despite protests to the contrary, has made itself explicitly hostile to American business but now seems to wish to reverse that trend, such a course would be untenable before next year’s elections. Beyond that deadline, assuming the antitrust division believes it has a fair chance, all bets are off.
What is surprising, however, is not the possibility that such accusations could arise, but that these allegations of unfairness are being set forth so avidly in publications which generally stand as safeguards of capitalism such as Forbes. In an article by Forbes media correspondent Jeff Bercovici, he questions the rigid terms which Apple has set for publishers. He speculates:
“Does this amount to anti-competitive behavior, as some legal experts told The Wall Street Journal it might? I can’t say. If the iPad really ends up owning 80 percent of the tablet market, it might well be construed that way. In any case, it doesn’t seem right that Apple could dictate what publishers are and aren’t free to do on other makers’ devices.”
Here, we encounter the fallacy that Ayn Rand so astutely recognized as the confusion of political power with economic power. Apple is incapable of “dictating” anything to anyone. It does not wield the power of force and, therefore, all parties who deal with Apple do so of their own volition, because they see it as economically advantageous. If Apple has overestimated its market power, publishers will reject it and go with the leading competitor, notably Google’s One Pass. However, if publishers choose to act in accordance with Apple’s terms, they do so because they have come to the measured conclusion that it is in their own best interests, as well they should. No matter how large Apple becomes— if it comes to command 80% of the market in tablets, all of computing, or all of technology, it will only be because individuals consistently chose to seek their own best interests and Apple was there to provide them with value every step of the way. Not through coercion, not by what it “dictate[s]”, but by what it produces. What should be growing clearer by now is that the charges leveled against Apple by those in software and publishing are illogical. What may be less immediately apparent is that they are soundly based, we will see, in the morality of altruism.
What are these charges? Summarily, that Apple, by virtue of the strict terms which it has set for those providing content for its products, is engaging in unfair or “anti-competitive” business practices. Ultimately, they are the modern, digital equivalent of complaints leveled by Midwestern farmers against the prices charged by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century railroads. Both amount to the following: “I produce, but cannot make top dollar for my product without the necessary means of transmitting it to consumers; therefore, those with the capacity to transmit my product should do so; furthermore, they should do so under terms favorable to me, regardless of that action’s effect on themselves.”
Implicit in this position is the moral assertion that any individual, as a result of his capacity to produce or perform, owes that ability to any who might find use for it. Philosophically, this belief is the hallmark of altruism— that is, the morality of sacrifice and the irrational desire for the undeserved. Politically, it leads to altruism’s only natural extension: collectivism. It roundly denies the right of the producer to his product and to dictate the terms of its sale and use. Specifically, the claim that Apple does not have the right to set the rates and conditions under which it provides content for its systems assumes that once their product is provided to the public, Apple is henceforth little more than a glorified messenger to deliver content, without a say in the exchange which would never have been possible in its absence. The fact that these ideas are being almost explicitly promulgated not by the poor against the rich or along racial lines but, rather, by some elements of corporate America against its own provides us with the latest evidence that, despite leftist/multiculturalist rhetoric, the great divide in our culture is philosophical and that the gulf is growing wider by the day. In our time of crisis, the wheat and chaff of American businessmen are showing their true colors.
Government, ever ready for a reason to intervene, is always happy to side against efficiency, ingenuity, and productivity in the name of “fairness.” Egalitarianism is valued above the principles of capitalism and, by extension, the rights of producers and consumers alike. The result is that as a manufacturer is forbidden to achieve his potential and a consumer is forbidden even the chance of maximizing the value of their dollar, government assures us that the common good has been achieved. Who, in this, has prospered? Who has gained? The answer is sickening and patently un-American: that which is less. The less efficient, less capable, undeserving. That is who is fostered by government regulation and never is it so heinously devised as in the field of antitrust.