11 September 2004

Unsuprising 'Surprises'

Ow! These rope burns from being tied up yesterday hurt when typing!

A couple of stories that really go together, but weren't even in the same paper (and have no corresponding story in their own papers), concern one of my favorite areas of law that nobody in the entertainment and publishing industry likes to talk about: antitrust. One the one hand, the Guardian reports that Michael Eisner has agreed not to seek reelection step down as chairman of Disney when his term ends in 2006. The Perfesser has hit the nail right on the head in attacking corporate governance at Disney—or, rather, the lack thereof. Ironically, this kind of thing is an excellent illustration of the law of diminishing returns (first explicated by Malthus… which has some fascinating implications in this context) as is shows up in conglomerates; that Disney is almost entirely within one broad industry grouping makes it no less a conglomerate than 1969-era ITT. See, e.g., Eleanor Fox and Lawrence Sullivan, Antitrust—Retrospective and Prospective, 62 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 936 (1987). Then, on the other hand, we have the Oracle antitrust result concerning its proposed merger with PeopleSoft. The opinion itself is highly technical, and presumes familiarity with not just the facts, but the various competing economic theories and literature, concerning horizontal hostile mergers. The Washington Post does an unusually good job of trying to put this in some kind of meaningful context—within the software industry, anyway.

One major problem with excessive consolidation, epitomized by Eisner and Larry Ellison (the current Dictator-and-President-for-Life at Oracle), is that they run into the Orwell/Acton problem. Orwell—well, actually, Emmanuel Goldstein, but showing why that is a significant distinction took me 2,000 words in the first draft of my dissertation and is not likely to be any shorter now—said that "the object of power is power." (This is usually misquoted as "the purpose of power;" grammar geeks will understand the difference.) Acton, on the other hand, noted that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Although these statements were made in the context of political power, anyone who honestly believes that economic and organizational power don't have the same problems has much greater faith in the Tooth Fairy than do I. And that is why consolidation in the entertainment industry is, on balance, bad and inconsistent with the Intellectual Property Clause. The IP clause favors the Ichiros of this world, not the Mark McGwires: more is better, not bigger is better. In any event, we're back to arguments about whether ends justify means again—and the context of that link is really not as far from the economic consolidation issues raised above as one might think.

That for once in his life DB has something meaningful to say that is not driven by some insane puppeteer is surprising enough. That is bears more than a casual relationship to the discussion above is even moreso. My major objection is his particular division of the liberal arts from "econ, business and the other 'hard' fields." Sorry, but there's little "hard" (in the sense of "inherently numerate") about economics and business when compared to, say, chemistry and physics. Economics and business are not so much hard as brittle. But that's an argument for another time, particularly since it comes from somone whose academic background varies between the truly hard (chemistry) and the truly soft (literature), with a major foray into the brittle (law).

Last, and far from least, there's another pairing more interesting for its interactions than anything else. I admire some of what Ken Burns has done; The Civil War brings home, if nothing else, that war is terrible but that the enemy soldiers are not Evil. On the other hand, Jazz is so myopic in its vision that it simultaneously understates and overstates its subject's importance, and Baseball is a fluff piece on a Communist plot to sap the physical fitness and teamwork of America's youth. I also dislike his stance on intellectual property; he is far too glib in his refusal to pay others for their work that he incorporates into his own. His invocation of "journalistic ethics" doesn't really wash. Then, on the other hand, Pennsylvania's "must block at source" law censoring purported "kiddieporn" was declared unconstitutional (PDF, 580kb) because it burdens other speech more than necessary. Or desireable. But it's still ok to show an al'Jazeera-provided video of a (purportedly, anyway) live beheading on the news—which brings to mind The Civil War again.