Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2001 / 29 Teves, 5761
It's a dog-eat-dog world -- unless
you're the only dog
BOY -- talk about mixed messages.
With George W. Bush in the White House, there has been much
discussion of how the United States is returning to an era of rugged
individualism, of classic capitalist ideals. The healthiest economy is one in
which lots of companies slug it out freely in the open marketplace, and virtue
is decided by the consumer. The more competition the better -- and the
customer always wins.
That's the Republican credo, and with the Republicans claiming the White
House for the first time since 1992, that's what is in store for the country.
Competition on every corner -- right?
Uh . . .
In the last few weeks there have been news stories that would make you
think -- if you didn't know better -- that we are entering an era dominated
not by Republicans or even by Democrats, but by Socialists.
First there was the announcement by American Airlines that it is swallowing
up Trans World Airlines. TWA was one of the great names in U.S. aviation
history -- and in U.S. commerce -- but it is a name that will soon be retired.
It flew to a lot of places, and many of its customers thought it did its job
well, but it wasn't prepared to play with the big boys.
Who are the big boys? American and United -- and United, after a year in
which it repeatedly lied to its customers about why it couldn't take them to
the places it promised at the times it promised, is continuing with its effort
to take over US Airways. And -- here is the amazing part -- it now looks as if
United may be able to pull it off, because it is receiving help from its chief
competitor: American. American and United are working together as they seek to
put TWA and US Airways out of business -- and the flying public is being told
that the paying customers will be the eventual winners.
Right. And perhaps, when American and United eventually merge, they can
call the resulting airline Aeroflot.
Almost lost in the backwash of the American-TWA news was this astonishing
item: Federal Express, which has made its fortune by offering better -- if
more expensive -- service than the U.S. Postal Service, has gone into business
with the Postal Service.
The Postal Service struck a seven-year, $6.3 billion deal with FedEx in
which FedEx planes will carry mail for the Postal Service. One of the things
FedEx is getting in return is the right to place a FedEx drop box in every
U.S. Postal Service location.
That's correct -- the two competitors for your business are now working
together. It's cheaper for them that way -- the same way that it's going to be
cheaper for American and United to fly their routes without worrying about
competition from TWA and US Airways. Postmaster General William J. Henderson,
in announcing the arrangement with FedEx, said:
(Oh, go ahead. Fill in the words in the balloon coming out of his mouth.
You can do it.)
"This is a great day for the American consumer."
That's what Henderson said -- and we can all just wait to hear what a
postmaster general says the first time FedEx workers go on strike, and freeze
the U.S. mail along with all the FedEx packages in the pipeline.
It's even going on in television sports. NBC Sports and ABC Sports are
supposed to be fierce competitors -- but NBC has just announced that it will
be borrowing ABC's Jim McKay for the 2002 Winter Olympics. They're not hiring
him away from ABC -- they're just renting him.
It sounds swell -- McKay is a wonderful broadcaster -- but the idea of
competition between businesses is . . . well, the idea is to compete. To keep
the other guy honest. What can happen when competition is winked at -- even in
a business where it wouldn't seem to matter so much, like television?
How about this: The major television network news divisions, to save money,
hire the same company to provide all the networks with exit poll data for a
presidential election. On the air it appears that the networks are competing
-- but they're really working together. What could possibly go wrong, if the
networks were to do that?
Oh. That's right. They already did do that, and it already did go wrong --
last Election Night, when the networks, working from shared numbers, threw the
country into confusion by blowing the call. It was cheaper that way. Lack of
competition always is -- for the businesses.
Anyway -- the inauguration of George W. Bush was Saturday. Don't expect to
hear anything about socialism. It's not the American
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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