Benevolent Monopoly

Someone recently hypothesized to me that there are two types of monopolies: the good ones and the bad ones.

The bad ones take advantage of their position, exacting a toll. The good ones uniquely contribute through innovating, or heavily investmenting in research and development.

Google has a monopoly on search, if not the internet as a whole. It’s an open question of whether this is good or bad. Most people would probably say bad.

Where does all of Google’s super-excessive R&D money go? What has X actually produced?

Maybe the value prop isn’t production. Maybe it’s simply provision of space cushioned from market pressure. A place where “audacious goals” are the norm, where you want to fail your annual performance review.

Even without good impact per dollar now, they might provide long-term positive expected welfare benefit. Purely from the uniqueness of the space, where incentives steer innovation to an unusually full capacity in certain corners of the org.

Contrast Alphabet with Askinosie Chocolate and the concept of reverse scale. They have tremendous product-market fit, yet they’re happy to hold steady at around 20 employees. They fight every day to limit the number of stakeholders.

The chocolate company certainly seems less reprehensible to modern hyper-liberal sensitivities. But which has actually done more good for humanity?

When Tyler Cowen talks about the moral case for economic growth, he outlines the need not only to produce growth now, but moreover that this growth should lead sustainably to more future growth.

I’ve paid quite a bit of money to Askinosie Chocolate, but very little to Google. Yet Google has fed me more than almost any other organization, in terms of knowledge, entertainment, navigation, communication, and more.

I hope there’s a middle ground between reverse scale and monopoly. But I wonder if it’s possible for companies with massive impact potential to be less exploitative.

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