Under the Influence… of Stephan Kinsella… Against Intellectual Property
Stephan Kinsella, author of Against Intellectual Property, go into full-on rant mode on Intellectual Property. Episode 155 of the Scottish Liberty Podcast with Antony Sammeroff and Tom Laird.
Can’t wait for 20 years from now when literally all entertainment on Earth is owned, created, and distributed by the Disney-Nintendo Corporation.
I’m not usually one to follow the crowd, but I couldn’t help myself. Like 10 million other people, I signed up for Disney+ the day it launched. I was blown away by the whole experience. The sheer wealth of quality content available on the platform is amazing. It’s got old nostalgic movies and shows I grew up watching like Escape from Witch Mountain, Darkwing Duck, and X-Men. Newer releases like Avengers: End Game, Rogue One, and Pixar movies and shorts like La luna or For the Birds, and original shows like The Mandalorian and The World According to Jeff Goldblum. With a ton of additional content already scheduled to come out soon. And you get all this for seven bucks a month.
Another way to look at this is that Disney+ is giving you thousands of hours of top-tier entertainment in exchange for about 18 minutes of work at the current average wage in America.
This is going to sound like a paid ad, and I promise you it’s not, but this seems like an insane amount of value for less than the cost of a Burrito Supreme Compo at Taco Bell. I know some people are overwhelmed by the idea of adding yet another service to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and all the smaller streaming apps out there, but I’m still just amazed that when I was a kid we literally had to rent a VCR along with two or three movies we could get on VHS from Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. And now, just about anything I’ve ever seen or ever wanted to watch is available at the click of a button for almost nothing. And what’s even more incredible is that none of this was the result of any kind of grand coordinated political plan. So today I want to talk about how we got here.
Welcome to Out of Frame.
You can “okay boomer” me if you want on this, but allow me to take you back to my childhood when entertainment at home consisted of whatever happened to come on TV, scratchy bootleg tapes, and rentals from the local video store that would amass late fees after two days. If your options weren’t completely random, the selection was extremely limited. And everything was brought to you in glorious standard definition, which is now basically the lowest resolution setting on YouTube. Growing up in a rural area meant that we didn’t have cable, so my TV broadcast options where PBS, Fox, ABC, NBC, and CBS. And depending on whether it was hit and miss whether or not they were even watchable. That all changed with high-speed Internet.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, we all ditched dial-up and got T1 lines. It wasn’t fast enough to actually stream movies yet, but we were able to download movies. This was a big deal. For the first time in history, consumers had home entertainment options that weren’t 100% controlled by studios and distribution companies. And we weren’t limited to the couple hundred titles available at her local video store.
Only there was still a big problem. Long before iTunes, the alternative to going to rent a movie was blatant copyright violation and piracy. By the time I was a freshman in college my generation had a choice to make: leave campus, drive to Blockbuster, and rent a couple movies to watch in the dorms, risking expensive fees we didn’t make it back to the same location in 48 hours. Or, we could just get on Kazaa and download dozens of movies and TV shows at once for free while we were attending classes. Setting aside the legal and moral ramifications of pirating movies, from a purely practical standpoint it was instantly clear to almost everyone I knew which option was better. Nearly twenty years ago, we could see the writing on the wall: streaming media was the future.
“If you want to watch it first weekends, maybe it won’t be available first weekend. But then if you want to watch it you know you’ll pay more. And then as it goes to another stage in its release it’ll become less expensive. But there’s a lot more adoption that has to happen technologically speaking right now before people can watch movies, at least integrate in terms of the PC or web connection. You know, the technology is not quite there yet, but it will be within, I would say, five years.” Affleck was exactly right–only it wasn’t the big studios that figured out how to deliver movies and TV shows right into people’s homes, they dragged their feet standing in the way of progress the same way they did when the VHS format first came out worried that streaming movies was going to destroy their business. Instead, the astounding wealth of home entertainment options we have today are the result of entrepreneurial startups working totally outside the existing system.
And with that, I bring you a brief history of streaming entertainment.
The year is 1997. IBM’s Deep Blue beats Garry Kasparov at chess, Hong Kong loses its relative independence to China, and movie tickets cost about $5. Blockbuster dominates the rental video space, charging a dollar or two per movie, but tacking on substantial fees for returning movies late. As the story goes $40 in late fees at Blockbuster annoyed Reed Hastings enough to start a new subscription-based company built around mail-order movie rentals with no late fees call Netflix. Users went online and selected a list of movies they wanted to see and DVDs would get shipped directly to their homes. Back then, for $20 a month, Netflix subscribers could borrow up to four movies at a time. And whenever they sent one back the next DVD in their queue would show up in their mailbox. By 2000, Netflix was already nipping at Blockbusters’ heels. But it wasn’t without problems.
In those early years, their network of warehouses was pretty limited so people didn’t always get the next movie in their queue as promised. And sometimes there were long delays, especially for new releases. It was also an expensive business model and Netflix struggled financially. That same year, Reed Hastings approached Blockbuster CEO John Antioco with an offer to sell Netflix for $50 million. Antioco turned him down. Meanwhile, Blockbuster was busy charging their customers over $800 million in late fees. But here’s the thing… even though those late fees may have kept Blockbuster profitable in the early 2000s, they were also undermining the company’s long term future at the same time. Speaking as a customer, it always felt like Blockbuster was salivating at the chance to cash in, even if I returned a movie mere minutes past noon. In the end, by giving customers like me an unpleasant experience, Blockbuster was really just creating more and more opportunity for competition. Even before digital technology made the in-person rental business obsolete.
But let’s flash forward to 2002. Netflix’s mail-order business is growing, and other entrepreneurs are starting to take notice. With the help of an investment from McDonald’s, Gregg Kaplan creates an automated kiosk business branded as Ticktok Easy Shop selling a variety of retail products, groceries, and allowing people to rent DVDs for a dollar a day. The grocery side of the business didn’t pan out, but Redbox Automated Retail worked pretty well. Incidentally, both Blockbuster and Netflix had the chance to buy Redbox. Over the next several years, competition from Netflix and Redbox start to eat away at Blockbusters’ profits. And by 2005, the company had lost 75% of its market share. It’s the beginning of the end.
Remember Ben Affleck’s five-year prediction? It’s just about to come true.
But before I get to that, I want to add a little bit of economic context to the whole situation. The first person to deeply explore the idea of entrepreneurship was an early 20th century Austrian economist named Joseph Schumpeter. Along with some of his contemporaries like Ludwig von Mises, Schumpeter studied law and political economy under Eugen Böhm von Bawerk at the University of Vienna. He would go on to become Austria’s finance minister from 1919 to 1921 and later became a professor at the University of Bonn in Germany from 1925 to 1932. When Hitler rose to power, Schumpeter emigrated to the United States and professor of economics at Harvard University.
Schumpeter saw the role of the entrepreneur in a market economy as central to innovation. In his 1942 book, “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy,” he wrote “The function of entrepreneurs is to reform or revolutionize the pattern of production by exploiting an invention, or, more generally, an untried technological possibility for producing a new commodity or producing an old one in any way, by opening up a new source of supply of materials or a new outlet for products, by reorganizing an industry and so on.” Perhaps even more famously in that same book, Schumpeter also introduced the term “creative destruction” as a defining feature of free market economies. We see this in action with the story of streaming media. As new companies like Netflix create superior methods of bringing entertainment into people’s homes older companies like Blockbuster have to become more innovative themselves or be destroyed by their competition. This all can sound very cutthroat, but most of the time it happens fairly organically. It’s an evolutionary process, not an executioner’s ax. And more importantly, this process is how our standards of living continually increase over time.
But there’s another critical element to understand here. Again in Schumpeter’s words: “Success [in the market] depends on intuition, on seeing what afterwards proves true but cannot be established at the moment.” The point is people like Reed Hastings can’t know if their innovations are actually going to pan out in advance. Nobody does. Not every new idea is a good one and even a lot of the ideas that seem great aren’t good enough to justify the cost. Plus, just because you or I like some product or service doesn’t mean that everybody else does, so we need some effective way to tell which innovations are really valuable and which ones aren’t. That’s where markets and prices come in.
We only find out whether or not some development is really good or bad once it’s offered to consumers who are free to choose what to buy or not. The entrepreneur is always going to think their idea is great, but as consumers, we’re the ones who get to decide which businesses succeed and which fail. This is the biggest reason why trying to centrally plan an economy just doesn’t work. Politicians and bureaucrats don’t know what people are going to value, and they’ll never know. So instead, they pick winners and losers based on what they want or what they think is going to earn them the most important allies. The freer a market, the more goods and services are an accurate reflection of what people want and don’t want in society. The less free, the more it’s a reflection of what a small handful of people in power want. Personally, I consider the fact that the internet and internet-based businesses have remained largely unregulated to be one of the greatest strokes of luck in history.
And that brings us back to Netflix.
By 2007, internet speeds and media encoding technology caught up with Reed Hastings’ vision, and Netflix became a fully fledged streaming video service. This was right around the time I first signed up for Netflix. And back then, they just offered streaming as a bonus to their mail order customers. But it quickly split off into its own business. And that’s the moment you see tons of other companies trying to catch up. Around the same time, Jeff Bezos had just launched a small movie streaming app called Amazon Unbox, which later became Amazon Video on Demand, but which at that point was still mostly an experiment. A year later, NBC Universal decided to put its big library of content into a new service called Hulu… but it didn’t have a great interface and users still had to watch ads like live TV.
Meanwhile, Netflix was busy crushing everybody in the home entertainment space. As of 2010, Netflix had what some of you might think of as a “natural monopoly” based solely on what’s called “first mover advantage.” It figured out the technology and user experience before anyone else, so for a hot second it had no true competitors and became a multibillion-dollar giant. By the way, that same year, Blockbuster once the indisputable king of home video entertainment, filed for bankruptcy.
At this point, I’m sure it sounds like Netflix won the streaming wars. But remember what I said in my episode about The Boys: the idea that free markets inevitably lead to monopoly is a myth. Without government suppressing competition, Netflix had no way to maintain its temporary hold on the streaming market. Other companies caught up real fast. Hulu introduced Hulu Plus in 2010 with a substantial lineup of network TV shows and would go on to add other features over the next several years like live TV and bundled premium channels like HBO and Stars. By 2011, Amazon rebranded its Video on Demand service to Amazon Instant Video, adding thousands of movies to its library through a deal with Epix and making those available to anyone who was already a Prime subscriber. A unique aspect of Amazon service was that you could not only watch movies and TV shows as part of your subscription, but purchase the rights to include them in your own streaming library. A short while later Netflix and Amazon both announced that they’re going to get into the business of producing original content exclusive to their platforms. Meanwhile, competing services like Vudu that allowed people to rent or buy movies and stream them at home and had been around for a while without much success, we’re just starting to gain traction.
Again in 2010, Vudu got bought out by Walmart, which was already battling with Amazon in the broader retail market. But by 2014, had worked out deals with the digital locker systems Ultraviolet and Disney Movies Anywhere. Which meant that their library of streaming content was not only massive it was also possible to pair digital downloads with the physical DVDs and now Blu-rays that were already being sold in thousands of Walmart stores around the world. A restructured Blockbuster also launched a streaming service in 2011, but by that point, it was really just too late. Consumers had spoken. Blockbuster got acquired by DISH Network, but the world moved on. By 2015, you have stuff like Shudder, PlayStation Vue, and SlingTV. By 2017, we got YouTube TV and Philo. By 2018, we started seeing more and more niche services like DC Universe, CBS All-Access, and AMC Watch Now. And now… we have Disney+.
None of this came about by magic. And it’s also not something that could have happened anywhere under any type of economic system. It’s something that could only happen in a market economy. I say this because I want people to really grok how this works. With no central plan, no political decision-making, and no legislative controls on what people had to do with their resources. Enterprising individuals like Reed Hastings offered consumers a service that they believed would be valuable. And those consumers, like you and me, were and are free to choose whether or not to use that service. Nobody forced it on us. We weren’t going to be sent to jail we opted out or refused to pay. And as a result our choices actually mean something.
Fortunately for Netflix, we all respond positively. For an infinitesimal moment in time they had what a lot of people might have thought of as a monopoly over streaming media. But again, without any kind of top-down control, antitrust action, or restrictive regulations, that monopoly disappeared almost as soon as it formed. That’s because in a free society, prices a reflection of consumers genuine preferences. And when they choose to flock to one product or service and make it profitable, that signal ripples through the economy. When that happens, other entrepreneurs and existing businesses see the demand and have an incentive to innovate even more, offering their own competing goods and services. As long as they’re able to do that without getting political approval or navigating major restrictions, this kind of open competition is what drives rapid innovation and development. And that’s how we end up with better living standards year after year.
Now we are awash in streaming content and the flood is unlikely to stop anytime soon. And I get it, some people think this is going to create some kind of race to the bottom where companies push the price down, create poorer quality programming, and we go back to a world where we’re all paying hundreds of dollars for content split across tons of different apps. But I don’t see it. The renaissance of incredible shows and movies that we’ve seen on cable and streaming services in the last few years has permanently altered audience expectations for quality content. And it’s a direct consequence of having an open market for entertainment. If Netflix feels the pressure to compete with Disney+ by creating poor quality original programming, they’re going to have a bad time. And they know it: “When people talk about Netflix, they talk about the shows that move them, you know? And so that is way disproportionate in positive impact, even for the subscriber growth that you talked about is those couple big memorable shows. But what we want to do is offer a variety, you know? You don’t want to watch the same thing every night as much as you like it. You want to try different things. And what we haven’t seen is this, say, race to the bottom of your violent pornography kind of examples. Instead, we’ve seen you know great viewing across a whole range, Black Mirror… and with the distribution of on-demand, you can make these much much bigger shows,” says Hastings.
Mythology and catchy critical phrases aside, competitive markets almost never actually produce a race to the bottom. In the products that they produce, in their cost to consumers, or even in terms of things like wages for employees. Furthermore, let’s try to keep all this stuff in perspective. When I was a kid, a basic cable package cost around $30 a month. That was when the average wage in the US was about $8 an hour. So back then, one month of spotty limited cable cost almost four hours of labor for the average person. Much more if he wanted channels like HBO or ESPN. Adjusting for inflation, from 1985 dollars to 2019 dollars, basic cable used to cost around $73 a month. Cost of a basic cable package without add-ons today is a heck of a lot lower than that, but it’s still more than Netflix or Disney+. In fact, if you subscribe to every major streaming service at the same time–which I pretty much do–you’d still be paying way less money for a vastly superior product.
And more importantly, the evolutionary process that brought us these kinds of improvements is still working just as hard as ever. Disney+ is amazing. So is Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime. And they’re all getting better and better. But it’s also far from the end of the road. As long as politicians don’t do something stupid and make it impossible for entrepreneurs to come up with new ways of delivering incredible entertainment to people’s homes, the future looks really good. But right now, I’ve got some Gargoyles to watch…
“The meaningfulness of the working-class life seems to have evaporated,” Angus Deaton, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, told us. “The economy just seems to have stopped delivering for these people.” Deaton and the economist Anne Case, who is also his wife, coined the term “deaths of despair” to describe the surge of mortality from alcohol, drugs and suicide.
Who Killed The Knapp Family? - New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/09/opinion/sunday/deaths-despair-poverty.html?utm_source=pocket-newtab
I inform you not to depress you, but to get you to care about your own life, take action! Join a credit union - dump chain banks, Join a workers union, don’t support behemoths like Amazon and Google and Walmart, shop local, become political because politics DOES affect every aspect of your life, from how much you pay for goods, how you go to work, how you get your health care.
This is your yearly reminder to check changes in postal tariffs, ebay fees and paypal fees for your country.
I didn’t adjust to ebay and paypal’s new changes properly (miscalculated just how much they’d take, forgot to update postage hike + currency conversion fees) and got massively screwed these past 6 months as I kept forgetting to update with the new -painful to try to calculate by design- formulas. For me, selling mostly overseas: Ebay takes 10% and Paypal takes approx 7%. That’s almost 1/5th of your total.
The “Race to the Bottom” and how it makes us all poorer
Liberalism by Mises, on Monopolies
The Boys is a dark disturbing super inappropriate for kids show on Amazon Prime based on a Garth Ennis comic that takes Alan Moore’s cynicism about superheroes to new and often horrifying extremes. It features a group of “heroes” that mirror DC’s Justice League but whose wholesome appearance is nothing but a marketing ploy by a big corporation that wants to sell merchandise and who are in fact horrible people drunk with power who don’t care about anyone else at all.
I know what you’re thinking. You assume I’m going to say that a big corporation would never do anything like that because business is good, right? Well, you’d be wrong. I think the crass corporate cynicism, the terrible behavior by the superheroes, and most of the choices characters make in the show are actually quite realistic – with one glaring exception.
Part of the plot of The Boys revolves around the Vought American corporation trying to get approval from an incredibly reluctant federal government to allow superheroes into the military and turn what is essentially a sports celebrity marketing agency into a fully fledged defense contractor. Out of all the fantastical and unrealistic aspects of the show, this is the one thing I think is complete nonsense.
And with that in mind, welcome to Out of Frame.
Okay, before we go any farther there will be some fairly mild spoilers for The Boys and a few other movies, TV shows, and comics. Don’t worry though. I’m not going to ruin anything.
So, why do I say it’s unrealistic that a major corporation like Vought American would want to become a defense contractor? Because there’s no chance that Vought would not have already been defense contractor. Their whole business model and the ability for their superheroes to cause massive damages to people and property with immunity from prosecution requires special privileges from the government.
To really understand this we’ve got to start with a lesser-known concept in economics called monopsony. This is related to but not to be confused with “monopoly”. And we all know what that is, right? Monopoly is when a single company has total market control over a given product or industry. One business, no competitors, lots of buyers. Monopsony is basically the opposite of that. One buyer, lots of potential suppliers.
In free market economies, significant private monopolies are actually pretty rare. When they do pop up it’s usually because they’ve managed to secure some kind of legal restriction against their potential competition. Lots of legally enforced monopolies stick around a long long time regardless of how bad a job they do delivering the goods and services they’re supposed to provide, because the government has prevented new competitors from entering the market. On the other hand, monopolies without government protection, also called “natural monopolies”, do crop up occasionally; but they’re usually short-lived, because the minute they raise prices too much or the quality of their product goes down competitors enter the market and profit by offering consumers better stuff at lower prices.
“Natural monopsonies” are a lot less common. There are very few situations in which there’s just one person or organization looking to buy a product or service. Can you imagine there being just one single buyer for food, clothes, home construction, cars, bicycles, electric skateboards? What about bass guitars, pianos? Can you imagine a world where literally one company buys all the cellphones or internet service and nobody else is interested? No, of course not. We all want that stuff. For the vast majority of goods and services there are hundreds of millions, even billions, of potential buyers around the world and millions of entrepreneurs looking to profit by offering to give us what we want at prices were willing to pay. But there’s one glaring massive exception: government.
Governments at all levels routinely act as monopsony buyers of all kinds of things: police services, public education, water and power utilities. But nowhere is monopsony more prevalent than in the development and production of soldiers and weapons of mass destruction. From catapults and crossbows to surface-to-air missiles, from mustard gas to the atom bomb, governments all over the world have spent a massive amount of money and resources looking for more ruthless and effective ways to kill people.
So, getting back to The Boys let’s be real for a second. No, there’s absolutely no chance that the federal government would oppose the use of super-powered people in the military. If we want to inject some more reality into the show, Vought American should probably be a creation of the government, like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Bechtel, Halliburton, and a ton of other major corporations – nearly all of which only exists because they have enormous military contracts. Even inside the narrative of the show, local governments are paying Vought American for the privilege of having one of their superheroes in their cities. So clearly government contracts are already a part of Vought’s business model to some degree. But the idea that they wouldn’t be part of the Defense Department is absurd. Also to be fair, in the original Garth Ennis comics, Vought American is a military contractor and, like the other companies I mentioned, had been since World War II.
And look, tons of other comics, movies, and TV shows get it. There are plenty of government-created superheroes and villains. It’s really common in Marvel comics, from Captain America, Red Skull, and Hydra to Wolverine. In fact, the whole Weapon-X program created over 30 different super-powered characters: Deadpool, X-23, Marrow, Sabretooth. Plus there are a ton of defense contractors in that universe like Howard Stark or Hammer Industries. DC has the DEO, ARGUS, Amanda Waller and her Suicide Squad. They have the Watchmen. Plus we’ve seen the military and corporations working together to create more powerful instruments of death in all kinds of other shows and movies, from The Rocketeer to The Manhattan Project, The Aviator, and Stranger Things.
What a lot of people probably don’t realize is that as crazy as some of these stories are, real-life governments have been trying to create super soldiers and super weapons for as long as there have been wars. During World War II, the Nazis came up with some truly insane ideas, from their leviathan-sized, siege mortar tank dubbed “Thor” and the “Amerika Rakete” long-range missile, to their “Mammoth” transport plane with its 200-foot wingspan that looks a lot like Red Skull’s automated bomber in The First Avenger. And I really can’t think of anything more appropriate for a group of super-villains than the Nazis’ “Sun Gun” proposal, which would have involved building a gigantic reflector in orbit around the earth so they could focus the power of the sun on enemy targets.
Not to be outdone, communist scientists in the USSR like Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov and Vladimir Demikhov experimented with creating human-monkey hybrids and transplanting heads from one dog to another. And Stalin’s genetics director for the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Trofim Lysenko, was a true madman whose ideas on farming would go on to cause numerous famines in both Russia and China. As a side note, Lysenko had tremendous political power and a cult following, and with Stalin’s approval thousands of biologists and geneticists were in prison and executed for criticizing his theories.
Most of these doomsday devices and mad-science projects were never completed. A ton of them weren’t even possible to begin with. And the US isn’t off the hook here either. Always in search of better weapons and more effective soldiers, our government has put together some pretty shocking experiments as well. Like MK ULTRA subproject 68, which sounds like a lunatic conspiracy theory, but was actually a real-life CIA program conducted through their Office of Scientific Intelligence with the help of the US Army’s Biological Warfare Laboratories. It was run by a prominent Scottish psychiatrist named Donald Ewen Cameron. He experimented on live human subjects with hypnosis, electroshock, and drugs like LSD, hoping to improve subjects brain power and perception, to slow or increase their rate of aging, to enhance subjects ability to withstand torture, and even to brainwash people and install new behavioral patterns. Of course, MK ULTRA didn’t end up creating Captain America. Instead, Cameron’s program developed a form of torture called “psychic driving”, which involves drugging victims with LSD and blasting them with looped audio messages thousands of times in order to break down their personalities, and presumably to reshape them into something else. At least one subject from those experiments, Frank Olson, was ultimately driven to suicide. What’s even crazier, we wouldn’t know about any of this at all were it not for an investigation by the Church Committee and a Freedom of Information Act request in 1977 that uncovered 20,000 documents about the program. Unfortunately, by then most of the records had already been destroyed by CIA Director Richard Helms. But turning creepy reality back into art, the MK ULTRA program also generated a ton of ideas for movies like Grant Heslov’s The Men Who Stare at Goats and Max Landis’ American Ultra.
The real-life programs we know about today our more technologically based, like DARPA’s Neural Engineering System Design initiative or the US Army’s plan to develop a Tactical Light Operator Suit or “TALOS”. And here’s the thing, the way that they develop this technology is not by waiting for private companies to randomly invent horrifying weapons. Because that doesn’t actually happen. What does happen is that the military offers multi-million dollar contracts to private companies that develop these things for them. Any private company like Vought American tried to do what these governments did on their own would go out of business very quickly. If not because they went broke from a lack of buyers and endless R&D failures, because they’d be convicted of reckless endangerment of the public, kidnapping, torture, possibly war crimes and all their executives would be in jail.
But governments are different. In addition to being the monopsony buyer of WMDs, they have one other unique trait that allows them to endlessly fund these kinds of projects: unlimited money. It’s either taxpayers paying for all of this stuff or governments printing money and creating inflation to cover their bills. And there’s very little transparency around any of it. So we don’t know if all that money is being spent wisely at all. But probably not. Historically speaking, the US government has a terrible track record of making smart investments. But I mean, when you’re not spending your own money and nobody knows what you’re buying anyway, there’s no real incentive to get it right. Politicians, military leaders, and bureaucrats are all willing to pay a ton of money to anybody that promises to help them come up with more effective methods of killing because, well, governments have a monopoly on waging war, and they’re the only groups buying the tools.
So, in the same way that market entrepreneurs will try to profit by creating value for regular consumers political entrepreneurs try to profit by finding ways to capture taxpayers’ money. Economists generally call this behavior “rent seeking”. Hundreds of billions of dollars get funneled to private companies every year through the Department of Defense. And unlike companies operating in the private sector where their products have to create value for voluntary buyers in order to succeed, success or failure for companies like Vought comes down to how politically well-connected they are. That’s why I’d argue that nominally private companies like Vought American actually only exist as a creation of government. They would never be able to operate the way they’re presented in The Boys. There’s no qualified immunity for private citizens. Companies that make stealth bombers and RPGs don’t find private buyers. To run that kind of business Vought would have to have always been a military contractor.
And that’s really the point here. Vought Americans products, like "Compound V”, would have gotten their start as government research programs. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not you think all of this military technology is good or bad, but there is no other buyer for that kind of product. There’s no other entity in society that can protect the company like Vought from being held accountable for the damages they and their superheroes routinely cause except government. And there’s no one else with an unlimited supply of money to pay for it all. All those incentives combined can add up to some totally unchecked, awful behavior. We’ve seen it play out again and again in real life. The Boys shows plenty of that, but it also flips the reality of how it actually happens on its head.
Fortunately, knowing how we end up with unaccountable mad scientists and big corporations cooking up devastating weapons also means we have a shot at stopping it from happening in the future. In the end, war is the root of all of these problems. So one obvious place to start is by supporting peace in international relations as much as possible. One way we can do that is by encouraging more trade and cross-cultural interaction around the world. Another thing we can do is require more oversight and transparency in government spending. The more power politicians have to play with taxpayers money without any way to hold them accountable the more they’ll use it in ways most of us don’t want. Lastly, as a culture I hope we’ll all get better at appreciating the difference between genuine entrepreneurship and political rent-seeking. Private companies should be creating value by making goods and services that benefit voluntary consumers who pay with their own money. Most are doing exactly that, and it’s a very good thing. But some companies have grown to be the biggest in the world by seeking political favoritism. And it’s important to be extremely cautious about that kind of business model. And it’s even more important to be cautious of empowering government to spend billions in secret creating the means for those kinds of businesses to exist in the first place.
If you’re thinking about checking out The Boys and you aren’t squeamish, I would recommend the show. But remember, not everything you see on TV is realistic…and I’m not talking about the superheroes.
Another downside to gun manufacturers being owned by conglomerates is the death of innovation. A parent company will kill a subsidiary’s fledgling product that competes with another subsidiary’s new product. It’s generally believed this is what led Remington to end the .30 RAR, which showed promise, after DPMS announced the GII rifle.
disney and amazon are going to take over the world and we’re just going to let it happen because we like free two day shipping and superheroes