Build a Better Mousetrap

July 4, 2018


"Build a better mousetrap and they will beat a path to your door" goes the old adage. Or, as the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson tells the farmer in the movie "Field of Dreams," "Build it and they will come." This is the American Dream, the Manifest Destiny that propelled entire populations across the sea and across the continent.

Of course, to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the death of that dream have been greatly exaggerated, but that does not mean that there is no cause for concern. As for the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, the flip side was manifest exploitation and greed. And as for the better mousetrap, almost all the paths to almost all the doors are either owned or demarcated by monopolies or near monopolies. 

On this American Independence Day I read an article in the Atlantic Monthly by Robinson Meyer entitled "The Trust Buster." Lina Khan is a young, fairly recent law school graduate who was hired by a think-tank to study monopolies in the present age. The Sherman Antitrust Act, passed by Congress in 1890, states: "Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a felony [. . . ]" 

In the spirit of deregulation and in this Age of Consumerism when the only concern is pricing, certain corporations have been allowed to restrain trade by artificially lowering prices to drive out competition, creating mergers and acquisitions that reduce market competition and other practices outlawed by  antitrust law. Lina Khan specifically calls out Amazon as the prime example. She proposes that Amazon and other similar companies make America less free. "Amazon has disrupted the business model of publishing. Publishers used to be able to take risks with the heavier books (not in pounds but ideas) that might not be as popular, and they used to be able to subsidize them with best sellers." In terms of job losses in the retail sector, taxpayer subsidies, and the ripple effect in several industries, Amazon has cost the American economy billions of dollars, while presenting itself as the champion of the little guy, the promoter of independent publishers and creators. Of course, it is not the only example.

What it boils down to is the balance between local and national and global interests. Yes, efficiency and economies of scale are worthwhile considerations in business, but there is also much to be gained from the local perspective. I write this as the spectators are arriving outside my window for the July 4th parade in Stanwood, Washington. A national poll revealed that while trust has broken down on the national political level, it is much higher on the local level, where neighbors or family must greet or acknowledge or even love one another. While on the national scene, it reminds me of the time of the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem, which is attributed to causeless hatred or, a better translation would be "free-floating hatred."



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John Sherman (Sherman Antitrust Act)

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Why Crosss-Genre

April 10, 2018


Genres serve a purpose. They provide form, structure, familiarity, and help us choose our radio stations, books, and curate our experience. From a marketing point of view, they help to target an audience. The Dewey Decimal System, introduced in 1876, bought a scientific form of classification to libraries. Science itself was separated into strict categories. These boundaries were seen as modern.

Prior to the modern age, people were not so punctilious about genres. We still refer to Renaissance people as those whose interests and talents transcend a single area. Regarding the actual Renaissance, the notebooks of Da Vinci, for example, contained writings and drawings about architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, and botany. The Bible is a library in itself containing history, myth, poetry, epigrams, song lyrics, and law compiled into a single bound volume.      

This present age is in many ways no longer a time for “either-or” but for “both-and.”  This approach can get us out of the rut, whether musical, literary, religious, or political. Cross-genre is one step beyond mixed-media, which has always been the American art form because of our pluralistic composition.