There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

By Milton Friedman | Go to book overview

Chapter Thirteen
Monopoly

Since the two columns in this chapter which deal with the Post Office were published, a much-ballyhooed "reform" has been effected. The Post Office is no longer a government department; it is now a separate corporation, the Post Office Service, but still a monopoly, still a government organization. And, as I suggested that it would be in the second column, it has remained "high-priced and inefficient." Postal service continues to deteriorate and deficits to mount.

Both governmental monopoly, like the Post Office, and private monopoly, like the New York Stock Exchange or A. T. & T., are undesirable; but of the two evils, governmental monopoly is much the worse because it tends to be less efficient. In Britain, both mail and telephone are governmental monopolies; in the United States, mail is a governmental monopoly and telephone a private monopoly. Mail service is better in Britain than in the United States (because the British civil service is more efficient than that of the United States) but phone service is worse. A nice, almost controlled experiment.

More important, while there are some cases, of which telephone is probably one, where technical considerations enforce monopoly, most private monopoly reflects governmental assistance and support in the form of exclusive franchises or a governmentally administered cartel, as in banking, radio, TV, airlines, railroads, and so on; or special immunities, such as those granted to trade unions; or licensure requirements, as in medicine, dentistry, law, barbering, and so on; or tariffs and quotas. Hence, the problem of monopoly, as a matter of policy, is largely a problem not of getting government to enact legislation against monopoly but of keeping government from enacting and enforcing legislation strengthening and preserving monopoly.

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