The Progressive Olympics will decide Democratic nomination

When all is said and done, there will probably be more than 15 people running for the Democratic nomination for president.

One thing is clear already. In order to win the nomination, Democrats are going to need to speak to the increasingly strident, socialistic, progressive activist segment, and energize them. All the attention, all the energy, and all the money is with them.

How do you appeal to them? You can start by talking like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did at the South by Southwest Conference this week. Her speech highlighted her belief that capitalism is irredeemable, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was racist, Ronald Reagan was racist, and that political moderates are “meh.”

That is where the heart and passions of the base are, and it is why her speech got more attention and attracted more people than the presidential candidates who were there.

So to those candidates, an enduring lesson: to get the volunteers, the energy, the money, and eventually the votes, you need to sound like that.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, waves to the audience during South by Southwest on Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Austin, Texas. Texas is an early primary state, but the real draw of the South by Southwest Festival in Austin for Democrats is face time with the party’s ascendant young and liberal wing. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

This is already causing the primary to devolve into a ridiculous game of liberal one-upmanship, with candidates competing with each other over who will propose the most preposterous, fringe left-wing idea possible.

They need that progressive street-cred.

Last Friday saw one of the more ludicrous examples of this to date, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren penning a “thought piece” arguing that it is time for the government to break up Amazon, Google and Facebook.

“In the 1990s, Microsoft —  the tech giant of its time —  was trying to parlay its dominance in computer operating systems into dominance in the new area of web browsing,” she wrote. “The federal government sued Microsoft for violating anti-monopoly laws and eventually reached a settlement. The government’s antitrust case against Microsoft helped clear a path for Internet companies like Google and Facebook to emerge.”

This is a preposterous position to take, and is hilariously ignorant about the evolution of the tech sector.

In fact, Microsoft offers a great lesson for how and why monopolies fail, even without government intervention.

In the year 2000, Microsoft had a roughly 97 percent market share of operating systems in all computing devices.

That incredible market share is what Microsoft used to try to push its browser, Internet Explorer, which was preloaded on all Windows machines that were shipped. The government viewed this as unfair, monopolistic behavior, and — for this reason and several others — sought to break up Microsoft.

There was one problem. Internet Explorer was awful.

Its lack of competition bred a lack of internal innovation, opening a window for smart competitors to build something better. And build it they did. First Firefox, and then later Chrome offered faster, more stable, easier to use and better browsers. Internet Explorer imploded, being used for only one purpose for most people: downloading the newer, better browsers.

Today, Internet Explorer is basically dead.

Oh, and by the way, by 2012 Microsoft’s market share was down to 20 percent as we saw the rise of Apple and mobile computing, which cut Microsoft’s knees out from under them.

More importantly than the various failures of Microsoft, though, is Warren’s claim that the settlement with the company “cleared a path” for companies like Amazon and Facebook.

This is an entirely provable fallacy. Microsoft having a monopoly on operating systems, and the eventual settlement, had nothing to do with the development of online shopping and Amazon’s dominance of it, and it certainly had nothing to do with the rise of social media.

Amazon developed and eventually triumphed because there was an untapped market that they identified, and they invested aggressively in it. So aggressively, they basically never make a profit, because they reinvest virtually all profits they make in growing the company’s capabilities.

Beyond that, their potential competitors in traditional bookstores like Borders simply failed to recognize what consumers actually wanted, and failed to innovate.

Social media, on the other hand, grew and thrived because of the basic human desire to connect socially to other people. Facebook, as critical of it as I am today, actually emerged as a competitor to the existing monopoly of MySpace.

Like all stories like this, it became the de facto choice of most people because it was better. Better system, easier to use, and with innovative features like the newsfeed.

That had nothing to do with Microsoft.

The rest of Warren’s column is just as economically illiterate, and worthy of scorn. But the underlying coherence of the message is irrelevant. All that matters is that the Progressive Olympics are in full swing, and this will probably be one of the most reasonable things we hear in that primary over the next year.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.