In Switzerland, there is a federal office that is in charge of regulating prices in the market. One of their stated goals is to make sure that monopolists (such as the federal railroads, electric utilities etc.) don’t abuse their power to inflate prices. Starting October 1st, Microsoft’s Stefan Meierhans will unfortunately be the price supervisor for Switzerland.
Seeing that Microsoft was incapable of treating the ISO submission of their MSOOXML format without bias, we have enough reasons to suspect that Meierhans might use his newly gained power to apply two different measures to the prices of IT products: One for Microsoft and its partner companies, one for the rest of the market.
So one of Switzerland’s most important federal offices against the abuse of monopoly power is now led by someone who works for a monopolist power abuser. A twice convicted one, at that, and additionally the first one to receive extra penalties from the European Commission for not complying with the measures ordered against it in an antitrust case’s ruling. Sounds like a good idea. That will surely improve things.
Keep in mind that if Microsoft were not a monopolist, none of this would matter, and no one would complain. Some people seem to believe that Microsoft’s ballot-stuffing and political games are acceptable because it’s a “free market”, but we can only overlook such issues if the company in question is not a monopolist. If it is, we should use an entirely different set of morals, just like there are entirely different laws concerning monopolists that don’t apply to anyone else.
Update 1 (2008-06-18, 15:54)
Voices from elsewhere in Switzerland are also full of surprise in reaction to this odd new head of all things price-related.
Swiss technology community Donax writes:
Le site de l’organe de surveillance des prix nous apprend qu’une enquête avait été menée sur l’entreprise de Bill Gates et le fait que ses prix étaient plus élevés en Suisse qu’ailleurs. Difficile de croire à la partialité d’une enquête de ce type quand l’investigateur n’a pas trouvé immoral de travailler pour cette même entreprise.
(“The price supervisor’s site tells us that an investigation was launched against Bill Gates’ company and the fact that their products are more expensive in Switzerland than elsewhere. It’s hard to believe in the impartiality of this kind of investigation when the investigator did not see anything morally wrong with working for the very same company [they are investigating].”)
Update 2 (2008-06-19, 12:39)
/ch/open, the Swiss Open Systems User Group, is sending out an open letter/press release asking some critical questions about the strange nomination. The letter is signed by several Swiss groups that fight for people’s freedoms, such as the Free Software Foundation Europe and Digitale Allmend.
Update 3: Other voices from around the blogosphere
- Konsumentenschutz (Swiss consumer rights org): Hochspannung bei Wettbewerb und Preisen
- Digitale Allmend: Preisüberwacher kommt von Microsoft
- Donax: Monsieur Prix vient de chez Microsoft
- Digisus: Schweizer Preisüberwachung. Wird der Bock zum neuen Gärtner gemacht?
- Inside-IT: Ausgerechnet: Microsoft-Behördenflüsterer wird Preisüberwacher
slashdot_title=”Microsoft employee now Swiss price regulator”;
Photo made with The GIMP and licensed under CC-By-SA 3.0. Based on this photo by Kevin Lawver (CC-By-SA 2006) and this origami-head by “A l’abord d’un” (CC-By-NC-SA 2006), slightly larger .xcf available by request.