Perhaps like most people, I first heard the term monopoly as a child, thinking it was simply the name of a board game. In retrospect, buying up all those properties started making sense—and why the name of the board game is titled as such. The biggest change from childhood to adulthood is perhaps one’s reaction to the term. Honestly, as a kid, I loved playing the game (even if I was losing most of the time) and looked forward to it. And while I’m still eager for any game, be it Monopoly or poker or Munchkin, the word monopoly isn’t something spoken on the dinner table in a positive light. People (especially Filipinos) have grown to fear the word as much as Communism.
Personally, I don’t have any problems with a monopoly in itself. The same goes for my views on Communism. What I do have a problem is how monopolies are used. In the hands of a responsible group, a monopoly could be a good thing (and the same goes for Communism). In practice, however, absolute power doesn’t make people innovative—it makes them lazier and complacent.
The Philippines is a country where monopolies are a way of life. Where we purchase electricity is not a choice. PLDT, while not the only landline phone company in the country, commands a good portion of the market. That’s not to say that monopolies exist solely in the Philippines. Diamond, for example, has a monopoly on the US comic distribution business. Microsoft in the past decade has drawn a lot of heat for its monopoly on the PC market. Monopolies aren’t a unique phenomenon—people just have an assumption that monopolies are innately evil.
And the fact of the matter is, monopolies aren’t. As a consumer, I wouldn’t have problems with monopolies if they were actually innovative, giving customers value for their money and continually improving their services. Look at Apple—it has a monopoly on most (if not all) Mac computers and it dominates the mp3 player market. But no one is making a huge public outcry at them (at least compared to the public outcry at Microsoft several years ago). I’d like to think it’s partly because Apple continues to improve (and has a great marketing arm).
Monopolies in the Philippines, however, are adept at something else: killing competition. Instead of concentrating their resources in giving consumers additional services or benefits, a good chunk of effort is instead spent in draining other companies dry. If the rival company is lucky, they end up being bought. A lot of the monopolies have few rivals to struggle against (and that is by definition what a monopoly means). The only interesting phenomena as of late is the Telecom wars by Globe and Smart who have each other at a stalemate. And in a way, consumers are benefiting from that because both Globe and Smart are forced to innovate.
It’s not yet apparent but the monopolies won’t stop and it’ll continue to grow. What’s next in the Philippines a decade or two from now? A monopoly on malls? On real estate? Restaurants perhaps?