In the autobiography The Life of Frederick Douglass, the author takes an interesting view on slavery when he argues that when otherwise good people become slaveowners, they can’t help becoming monsters. Douglass takes a compassionate view of the villains. It’s not always that bad people become slaveowners–but slaveowners become bad people.

Should we have a similar view with John Deere and other monopolies?

Once you become a monopoly, you become a villain. You stand alone. A walled garden looks great at first. But when you have a snafu like the one John Deere recently experienced when a solar flare knocked out farmers' tractor GPS systems during peak planting season, that walled garden leaves you isolated. Now there’s no buffer between you and the angry customers trapped with you. You’ve made it so that they can’t leave, so you shouldn’t be surprised when they throw humanity out the window and want nothing more than your head on the wall. (Also, if people can’t leave, you don’t have customers; you have captives).

I don’t imagine many people are crying for Deere as a lawsuit against the company’s repair practices is moving forward.

When I was a kid, John Deere was a brand to be proud of. If you owned a John Deere, you signaled to others that you cared about doing quality work with quality equipment.

Nothing runs like a Deere. That used to mean something.

But now John Deere is a villain.

We don’t like characters that we’ve always seen as villains. But nothing’s worse than a hero turned villain. A brand that never cared about you is a jerk. But a brand that made us feel they cared and then turned their backs on us–well, that’s a term I’m better off not putting in writing. When someone we thought was a jerk turns out to be a jerk, there’s most often little lost. But when someone we trusted leaves us feeling stabbed in the back, we feel lied to. Duped. Stupid.

Now John Deere stands alone, with little choice but to reap what it’s sown. On one hand, it’s hard–if not impossible–to feel bad for John Deere. But at the same time, it shouldn’t be this way, during the good and the bad.

Only stakeholders love monopolies. Everyone outside the monopoly sees it as pure evil. And once you’re branded a monopoly, your brand is no longer one people love, but one they feel they can’t escape. See Microsoft, Meta, Amazon, Google . . .

When we talk about breaking up monopolies, maybe we shouldn’t talk only about the consumers, who undoubtedly deserve to be protected and deserve the benefits of fair competition. But maybe we should take a page from Frederick Douglass' book (literally) and remember to have compassion for the monopolistic companies we’re looking to break up.

Sometimes being a good parent means doing things that piss your kids off in the short term but benefit them in the long term. Sure, the monopolies may kick and scream now. They may claim we’re being unfair. But if we don’t do what needs to be done now, maybe we’re setting them up for failure later down the road when the world at large shows up with their pitchforks.

Jake LaCaze once worried that his views were becoming more Socialist. He now realizes he simply wants a truer form of capitalism for all, especially corporations.


Songspiration


‘The Small Print’ by Muse - A band who I once saw as a hero, only to turn villain.