[<< | Prev | Index | Next | >>]

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Corporate Mouser

Yesterday morning, I awoke to the first snow of the season:
First snow, Linköping 2003

I remember once an old-timer telling me how there used to be so many birds on his land, but as more people moved near with their cats, the birds have all but vanished, with just a few species left and in scant numbers at that. At first impression it didn't seem plausible economically--nature tends to prefer finding a balance, and birds and cats don't seem so drastically mismatched in efficiency that one should overwhelm the other. But then I realized the match isn't between birds and cats, but between birds and humans--as we subsidize the cats and in so doing make them an extension of our efficiency.

For unsubsidized cats, there is an equation balancing the cost of the hunt against the gain, and as bird numbers dwindle and only the fastest and fittest remain, this equation reaches equilibrium. The cats on the whole slow down--hunting less, eating less, breeding less, conserving energy for the smaller number of net-positive opportunities that present themselves (slower, older birds, etc.). Even if the adjustment is only slight, it may be enough to halt a gradual overtaking.

But when we subsidize the cats, we create creatures of untouchable efficiency. A hundred cats could hunt the one remaining bird for a year if that's what it took. And that army of can-fed cats would remain at the ready for any newcomers as well. The cats have become an extension of our human efficiency, tapping into powers far beyond their own inherent design--like a virtual appendage, they are our symbiotic mousers (and inadvertently birders as well).

It is interesting to see the same principles at play in corporate economics. Examples abound, but the most recent that comes to mind is SCO, who has just received another fifty million dollar infusion (again seemingly from Microsoft) to continue their assault on Linux and the open source community. SCO has failed so many times in so many ways now it should have long died off or gone into hibernation. But the Purina Lawyer Chow ($) keeps pouring in and so they hunt on, fully charged. Microsoft's corporate mouser.

[<< | Prev | Index | Next | >>]

Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com