My heart goes out to billionaire Bill Gates as he battles to preserve the unity of his corporation. The US Justice Department and 17 states are trying to get a judge to separate the Windows operating system from Microsoft's office applications. Preparing for the worst, Mr. Gates has already started to economize by cutting his own hair.
I know how he feels. It's become clear to me that the Justice Department and perhaps some of the states have been trying to separate socks in my dryer for years.
I've also noticed how often my Tupperware tops are separated from the bottoms. Sure, it seems convenient to keep them together, but now I see the wisdom of the government's claim: These breakups have encouraged a host of new innovations in my house!
Emboldened by its recent success, Justice plans to pursue more radical breakups to unleash the power of the marketplace in our everyday lives. Here are some highlights - or as we'll say in the monopoly-free world, "some highs and some lights":
*The next time someone asks, "Would you like fries with that?" resist the fast-food cartel! Join the government's fight to dismantle the burger-and-fries monopoly that has stifled competition for decades. Lawyers on this case, known as "The Unhappy Meal," imagine a bright future when customers will order a burger in one place and then freely choose from a variety of vigorous French-fry vendors around the city. No more feeling trapped in a single restaurant for the whole meal.
*How many of us have pined for the day when we can shop for a refrigerator without being bullied into accepting the attached freezer section? Freezer manufacturers have labored beneath this chilling economic oppression long enough. Calling it "the least intrusive of several options," the Justice Department will require consumers to keep their freezers and refrigerators on different levels of the house. During the breakup phase of appliance-compliance, people in ranch homes without a basement may petition to keep their freezers in the yard. (Lettuce crispers will be spun off in a separate public offering.)
*The days are numbered for the so-called peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. New regulations outline a child's legal right to demand full separation of the peanut butter and the jelly: They can be carried in the same lunchbox, but the zip-lock bags containing each must remain sealed, and consumers will retain the freedom to choose which to eat first. (A report on the predatory practices of chips and dip is expected by spring. Dip executives called the government's preliminary plan "sour.")
*In its most radical move, the Justice Department wants to loose consumers from the tyranny of the footwear industry, which for years has been illegally bundling right and left shoes. Untying these two products is expected to give consumers new and better choices for their right feet and their left feet.
Viva la competition!
*Ron Charles is the Monitor's books editor.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society