Misbehaving Amazon? Or Misbehaving State?

by Don Boudreaux on January 16, 2008

in Books, Politics, Trade

In his 2002 book Creative Destruction, Tyler Cowen explains "How Globalization is Changing the World’s Cultures" — for the better.

The government of France, however, seems to be intent on slowing this process of improvement for its citizens.  Check out this post by Nate Anderson over at Ars Technica (HT Konstantin Medvedovsky):

Did you hear the one about Amazon? It offered free shipping in France,
got sued for it by the French Booksellers’ Union, and lost. Now it’s
choosing to pay €1,000 a day rather than follow the court’s order.

No, it’s not funny, but that’s because it’s not a joke. The Tribunal de Grande Instance (a French appeals court) in Versailles ruled back in December
that Amazon was violating the country’s 1981 Lang law with its free
shipping offer. That law forbids booksellers from offering discounts of
more than 5 percent off the list price, and Amazon was found to be
exceeding that discount when the free shipping was factored in.

Thwarting the ability of ordinary French citizens to get good deals on books makes books more difficult for French citizens to get.  France’s cultural richness is less than it would otherwise be.

Some commentors to this post take issue with identifying firms protected by the government from competition as disreputable.  I’m in the camp whose members – finding nothing especially magical, glorious, magnanimous, informed, or trustworthy about the state or political actions – hold that hiring the state to forcibly stop people from patronizing competitors at mutually agreeable prices is no different morally than hiring a street gang or your brother-in-law to do the same.


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