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Monday, February 24, 2014

Big Can Be Beautiful

At times, it would appear that mega-companies and governments control certain aspects of our destinies. Big oil sets the price we pay for gasoline. Banks charge their fees and we accept them. Governments raise our taxes and we hardly fight back. (Property values declined over ten years in our area, but our property taxes…went up!)

Recently, Comcast made an offer to buy Time Warner Cable, the second largest cable company in the U.S. Brian Roberts, chief executive of Comcast, described the pending acquisition this way: “pro-consumer, pro-competitive, and strongly in the public interest.” He also argued that the deal "does not reduce competition in any market or in any way.” We shall see.

As a New York Times report reminds us, Comcast has many media tentacles. Our home phone, Internet access, and cable television services are all Comcast. And, yes, as the article states, as the company has grown, the costs only seem to go in one direction: UP!

In similar fashion, our auto, life, and homeowners insurance are all connected to State Farm. The advantage is in the “bundling”—where having all services with one company gives the consumer a lower overall price for loyalty. The disadvantage is that to break away from the bundling, your costs can go up significantly.

The Los Angeles Times gave a less generous view to the Comcast deal. They dared to use the word “monopoly.” The way the Times sees it, “We need more competition, not less; and allowing Comcast and Time Warner Cable to merge means much, much less.”,0,867041.story#axzz2tmu47JK9

From my perspective, massive companies and massive governments have something in common. IF the leadership is truly focused on customer benefits, it can be good. But more often than not, mammoth organizations tend not to run “lean and mean” and customers get bad service, bad value for the money, and a bad attitude when customers complain.

It isn’t a profit issue. It’s the problems that arise when a larger than life organization takes advantage of their size to exercise power over the people. It happens far too often.

In reality, most of the time we are NOT powerless. I don’t have to use Comcast. Or State Farm. I still have a choice. I may not like my options, but I can choose. Government, on the other hand, makes it much more difficult to “opt out.”

A good friend once commented to me that Godless capitalism was no better than Godless communism. Or Godless socialism. Another has said that the most efficient and productive way to get things working is with a benevolent dictator. That is one who cares about people deeply and has the power and a commitment to make policies that best serve them. (I still have to think that one through.)

The Bible says in Proverbs 20:28, “Love and faithfulness keep a king safe; through love his throne is made secure.” (NIV) Business titans, military leaders, government officials, and all in authority do well to take this proverb to heart. The leader who commits to this path is one for whom we can cheer and support.

Big CAN be beautiful…when it shows up with a servant’s heart.

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