Altruism’s reductio ad absurdum

If I had to pick one company that has most improved my life over the last 15 years, it would be Google.

Knowledge is power, and Google gives you the ability to find out almost anything in a split-second. Just a few days ago, I found the solution to a computer problem that I’ve been having for a decade and on which I recently spent a fruitless 20 hours trying to solve. Google tells me where the products are that I’m looking for; Google maps helped me find the right house to buy; Google images supplied some of the pictures I used in How We Know; and then there are all those questions that used to be just idle curiosity but are now answerable instantly.

And with the Google Chrome web browser, I don’t even have to go to Google–I just type my search string onto the URL line.

I would pay a fair amount for this matchless service, but Google is 100% free.

Yet Google is under attack from governments around the world. It is being prosecuted under antitrust law–for giving away an invaluable product. The theory behind antitrust is the (absurd) idea that businesses will raise their prices and restrict output. Google has a price of zero and a virtually infinite supply of service. Thus, we come face to face with the real basis of antitrust: hatred of success. It’s Google’s virtues that are making it the target of the envy-ridden.

The latest in a long series of crimes against Google is a demand by the French government that Google disclose its algorithms–the formulas it has developed for bringing us all that information, and doing so in a way that competitors can’t match. The government of France wants competitors to have the benefits of Google’s brains to use in competing against Google.

. . . in France, the upper house of parliament yesterday voted to support an amendment to a draft economy bill that would require search engines to display at least three rivals on their homepage. And also to reveal the workings of their search ranking algorithms to ensure they deliver fair and non-discriminatory results. Given that Google has a circa 90% share of the search market in France these amendments, although not specifically naming any companies, are aimed squarely at Mountain View. Hat tip to Ian Edgar.

Google is constantly updating its algorithms, so this implies that every improvement they make would have to be immediately surrendered to its competitors. That would destroy Google–or at least Google search.

The claim is that Google biases its results to feature those who buy ad space from Google. And what would be wrong with that? It’s like prosecuting someone for giving you a present, on the grounds that you prefer a different present. It’s hard to believe that Google would bias its results–since its competitive edge comes from giving us better search results than any other company does. But that’s not the point. The point is that a firm has the absolute right to give away whatever they wish to whomever wants to take it. (In fact, a firm has the right to offer to sell whatever they wish–but Google search is given free.)

The story of Google’s crucifixion blows altruism’s cover. Altruists are not interested in what helps people, only with forcing the great achievers to their knees. Google is being punished for using extraordinary intelligence to vastly foreshorten the time between desire and fulfillment.