An oligopoly is a market structure that is composed of only a handful of companies that together have control over the sale of certain goods or services. In contrast, a “monopoly” exists when one company is the only supplier of goods or services in a certain market. Examples of monopolies that we are familiar with include Ameren, the company that supplies our electricity and natural gas, and Illinois American Water, the company that provides our water.
Because monopolies do not have any competition, they are heavily regulated by the government to keep them from adopting unfair policies or raising prices to unreasonable or confiscatory levels.
Examples of oligopolies can be found in the entertainment industry, pharmaceuticals, cellular phone services, the computer industry, the aluminum and steel industries, the oil and gas industries, the airline industry, cable television services, and cellular phone services.
One oligopoly that controls more than 90% of the news and media outlets in the U.S. is made up of six U.S. corporations: CBS, NBC, Viacom, Time-Warner, Walt Disney, and News Corporation. For computer operating systems, Microsoft and Apple are an oligopoly because they dominate the market with their Windows and Apple computer operating systems. The oligopoly that controls cell phone services is made up of four U.S. corporations: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.
While members of an oligopoly are competitors, they are acutely aware of the processes, systems, and actions of the other companies; therefore, the decisions and actions of one company influence and are influenced by the decisions and actions of the other companies. The decisions and actions of these companies often restrict and limit the goods and services that are offered to consumers.
I rarely have any reason to think about the nature and behavior of oligopolies, but last week, I thought about the lessons I learned 42 years ago in my economics class.
If you pay any attention to the news, you probably heard about the incident involving the United Airlines passenger who was roughed up and dragged off a plane in Chicago by three security officers. The incident was recorded on video by some other passengers on the plane. In one of the videos that went viral on the internet, you can see blood oozing from the mouth of the man who was dragged off the plane.
More than 95% of the flights that take place in the United States are on one of the following airlines: Delta, Southwest, American, United, and JetBlue. These five airlines are members of an oligopoly. Because there is limited competition among them, they are able to establish and enforce policies, practices, and guidelines that limit the options that are available to consumers.
One such practice is that they overbook their flights so they can maximize the amount of revenue they receive for each flight. When all the passengers who have purchased tickets show up for a particular flight, the airlines usually offer to buy out the number of seats that have been overbooked. That’s what happened last week on United Airlines flight 3411.
That particular flight was oversold and there were four seats that were needed to accommodate United Airline employees who needed to be transported from one city to another. The airline offered $800 to any passenger who was willing to get off the plane and reschedule his or her flight. When nobody volunteered, the airline randomly chose four passengers and then ordered them to get off the plane.
One of the passengers, Dr. David Dao, refused to get up from his seat. He said that he had to stay on the flight because he had patients that he needed to see in his office the next morning.
The crew of United Airlines then brought in security officers to forcibly remove Dr. Dao. When he refused to cooperate, they banged his head against an arm rest and then dragged him off of the plane. He was later diagnosed with a concussion.
The following day, the CEO of United Airlines issued the following statement:
This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.
After the statement was released, there was public outrage. The social media sites lit up with the critical comments of Americans. The value of United Airlines stock started falling. Radio talk show hosts and cable news commentators expressed outrage at the behavior of the security officers and the response of the CEO.
When I read the statement from the CEO, my first thought was that he had failed miserably at showing any empathy toward the four passengers who were booted off the plane. He made no attempt to put himself in the place of those passengers, so that he could understand what they were going through. The statement was nothing more than an arrogant attempt to justify the behavior of his company.
The following day, after realizing that the outrage among the public and the media was not dying down, the CEO issued the following statement:
The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way. I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.
The second statement of the CEO was the way he should have responded in the first place. My guess is that the second statement was not written by him, but was written by one or more people who were able to tap into the emotions and sentiments of United’s customers and the American public.
The first statement of the CEO included a fake apology. The second statement included an apology that appeared to be genuine.
The dictionary defines the word apology as “an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.” The two key phrases in that definition are “admission of error” and “expression of regret.”
When is the last time you apologized to God for something that you did? It may have been the last time you went to confession. But was there a sincere expression of regret when you made that apology?
A genuine apology can reach into eternity.
One man ended up in Heaven with our Lord because of his willingness to make a genuine apology (Saint Peter), while another man ended up in Hell because of his refusal to make a genuine apology (Judas).
In addition to apologizing to God for our sins when we go to confession, we should also develop the habit of making a genuine apology to Him with an accompanying prayer every time we commit a sin.
That’s the least we can do, considering the fact that He was willing to be tortured and murdered so He could rise again and open up the gates of Heaven for us. We will not be able to share in our Lord’s Resurrection unless we’re willing to sincerely and genuinely apologize to Him when we do something that is offensive to Him.
Easter reminds us that we should look forward to our own Resurrection and the welcome we will receive in Heaven from our Lord, His Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, and all the other angels and saints.
May the Risen Lord continue to guide you through life and personally escort you into Heaven when you depart from this earth.