Apple's growth strategy is a textbook case of antitrust abuse

Apple bought between 20 and 25 companies in the past six months, according to CEO Tim Cook, who also said that this was business as usual for the company.

Growing by acquiring nascent competitors was the kind of tactic that antitrust regulators strictly limited…until the Reagan years, when a fringe economist (and Nixon-abetting failed Supreme Court nominee) named Robert Bork began a very well-funded campaign to push a fanciful (and fabricated) version of the legislative history of US antitrust laws like the Sherman Act, insisting that these laws were not meant to prevent monopolies. Instead, Bork argued that the purpose of antitrust was to prevent "consumer harm" in the form of higher prices. The result has been 40 years of mergers and acquisitions that have led to monopolies in every sector, from internet companies to pro wrestling.

Apple, of course, launched the first successful home computer — the Apple ][+ — while Reagan was on the campaign trail, and the tech industry grew up just as antitrust enforcement was shrinking, making it patient zero in the epidemic of monopolization.

Apple's strategy of buying up nascent potential competitors before they can grow too big to threaten it is by no means unique to the company — every tech giant is on an acquisition spree, though often the companies they acquire are subsequently run into the ground, because of "diseconomies of scale." But since the value of acquisitions isn't merely to grow (it's also to prevent other companies from growing to challenge yours), there's still a silver lining for the acquirer.

Apple doesn't always tell the world when it buys another company — but in reality, it's quietly snapping up startups all the time. This weekend, CEO Tim Cook told CNBC that Apple purchases a new company every two to three weeks on average, and has bought between 20 and 25 companies in the last six months alone.

Apple buys companies at the same rate you buy groceries [Sean Hollister/The Verge]