I’ve come across a claim by libertarians, ranging from Ayn Rand and Ron Paul to a slew of personal acquaintances, that monopolies and oligopolies are unsustainable without economic aid from the government.  Is there any truth to this claim?  What are the counter-examples?

—Ian

Whenever someone makes a claim like that, the burden of proof is on them.  Ask for three examples. (You can’t do this with an author, of course; but if they don’t provide examples, you don’t have to take their claim very seriously.)

See this old rant (and Josephson’s book) for some examples of Robber Baron monopolies.  What government aid benefitted the steel trust or Rockefeller’s oil refinery monopoly?  Is Microsoft’s near-monopoly on operating systems, or Google’s on search engines, subsidized by government?

The railroads are a special case, both supporting and undermining the libertarian position.  Many were frank giveaways of federal land.  But the railroad companies also blackmailed local governments and simply took over state governments.  Predatory tycoons will simply do as they please and bilk consumers and lesser companies in the absence of a strong government.

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