Earlier this month, a federal court approved a $311 million dollar settlement against DRAM manufacturers on behalf of consumers. Boise-based Micron Technology, one of the firms involved, will pay an exorbitant $66.7 million to the “victims.” The crime? “[E]ngaging in unlawful anti-competitive practices to inflate prices,” according to The Associated Press. Sounds simple enough; the companies conspired to rip-off the public and will be forced to pay it back. Who could argue with that?
As with most things in an age where so much is beyond the scope of what can be perceived and understood locally, there is more to the story. From the AP report we learn not that a settlement was reached, but that the court ruling means “consumers can start filing claims” – the actual settlement took place in 2007. That means it took the court seven years just to figure out how consumers could get the money Micron (and others) already agreed to pay. The answer? Anyone can simply ask for free money! Really – it took them seven years to come up with that; the settlement site explains:
You don’t need any documentation to file your claim. So don’t let that stop you… You can still get paid even if you don’t have any documentation.
The likelihood of any actual justice being served under these conditions is slimmer than Idaho’s starving wolves.
But it gets sillier. The AP story doesn’t mention that the antitrust violations took place between 1998 and 2002, and the minimum “recovery” amount is $10. So the government agents who brought the suit – Idaho’s Attorney General Lawrence Wasden was one of them – have dedicated countless hours and millions of dollars in lawyers fees to returning $10 taken from consumers fifteen years ago. Of course, no one was forced to buy any DRAM and certainly most had no idea they were paying too much at the time. But even granting that illegal activity took place, have Americans really become so petty and childish that fifteen years isn’t long enough to get over losing a few bucks?
The cost to Micron is nearly $67 million, but the actual impact to Idaho will be much greater. How many Treasure Valley jobs could have been saved or created by Micron with all that money? When Micron agreed to the settlement in 2007, Idaho’s unemployment rate was below 3%. (After housing went bust, it nearly tripled.) Perhaps at the time Attorney General Wasden thought little harm could be done.
And perhaps this is another lesson in communities paying the price for a government too expansive to be genuinely representative.