As technology invades every corner of our lives, so does the power of monolithic institutions to control us. We’ve entered a new era of “you can’t fight city hall.” Responding wisely and finding peace when facing rigid institutional power is one of the most demanding challenges on feeling at peace when you feel powerless.

Microsoft is one example. Now that we pay for how much internet we download, it is costly to pay for unwanted, unasked for six gigabyte downloads. In my case, my service limits me to 40Gig a month at a cost of $105 so this matters. The one that irks me the most is how Microsoft forces Internet Explorer on us. This is the guilty culprit on my PC. Despite disabling it, Microsoft is able to re-enable it from afar and continue to send unwanted, large updates. Apple can be the same way. You either buy into the system or go play elsewhere.

institutionsInsurance companies are another example. In Ontario where I live, the Liberal government has an agency called the Financial Services Commission that has the power to regulate pricing.  Ten years ago, 130+ insurance companies were struggling to make money.  Clearly an over-supply situation that the free market would have cleared up as it should. Instead, Dalton McGuinty’s government came to the rescue, giving all companies the right to request price increases based on cost increases.  This kind of paradise is what every monopolistic entrepreneur dreams of.  My house insurance is now $1600/yr versus $650 per year ten years ago.

In car insurance, systems now enable all the companies to work together. If you try to switch car insurance companies, you will pay a massively higher premium. They don’t want your business. It is rumoured that Ontario is now the most expensive place in North America for insurance and electricity.

In telecommunications, the situation is the same or worse.  In the US, a massive merger was just announced by Time Warner and Comcast for $45 billion, lessening consumer choice.  In Canada, Bell and Rogers jointly control about 90%of the market. To make their oligopoly more legitimate, they bought the Toronto Maple Leafs sports enterprise  together. Systemic control is helped when the bosses can sit together and agree on the plan.

We the people are left to our governments to protect us from corporate greed.  Roger Martin, dean of business at the University of Toronto, makes the crystal clear in his book, Fixing The Game.  Brilliantly written, he outlines the important role of government to stay a step ahead of profit-seeking institutions that learn how to manipulate the system for their own gain. With the rapid advances in macro-level systems in the last 10 years, this role is more vital than ever.

What can we do? Elect government leaders who understand this.  In Canada, the Harper federal government has taken a strong stance against Bell and Rogers to end 3 year cellphone contracts and to sell off bandwidth to smaller players like Wind Mobile.  Competition used to be the consumer’s best defense. With systemic barriers to trade in industries like finance, telecommunication and insurance,that is no longer enough.  Like opening up the electricity grid to competing distributors, government must play a strong role to keep the playing field level.

The greatest danger is when governments as institutions align themselves with other big institutions. This is what happened in Ontario and it is why our province is in poor shape financially.  When Dalton McGuinty implemented a new 8% tax on gasoline, the price of gas did not budge for several weeks after the start date.  The fuel companies cooperated with him to ease the transition.  Their interests were aligned and we the people are still paying heavily for that one.

How do we find inner peace in the face of monolithic institutional control that empties our wallets and limits our choices? Here’s how. Firstly, vote for a government that favours free enterprise and protecting the consumer by monitoring and adapting regulations accordingly.

Second, make your own financial choices that support consumer choice. Resist the temptation to make the easy, no-brainer choice that costs more but who can be bothered to see what else is out there or risk supporting the little guy.

Third, speak up.  Tell the institutions what you think – respectfully. I’m always aware that the person I’m speaking with isn’t the decision-maker.  That person is hiding in an ivory tower somewhere, doing his or her best to maximize their own personal career and finances, hoping no one will notice.

Finally, pray the Serenity Prayer. Know what to accept and what to change. Exercise your God-given right to choose wisely. When we do our best, we enjoy inner peace that we did the most we could. What happens after that is not in our control.