Skype’s the limit

This morning’s Observer column.

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money” is an aphorism frequently attributed to the late Everett Dirksen, the celebrated Republican senator from Illinois, who died in 1969.

While intensive research has failed to unearth documentary evidence for the source of the entire quotation, the phrase “a billion here, a billion there” was one of Dirksen’s mantras which he often deployed in castigating congressional profligacy with taxpayers’ money.

One wonders, therefore, what Dirksen would have made of the news that Microsoft was spending $8.5bn (around £5bn) of its shareholders’ money to buy Skype, the internet telephony venture, in an acquisition that has gobsmacked both the technology industry and Wall Street. It is, said the ArsTechnica analyst, “a deal that’s hard to understand” (translation: nuts).

The scepticism that greeted the announcement stemmed from various sources…