Sobran Column -- In Defense of Microsoft
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In Defense of Microsoft

November 9, 1999

Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson’s ruling that Microsoft “enjoys monopoly power” reminds me of a question people sometimes ask me: “Why don’t you attack Big Business the way you attack Big Government?”

The answer is simple. I can avoid dealing with corporations I don’t like. But I have no choice about dealing with government, no matter how onerous it gets.

I won’t go to prison if I decline to buy a car from General Motors every year. But I may go to prison if I don’t give the government the price of a new car every year — though someone else gets the car!

The basis of a government, any government, is a monopoly — a monopoly of force. No matter how many constitutional safeguards hedge it, rulers are usually clever enough to circumvent restrictions.

Bill Gates poses no threat to me. I buy his products because they help me; I even feel a certain gratitude to his ingenuity for making my life easier. In a real sense, Microsoft products have enriched all of us, even those who don’t use computers, in the same way that steam power, telegraphs, and railroads once enriched whole societies, including the people who didn’t avail themselves of these inventions. Wealth generated by new inventions of that sort doesn’t just “trickle down”; it quickly expands to benefit everyone.

So when people like Attorney General Janet Reno, who supervised the lawless and disastrous siege of Waco, offer to “protect” me from Gates, I want to laugh. Like most people who aspire to political power — the legal authority to use force against others — Janet Reno is incapable of conceiving any new product that those others would buy voluntarily. She is a parasite. So is Judge Jackson, who fulminated against Microsoft for 200 pages. And so, of course, are Microsoft’s competitors, who invoked government coercion to defeat Microsoft when they couldn’t do it on the market. (Government usually gets its foot in the door when sore losers pose as victims.)

Government produces nothing. It takes wealth by force, and usually without limit. When it overreaches its proper limits, it assures us it is “protecting” us from the people it targets for prosecution — or persecution. Hitler “protected” Germany from the Jews. Stalin “protected” Russians from capitalism, including greedy peasants who wanted to sell their crops at their own prices. And of course when governments go to war, they always claim to be “protecting” the people whose sons they send to die.

The federal government is also monopolistic in a special sense. The Constitution endows it with a few specific powers, reserving all others to the states and the people. The purpose of this principle — codified in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments — was to prevent a “consolidated” central state with a monopoly of power. The Constitution can be viewed as an antitrust act for government itself. The Framers recognized the concentration of power as the essence of “tyranny.”

But over time, the federal government ceased to be federal. Using the thinnest constitutional pretexts, it usurped countless powers never given to it. It spawned a national welfare state. It created an enormous military power, far beyond the needs of “common defense,” and took the country into several wars. Through the Federal Reserve System, it issued inflatable paper money. It imposed taxes beyond the dreams of George III. It assumed a comprehensive power to control our economic life. Through its courts, it stripped the states and the people of their “reserved” powers, thereby reducing the scope of self-government as well as personal freedom. And this is the short list. Every child born today will pay at least $100,000 in taxes just on the interest of the present federal debt.

A lawless, predatory government is the enemy of every honest and productive citizen. And what I see is that Bill Gates has the same enemies as I do. They are the sort of people who denounce business “monopolies” as threats to the public, but who think the solution to all our ills is a monopolistic government.

It’s high time to break up the biggest monopoly of all: the federal monopoly of power. In principle, this can be done simply: by restoring the original, traditional, but abandoned constitutional limits on the federal government.

Joseph Sobran

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