In Defense of
November 9, 1999
Thomas Penfield Jacksons ruling that Microsoft
enjoys monopoly power reminds me of a question
people sometimes ask me: Why dont you attack Big
Business the way you attack Big Government?
The answer is simple. I can
avoid dealing with corporations I dont like. But I have no
choice about dealing with government, no matter how onerous it
I wont go to prison if I
decline to buy a car from General Motors every year. But I may go to
prison if I dont 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
dont use computers, in the same way that steam power,
telegraphs, and railroads once enriched whole societies, including
the people who didnt avail themselves of these inventions.
Wealth generated by new inventions of that sort doesnt 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
Microsofts competitors, who invoked government coercion to
defeat Microsoft when they couldnt do it on the market.
(Government usually gets its foot in the door when sore losers pose
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.
Its 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
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