On March 3, 1999 Bill Gates will testified before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee to defend Microsoft against-anti trust charges. Prior to Gates’s testimony, activist Ralph Nader will be mobilizing his “public citizens” to condemn Microsoft’s practices. It’s time for the real American public to stand up and defend — morally defend — the right of this company to its success.
Imagine a company that continually generates exceptional products. Suppose it makes such products available in ever-improved versions, at ever-lower prices. Suppose that the superiority of its products is so widely recognized that they are used in almost every industry, thereby raising productivity and living standards across the globe.
If you’re a typical success-loving American, you would regard it as self-evident that this company ought to be applauded.
But now imagine that this firm is denounced as an evil “exploiter.” Perhaps its out-classed competitors complain to antitrust bureaucrats, who seek to harness this company. The firm’s ability to gain market share by creating the best products is condemned as “predatory.” It is ordered to allow its competition to catch up. The firm is ordered to sign an oxymoronic “consent decree” which is deliberately made vague enough so that if the firm shows new signs of racing ahead, the bureaucrats can keep prosecuting it until it is fully reined in.
Now, stop imagining. This is what has been happening to Microsoft, whose trailblazing Windows is the operating system for most personal computers today.
The latest instance of this attack on achievement is the recent court decision prohibiting Microsoft from incorporating its new Internet browser into Windows. Microsoft wants to sell that software, Explorer, as an integral element of Windows. This is a healthy economic evolution, common to all successful products. Automobiles, for example, fitted only with the basics at the turn of the century, were later enhanced with windows, upholstery, carpeting, power steering, radios and air conditioning. The results were improved cars at lower prices. Had the manufacturers of carpeting or air conditioning been allowed to charge “unfair competition,” we would still be driving bare-bones cars.
But that is exactly the charge the Justice Department now wants to enshrine in the computer field. It claims that by offering Explorer only as part of Windows, Microsoft has an “unfair advantage” over the makes of other browsers.
According to the antitrusters, Microsoft should not set the conditions of sale for its own product. It should rather be compelled to make its innovations available on whatever terms the government sets — on whatever terms benefit those who did not, and could not, match Microsoft’s achievement.
Many people ask: If Microsoft’s products are so demonstrably good, why is the company under assault? The answer is: precisely because its products are good. Does Microsoft have a unique advantage by being able to package its browser with Windows? Of course. It has earned that advantage, because it, and no one else, developed Windows into a leading product. If its competitors want the same benefit, let them make a product equal to Windows. If buyers do not like the terms Microsoft is asking, they are completely free to patronize Microsoft’s competitors. What they should not be free to do is to have Microsoft while eating it too.
All the prattle about ” anti-competitive practices” means only one thing: Microsoft is too competent. Antitrust law is a tool to enforce the claims of any second-rater against any innovator. If you invent something so good that the market clamors for it and makes you wealthy, you are deemed a “monopolist,” because your competitors are “shut out” of this market — the market you have created.
Microsoft is only the latest in a long line of victims of the unjust antitrust laws. From ALCOA in the 1950s to IBM in the 1970s, to Wal-Mart in the 1980s, the government’s goal has always been the same: prosecute an exceptional firm that is growing rich, not through theft or fraud, but through superior production and voluntary trade.
Microsoft should be cheered for taking an unusually firm stand against the Justice Department. But company officials are focusing on the wrong issue. Their basic argument should not be that the public benefits from the unfettered freedom of the best producers. This argument is true, but is not fundamental — and the antitrusters know it.
Microsoft needs to make the moral case for economic freedom. It needs to uphold the moral right to reap the rewards of one’s achievements — the moral right to soar as high as one’s talents take one — the moral right to succeed and not be shackled to others’ non-success. The principle to defend is that ability should be a source of reward, not a cause of punishment — a principle upon which America was built, and a principle of which antitrust law is an obscene mockery.
This is the position that will free Microsoft — and all other producers — from the envious clutches of the success-haters.
–Made available through ARI MediaLink http://www.aynrand.org/medialink/.
Richard M Salsman
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