Assault Against Gates An Assault Against Property

Ilana Mercer, May 18, 2000

It was Conrad Black, the proprietor of the Calgary Herald, who once wrote about “the pervasive Canadian spirit of envy,” whereby “the success of a person implies the failure or exploitation of someone else”.

Vitriol over my recent column on the Microsoft anti-trust suit bears this out in spades. Individuals in the software industry have filled my e-mailbag with cuss-filled messages. They have not only played loose with the facts, but also seem incapable of grasping that, at its root, the assault on Microsoft is an assault on property. When government tells a company what products it may integrate, and what kind of discounts it may offer, at the threat of divvying up and policing the property should it fail to comply—government is violating basic liberties.

One reader denounced me as a lackey of Bill Gates and worse. Being so patently partisan himself, another reader was flummoxed to hear that my spouse designs a product which Microsoft wants to unseat. You will be destroyed by the Gates, this bitter creature prophesied, which goes to show that myth and superstition fuel the animus against Bill Gates.

The Palm handheld computer and its wireless technology for which the spouse is responsible has left Microsoft in the dust. The little Palm’s perfection has techies waxing poetic. The Microsoft version, on the other hand, is a lumbering “effort to shrink a desktop PC to a handheld size.” The consumer has spoken; the Palm OS has a staggering 78.4 percent of the global handheld computer market. Realistically, Palm has only antitrust law to fear.

Adopting a position of remarkable novelty, a reader insisted that the case against Microsoft was not about monopoly. At the heart of the judgement was the morality of Microsoft’s action: George Pajari of Faximum Software knows what is best for consumers, and Netscape, he says, had launched a better product. He claims Microsoft’s immorality consisted in developing a competitive product, and using financial clout to give away its product until Netscape allegedly “went out of business”.

Indeed, Microsoft gave Internet Access Providers a free access kit, which they grabbed. Netscape snoozed for nine long months, then awoke with a start to match the Microsoft blitz with a parallel package, Mission Control, that cost a whopping $1,995. Any wonder then that Internet Access Providers chose Microsoft? Unaware as he is that Netscape was the dominant and established incumbent in the browser market, the reader wants to outlaw such consumer friendly competitive hardball.  Furthermore, if using financial clout to gain market advantage is immoral, as the reader claims, then perhaps only cash strapped businesses should be licensed to integrate or give away products as Microsoft did with its Internet Explorer and Windows operating system?

The argument that Microsoft was not within its rights to bundle and market its Internet Explorer with its Windows OS, and, by extension, that government should be in the business of interfering with someone’s right to configure and sell a product as they wish, gives way to a reductio ad absurdum. “It is impossible to purchase a Ford chassis and a BMW motor,” write Christopher Westley, Leon Snyman, Walter Block and Ilana Mercer. “Those who wish to drive such a concoction will be forced to buy one of each of these automobiles and fashion this combination for themselves,” say the authors in a paper entitled “The Microsoft Corporation in Collision with Antitrust Law.” “If we are going to legally penalize Microsoft on this ground, we must also include in the indictment…all automobile companies, all TV manufacturers (some buyers may wish the SONY innards and the RCA tube, or vice versa), all publishers (some readers may want the cover of the bible and the inner pages of Lolita, or Playboy, or, who knows, vise versa), etc.”

As for accusations from readers that Microsoft “harmed consumers,” Stan J. Leibowits and Stephen E. Margolis authors of Winners, Losers, and Microsoft: Competition and Antitrust in High Technology, documented a faster decline in prices wherever Microsoft was present in software markets. “Software products which did not compete with Microsoft fell in price by about 12 percent from 1988 to 1995, but where there was competition with Microsoft the price reduction was almost 60 percent during the same period.”

No pronouncement about the antitrust junta and its hypocrisy, however, would be complete without the words of former Judge Robert Bork. Wrote Bork in his book The Antitrust Paradox: “Modern antitrust has so decayed that the policy is no longer intellectually respectable. Some of it is not respectable as law; more of it is not respectable as economics …”

Did I mention that Bork is a consultant for Netscape and a leading anti-Microsoft cheerleader?

©2000 Ilana Mercer
The Calgary Herald
May 18


CATEGORIES: Business, Capitalism, Government, Private Property Rights, Technology