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Why Bill Gates 'Should' Win
I am passing along the follow-up message I received--and shared with
this group--from the correspondent who had earlier taken me to task for my
criticism of Bill.
Charles Mueller, Editor
ANTITRUST LAW & ECONOMICS REVIEW
Thanks for your kind note. It is rare in Internet correspondence for
criticism to meet with anything other than invective. But, for being rare,
it is all the more welcome.
As you note, the libertarian agenda plays perfectly into the adolescent
mindset -- it is consonant with what Nietzsche commentator Walter Kauffman
describes as "that first deep drink of solitude". I experienced this at
17, but quickly became disillusioned by clear evidence of market failure --
especially the erosion of local economic communities and the imposition of
product hegemony by giant corporations. I've been wooed back, six years
later, by arguments on the rights of man. The difference between this bout
of libertarianism and the last is that I now feel an acute need to avoid
enshrining doctrines for which I can provide no evidence.
In this spirit of anti-defensiveness, I'd like to enumerate the holes I
can spot in my recent apologia. Please feel free, should you get the
chance, to add to or comment upon this critique.
1. Efficiency Argument: The government can't know how the market should
Counterargument: The government can recognize obstructions to market
growth without passing judgement on the merit of market actors (and
certainly without being able to produce the market's good).
Suppose one Little League team colludes with local sports stores to keep a
rival team from buying bats. In such a case, it is not an endorsement of
the bat-less team for the commissioner to demand that the collusion stop.
Likewise, it is neither central planning nor designating winners for the
Justice Department to demand that Microsoft stop denying its competitors
all normal avenues of distribution. Political intervention is necessary
where the ground of competition has shifted from production to prophylaxis.
It is not competition and efficiency that Justice objects to, but the
inappropriate venue in which these merits are being exercised.
2. Consumer Choice: Monopolies, when not created or sustained by
government, were created by enthusiastic consumer choice and must be
sustained by the same.
Counterargument: As the investment ads say, "Past performance is no
guarantee of future performance." A brilliant new product comes out; is
enthusiastically received; accrues a solid, stable, market position; erects
prophylaxes in input markets and distribution channels; public choice, now
fossilized, has become irrevocable. But such was never the intention of
the buying public, who were applauding a _product_ with their purchase, not
endorsing any particular mode of industrial organization. (Cf. Wal-mart
and the erosion of unique, local commercial districts).
Also: monopolies may help companies minimize the risk of being stranded
with an unserviced product, but they _create_ that risk by using their
market position to systematically knock out competitors. My position was a
bit like arguing that the Soviets made Poland safe from foreign invasion
and occupation -- which it did, from a very eccentric point of view.
3. Morality: It is imprudent to let a government delegitimize voluntary
transactions between free individuals. It is repugnant to the Constitution
and immoral to force a monopolist to produce in a specific way.
Counterargument: The government provides the milieu in which all
transactions take place. The currency of those voluntary transactions is
upheld by only "the full faith and credit of the United States government".
The courts must uphold the commercial and contract laws underpinning the
free market. The legislature must provide language exact enough for the
courts to credibly adjudicate business disputes. The executive oversees the
protection of property from arbitrary seizure -- the public which his
military protects includes ever consumer in the country. How long would
"voluntary transactions between free individuals" function without these
By accepting these provisions (i.e. by operating in America), the business
owner accepts that his own plans _must be joined by democratic consent_.
It would be odd to argue that the government, and by extension the public,
has a duty to endlessly acquiesce by providing consent and by providing
support to every industrial product, regardless of social cost. But
nothing else can be meant by the phrase "self-sovereignty over production".
It is indeed unconstitutional and immoral to force anyone to produce in a
specific way, for it is immoral to force him or her to produce at all. But
that is not at issue. Rather, the issue is: Does the government have a
right withdraw its consent from a specific proposed or actual form of
production? The meaning of the very words provides the answer: it is not
consent if it cannot be withdrawn.
Anyway, that's the clearest way I know how to unpack the
anti-anti-antitrust argument. It's a bit of a brute-force solution: I'm
sure there are kill shots (quick, economical punctures of my original
points) that I missed in this _Contra Apologia_. If you spot them, let me
What I'm aiming for is a clear understanding of the strongest case each
side of the antitrust debate can present. My intuition is that the social
conditions supporting man's relationship to property are the crux of the
matter -- but then again, if history has shown that conscious, discrete
legal action (as opposed to the establishment of a pro-competitive policy
_regime_) has not yielded fruit, there is no reason for government to
exercise its putative moral right to regulation.
Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome.