Microsoft and Liberty

by | Dec 31, 2000

Think about the government’s case against Microsoft and, just as importantly, it’s implications for our liberty. Let’s ask a general question just to get started. If there’s an act we all agree is immoral and unacceptable when done by an individual, does that act become moral and acceptable when done collectively, namely by government? You […]

Think about the government’s case against Microsoft and, just as importantly, it’s implications for our liberty.

Let’s ask a general question just to get started. If there’s an act we all agree is immoral and unacceptable when done by an individual, does that act become moral and acceptable when done collectively, namely by government?

You say, “Williams, that’s a bit too esoteric; would you break it down?”

OK, here’s a for-instance. If we deem rape as immoral and unacceptable when done by an individual, does rape become moral and acceptable when done collectively? What if we vote to rape someone. Does that make rape morally acceptable? I’m hoping that all of my fellow Americans will answer: Neither a majority consensus nor collective action necessarily establishes what’s moral or immoral.

Let’s cut through the Justice Department’s legalese and get down to moral basics and what should be the standard for judging Microsoft’s actions: Did Microsoft engage in peaceable, voluntary exchange — and on non-fraudulent terms — with its customers, or did it engage in fraud, violence or threats of violence?

You say, “Come on, Williams; the relevant question is whether Microsoft violated the law.” Nonsense. Laws do not necessarily establish morality. For example, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act provided fines and imprisonment for assisting runaway slaves. If I were on a jury, whether a defendant violated the Fugitive Slave Act would have been immaterial to me. I would have deemed slavery and any law that protected it immoral. As such, people have no moral duty to obey immoral laws.

If we’re really concerned about monopolistic practices injurious to consumers, we’d call for Justice Department actions against the U.S. Postal Service. Microsoft has never done the kind of despicable acts done by the Postal Service. Suppose you and I agree that I will deliver first class mail to your house. What happens? I will be arrested for competing with Postal Service. In fact, by law I cannot even put anything in the mailbox belonging to you. It’s worse than that. The Postal Service has come after people, with fines, for using Federal Express services for mail that it deems “non-urgent.”

If you think it would be wrong for Microsoft to use violence and the threat of violence to maintain its monopoly position, why in the world is it acceptable for the government’s Postal Service to do the same?

The Justice Department’s claim that Microsoft’s actions harm consumers is a sham. The overall pattern of the high-tech industry has been a precipitous fall in prices and rise in quality over time. We needn’t mention the pattern of the prices and quality of postal services.

There’s another and more important monopoly target for the Justice Department, and that’s the public (government) education monopoly. That is a monopoly that’s eating away at the soul of our nation. It’s charging customers (citizens) higher and higher prices (taxes), while their product quality is getting worse and worse. It has the power to commit despicable acts beyond any monopolistic dreams Microsoft may have.

For example, what would you think if Microsoft had the power to tell you: “I don’t care if you don’t like my operating system and want to use somebody else’s. But if you do use someone else’s, you still have to pay for mine even if you don’t use it.” That’s precisely what the education monopoly tells parents who want to take their children out of rotten government schools and put them in private schools.

If the U.S. Justice Department really wants to go after harmful monopolistic practices, I can give them hundreds of targets.

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Walter Williams (March 31, 1936 – December 1, 2020) was an American economist, commentator, academic, and columnist at Capitalism Magazine. He was the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, and a syndicated editorialist for Creator's Syndicate. He is author of Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?, and numerous other works.

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