According to Kenneth W. Starr in his Feb. 19 Washington Times Op-Ed column, “A stitch in crime,” the Microsoft antitrust settlement contains loopholes that allow Microsoft to avoid competing in the marketplace on the merits. Yet rather than attack Microsoft, perhaps Mr. Starr should reorient his gaze to the antitrust laws themselves.
Under the antitrust laws, the government has penalized Microsoft for improving its products, controlling the terms of sale of its own property and earning the loyalty of millions of its customers. In a free market, Microsoft’s achievements would be held up as a model of how to create and maintain a highly productive, innovative company. Yet under antitrust laws, these same achievements are criminal.
Never mind that, unlike a government regulator, Microsoft cannot outlaw the competition. Never mind that the only real barriers to competition with Microsoft are technical and business acumen. Under the antitrust laws, Microsoft, by virtue of its success, is a coercive threat to the unsuccessful. The gauge of Microsoft’s compliance with the law is how much its competitors are gaining at Microsoft’s expense.
It should be obvious that a standard that demands that a company sacrifice itself to its competitors is unjust. Yet, never in the history of the Microsoft antitrust case has there been a loud call for a re-examination of antitrust law itself. Government and industry antitrust attorneys have pored over tens of thousands of documents, looking for instances of Microsoft’s transgressions. They have missed the transgressions of a government that criminalizes ordinary business behavior in the name of protecting the marketplace.