Bill Gates, Judge Jackson, and Compulsive Spenders
Thomas Penfield Jackson, the portly judge who has abetted the Clinton administration's shakedown of Microsoft, is interviewed in the January 8 edition of the New Yorker. Judge Jackson calls Bill Gates a "Napoleon," and whines that the managers at the phenomenally successful computer company "act like children."
Napoleon, mind you, killed hundreds of thousands of people, both his fellow Frenchmen and numerous Russians, Austrians, Italians, Germans, and Englishmen. Gates, by contrast, has supplied the descendants of those left alive in Europe by Napoleon with cheap, easy-to-use computing tools. What does Jackson think Gates has in common with the late French butcher?
Gates, says Jackson, has "an arrogance that derives from power and unalloyed success, with no leavening hard experience, no reverses." To which one can only reply "So what?" Gates' attitude, if the judge's description is correct, does not seem far off from the judge's opinion of himself. Judge Jackson, judging from his interviews and opinions, does not seem to suffer from an overdose of humility. Having everyone call you "Your Honor" and rise when you enter the room, as federal judges do, is not likely to encourage anyone to remain humble for long. More to the point, what is wrong with being pleased with one's success? Judge Jackson, it seems, prefers lovable losers, and is probably a Cubs fan.
And what does Judge Jackson think would become of Microsoft's workers and their families if Bill "not humble enough" Gates were to hit a string of "hard experience" and "reverses"? Presumably, those who are materially better off as a result of the success of Microsoft do not wish that Microsoft screwed up more often.
Of course, Judge Jackson is delusional if he thinks that, since birth, Gates has enjoyed "unalloyed success." The story of Microsoft as a successful business, and Gates as a successful entrepreneur, is not one of "unalloyed" success, but of learning from mistakes and building upon what is done well.
The real story here, as Microsoft has argued in court papers, is that the allegedly impartial judge in its case does not seem very impartial. Rather, Jackson seems to bear considerable animus against Microsoft.
Judge Jackson, of course, is not alone in his attitude. Competitors, beaten by superior Microsoft ingenuity, revile the company, and its co-founder, Bill Gates (Paul Allen, the other co-founder, does not appear to be as intensely disliked as Gates). The government, which feeds on envy, hates Microsoft with a passion.
Why does Uncle Sam hate Microsoft? Let me count the ways. Microsoft, a successful company, shows that with intelligence, hard work, and wise investing, human beings can, in fact, DO THINGS. That's right — rather than sitting on a couch, ingesting potato chips and watching television, or sitting in line waiting for a bureaucrat to tell you what to do — it is possible to achieve, accomplish and progress by hard work and perseverance.
Personal computers, before Apple came along, were the domain of technologically-oriented persons who could be bothered to learn computer programming languages. Apple brought computers into the home, and made them truly personal and user friendly. The cost and distribution network of Apple, however, left an opening for competition through which Microsoft finally drove a fleet of trucks. (Note: I am still a Mac guy.)
Now, rather than typing some combination of letters and assorted punctuation marks, persons young and old around the world can operate computers with ease. Clearly, this is the sort of thing that government exists to discourage. It might encourage people to think that they can get by on their own.
Also, Microsoft, in selling many goods and services, has acquired a lot of money.
Despite the fact that direct taxation of Microsoft as a corporation, and income taxes levied on Microsoft employees, as well as upon those investing in Microsoft equity (i.e., stock), not to mention sales taxes upon products sold by Microsoft and in turn upon products produced with the benefit of Microsoft technology, have undoubtedly produced billions of tax dollars for the local, state, and federal compulsive spenders known as "politicians," every cent in Microsoft's bank accounts is money that politicians would dearly love to have, so that they can fund their pet programs.
The temptation is simply too strong to resist. If the politicians had already fully funded their various promotional gimmicks, they would still chase Microsoft for its money, if only a) to have the money, b) to come up with yet more gimmicks to run people's lives, and c) to rip off a successful producer.
There may be some who will say "Wait — they just need X number of dollars to fund programs for the children and the homeless, that's all they want."
To which I reply: you have never sat in on a city council meeting (certainly not the closed door variety), or actually paid attention to what that the "humanitarians" in Washington, DC, say when they don't think anyone is paying attention, or when they think that they have enough votes so that those who might be outraged do not matter.
You can give every cent you have to the government entity of your choice, and it will never be enough. This is because so long as there are politicians, there are persons sitting around doing nothing except for coming up with additional things to do. This is in turn because there is no fixed definition of what a politician is supposed to do.
Think about it: Hazel Brown, a woman from your town, is elected to city council. Why? People know her, and she seems all right, and isn't particularly offensive. She then sits on council, and comes up with ways to spend the money in the city budget. The money, of course, is already there, thanks to the taxes levied by the past regime, and it is only waiting to be spent. Not enough money for your pet project? Float a bond. Need more? Raise taxes. People complaining about the tax burden in town? Call them mean. Better yet, call them sexists, racists, and homophobes.
And all for what? At most, Hazel might be planting trees on "public" (i.e., city-owned) property. At worst, Hazel has decided that there "should" be a health club in town, and that the proper function of the government is to provide a fitness club. Never mind that the money spent on such boondoggles is taken away from allegedly "essential" services, such as the police and the fire department. The fact that money is taken from services which the political class claims are "essential" for government to provide shows just how "essential" the governing class itself thinks these services to be.
Also, notice that the government, rather than governing, is now using its coercive ability to seize private monies as the basis for starting...a monopoly.
What are the odds of a private investor setting up a fitness club in a small town, say of 20,000 inhabitants, where the property taxes are already used to pay for a city-run fitness club? The odds are not good, especially when you recall that any private club would be paying property taxes to support its official competitor. Even in a larger city, although a private club might be able to stay in business and prosper, its ability to grow will be hampered by the government monopoly. (See: FedEx, UPS, public libraries and the Postal Service for a similar case.)
So what's the case against Microsoft? If it actually were a monopoly (which it is not, since there are no legal barriers to competitors inventing a better product which consumers prefer, e.g. Linux or Apple), the government has no reason to complain about this. This is because the government is itself a monopoly which operates many smaller monopolies. The Postal Service, Amtrak, and most water and sewer authorities, as well as state-run liquor stores, are all monopolies. And yet they are allegedly not harmful. Why? Because they are run by "selfless bureaucrats."
This is, of course, eyewash (look it up). If anyone resembles Napoleon, it is not Gates, but the heads of the EPA, HUD, and your state DMV, to name but a few. Scan newspapers and magazines for "selfless bureaucrats" who realize that they are the only game in town and decide to solicit bribes. Even when such Napoleons do not solicit bribes, they are still the only game in town — which makes them, by necessity, barriers to freedom and innovation.
Judge Jackson's infantile remarks about Bill Gates should not be surprising. They are merely symptomatic of a fundamental flaw in the nature of American government, namely, its addiction to monopoly and the politics of envy.
January 11, 2001
Mr. Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2001 David Dieteman