Dear Mr. Gates:
I agree with you on one crucial point: the decision by Judge Thomas Jackson in the government's antitrust case against Microsoft is a travesty of truth and justice. You were condemned for only one fundamental "sin"--the sin of being exceptionally successful.
Although I condemn unjust accusations against you and your company, I am quite disappointed in your attempted defense. In your public "Letter to Customers, Partners and Shareholders," you claim that you are motivated by the "most basic American values: serving customers, quality, integrity, partnering and giving to our communities." This defense not only is totally inadequate, but amounts to utter capitulation to your accusers. Let me explain why.
Your letter misrepresents the "basic American values." The fundamental value our country was founded on is: the right to one's own life -- which includes the right to one's own property. This means that you have the right to trade freely with others, neither forcing others to accept your terms nor being forced by others to accept theirs. And it includes the right to make a profit, as big a profit as you are able to earn in a free, unregulated market.
But if you accept the premise, which is implied by your letter, that you exist only to serve others, then you have surrendered at the very outset. If the existence of your superbly productive company can be justified only in terms of a duty to serve the "public interest," then the government--as the representative of that public and the definer of its indefinable "interests"--has the right to dictate to you the terms of your continued existence. It may claim the right to regulate your prices, your products, your contracts, and your methods of competing with your rivals. If you are only a servant of society, then nothing you do can be free of government controls.
I know what you are thinking: that it would be very impractical of the government to try to control your company, since the results of such control would be less innovation, higher prices, less competition, and worse customer service. This is true--but it is irrelevant. The government is not concerned, at root, with practical consequences. It is concerned primarily with making sure you concede its right to regulate everything you do. It wants you to acknowledge that Microsoft functions, not by right, but by permission. And by your acceptance of the role of servant, you have accepted your master's right to give you orders. This means that your property is not really yours and that the battle you are fighting is entirely on the government's terms--it is only about the nature and degree of the controls that it will impose upon you.
If an innocent man is put in jail, it is self-defeating for him to concede that the government has the right to incarcerate him, while complaining about the uncomfortable living conditions and the inordinate length of the sentence. What he has to struggle for is his inalienable right to be free.
That is precisely what you are failing to do.
Judge Jackson claims that you are monopolist. Why don't you respond that only the coercive power of government can create a monopoly--that a private monopoly is a contradiction in terms, since it has no power to forcibly suppress competition?
Jackson claims that you have the power to coerce your customers into buying your products. Why don't you reply that you have no power except that of voluntary trade--and that in a trade either party can refuse to do business?
Jackson claims that you harmed your customers by giving away your browser for free, thus preventing other companies from selling theirs. Why don't you tell Judge Jackson that you alone have the right to set the terms on which you make your products available to the public? Why don't you declare that the price you choose to place on your products is none of the government's business?
Why don't you categorically denounce the antitrust laws as egalitarian attempts to punish success as such?
The real motive of the government prosecutors is a desire to attack your right to act freely and to profit from your actions. They want to bring you down--because you have been so successful. The only way ultimately to defeat them is to assert proudly your right to your own existence--which means: the right to do business, not as a public servant but as an autonomous entity with inalienable rights.
Edwin A. Locke, a professor of management at the University of Maryland at College Park, is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, California. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.