[On June 14, 2000 Peter McWilliams was found dead. The loss of this wonderful, creative, giving and precious indivudual is causing tremendous sadness across the country and indeed, around the world. And it is also a source of intense anger. Many say his death, without a doubt, was from "an overdose of government." The irony is that part of his legacy is this warning and suggested solution about the same sort of problem to the man who created more wealth and dramatically increased the productivity of more people, including Peter McWilliams himself, than any other in history.]
by Peter McWilliams
[The McWilliams Links]
This epistle originally appeared in the September, 1999 issue of Liberty
Dear Bill Gates,
Now That You've Played Monopoly With the Government, Please Allow Me to Suggest a Saner Game -- Libertarianism.
There is a well-established political philosophy in which the entrepreneur is an admired citizen and your freedom to run your company and your life as you see fit is a self-evident unalienable right.
As a libertarian, I watched in horror and disgust as the government dragged you and your magnificent creation, Microsoft, through the bureaucratic mire. What happened was nothing short of character assassination on you and an assault with intent to kill your company by the most powerful government in the history of the world.
Your creativity was labeled cunning, your enthusiasm called predatory, your passion mischaracterized as obsession. The government -- our government! -- obviously does not understand capitalism, entrepreneurism, the Constitution, or you.
The government called it an "antitrust" action. For once, the government named it right. I cannot imagine any action that would have left you with less trust in the government than this one.
For all you've done for the betterment of this country and all humankind, libertarians would have given you the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Clinton Justice Department gave you a subpoena.
The attack was not just from Clinton and the liberal Democrats, but from conservative Republicans as well. Sen. Orrin Hatch labeled you a criminal, which was nothing short of criminal on his part. Bob Dole, onetime Senate majority leader and 1996 Republican presidential candidate, wrote an opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times on November 24, 1997. Was it entitled, as it should have been, "Happy Thanksgiving, Mr. Gates -- We're Thankful You're an American!"? No. It was "Microsoft Must Obey the Law." A few excerpts:
"Microsoft cannot be allowed to use its current dominance in personal computer operating system software to preclude competition. The speed with which Internet and electronic commerce markets develop creates an increased responsibility for antitrust enforcement officials to move rapidly to prevent anti-competitive practices. . . . I think the Justice Department is doing the right thing by taking swift action to force Microsoft to comply with the law. . . . Microsoft's goal appears to be to extend the monopoly it has enjoyed in the PC operating system marketplace to the Internet as a whole and to control the direction of innovation. . . . When a dominant company artificially dictates how, where and even if consumers have choice in the online marketplace, it is time for the government to step in and enforce the antitrust laws."
After all this, Senator Dole throws you a bone by mentioning that he met and personally likes you. That must have made your day.
It seems you have no friends among Democrats or Republicans. I cannot remember a single member of Congress on either side of the aisle (save those from Washington state), speaking out in defense of your Constitutional right to run your own company in your own way.
While Democratic and Republican politicians pay lip service to capitalism and the Constitution, in reality they are contemptuous and hostile to both. They are also terribly frightened of the free market, personal freedom, and -- especially -- any limitation of governmental power. This is because (as libertarians know well) the government is not run by people who "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," but by people who preserve, protect, and defend their own personal power. It is crystal clear that your "crime" was not violating antitrust statutes, but that you failed to donate large sums of money to the powers that be.
How dare you be the richest man in the world and not be the largest contributor to one or both political parties? That's why you were called on the carpet in Washington -- it's a classic extortionist's shakedown, pure and simple. I know it. Every libertarian I've talked to knows it. To borrow a phrase from the Declaration of Independence, it is "self-evident."
Just as in a B-movie, the gangsters from Washington walked into your office, sniffed the air, and said, "We think we smell monopoly." When you failed to for over large amounts of cash, they metaphorically set fire to your warehouse.
Because it is so young, the computer industry as a whole hasn't learned the rules of how the country actually works. Making significant contributions to the economy and the country are not enough. Paying taxes is not enough. You also must pay money directly and indirectly to those who have seized the reigns of power, or those who are likely to seize the reigns of power in the future.
These are known as the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee. Their worldview: If you're not one of "us," you are one of "them," and all the "thems" had better watch out. How do you get to be part of "us"? Give "us" your money. If you don't, we will sic the Just Us Department on you.
As Nobel laureate in economics Milton Friedman observed, "Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned."
The movers and shakers of the computer industry have, for the most part, failed to pay into the political protection racket. So the movers and shakers of the power structure have chosen you -- the biggest fish in the pond -- as an example of what will happen if the rules are not followed. The message is clear: pay up, or get raked over the coals of federal bureaucracy.
It seems to be working. Gore's campaign chest is significant larger thanks to the computer industry, and according to the L.A. Times (July 2, 1999) "a whole lot of new money [is] flowing from the technology-based New Economy into the bulging war chest of Texas Gov. George W. Bush. [In one day] individuals in Silicon Valley poured $850,000 into Bush's coffers."
If the scorned bureaucrats don't use one law, they'll use another. There are so many federal laws -- most of them unconstitutional -- that we probably break two or three of them every day without even realizing it. Do yo know, for example, that it is illegal under federal law to own anything that was on the Titanic? It is. Read The Titanic Maritime Memorial Act of 1985, signed into law by Ronald Reagan, the president who said he would get the federal government off our backs. The number of pages in the Federal Register, where new regulations are printed, doubled between 1957 and 1967, tripled between 1970 and 1975, and grows by about 4,000 pages every year.
In your case, the Justice Department could just as easily come down on you for violation of federal sexual harassment in the workplace statutes. As I understand it, you met your wife while she was an employee at Microsoft. In the normal healthy practice of courtship, you probably broke the law that says you cannot make amorous advances toward someone who works for you.
Even if you never so much as held hands until your wedding night and fifteen Catholic nuns chaperoned your every date, the government could have caused you and your family months of embarrassment by indicting you on sexual harassment charges, and then ordering compulsory testimony from your wife, every woman you ever dated, and every person who ever saw you and your wife together in any context. Your courtship would be documented in excruciating detail on the front pages of daily newspapers, weekly newsmagazines, and late night comedy monologues. "First Clinton, now Gates," Jay Leno would muse. "Maybe there's something in the name Bill."
How Libertarians Responded to the Antitrust Suit
Unlike Democrats and Republicans, libertarians defended you and Microsoft against government encroachment. Back in 1991, Robert Higgs identified the first signs of the war against you and your business in Liberty:
Antitrust actions are making a comeback under the Bush administration. The Microsoft Corporation, the most gloriously successful competitor in a gloriously competitive industry, is now being investigated and harassed by federal antitrust officials, and Microsoft may be restricted in some way or even broken up to give less successful competitors a better chance.
In February 1997, the Libertarian Party News printed an editorial entitled, "The Tragedy of Microsoft."
Perhaps the biggest success story of the American economy in the past decade is the Microsoft Corp.
Founder Bill Gates and many other millionaires in Redmond, WA, got rich the only way you can in a free market: by producing something other people wanted.
But in our modern politicized economy no good deed goes unpunished for long. The federal government noticed that Microsoft was just too good and was helping its customers just too much. It launched a Federal Trade Commission investigation, later compounded by a Justice Department investigation.
The tragedy is that the most important factor in America's economic future in raising everyone's standard of living is not land, or money, or computers; it's human talent. And some portion of the human talent at one of America's most dynamic companies is now being diverted from productive activity to protecting the company from political predation, motivated by envy, lust for power, or simply the desire to win in the political arena what you can't win in the economic arena.
On June 9, 1998, The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story entitled, "Freedom fighters: Antitrust suits expand, and Libertarians ask, "Who's the bad guy?" The Journal identified libertarians as "the loudest protesters" against the Justice Department's antitrust lawsuit.
The Journal observed, "The Libertarian Party has criticized [the antitrust suit], calling on the Justice Department to get its bureaucratic Lilliputians off Microsoft's back."
Here's a report on libertarian student activity from 1998:
About two dozen George Washington University students gathered in front of the Department of Justice building in Washington, DC, on April 7, carrying signs and chanting, "Don't punish success; leave Gates alone!"
The students, members of the GWU College Libertarians and GWU Objectivists Club, said their protest was designed to send the message that the "government has gone too far" in its prosecution of the giant software company.
We, as believers in private property and the free market, believe that the government has no place in regulating the business practices of Microsoft," said Ryan Sager, the vice president of the GWU Libertarians. "It is time for the American people to tell the government ot back off. Decisions about product design and packaging should be left to companies -- not the government."
Students at the rally echoed his sentiments, with signs tha read, "Freedom Leads to success" and "Bill Gates is Good For America."
The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington D.C., has released a number of papers and articles about the antitrust case, all critical of the government's actions. I know you attended a reception there in your honor on June 15, 1999. You were welcomed by the president of Cato, Ed Crane, with these words: "In my view, one of the great cosmic injustices of our time is that a person of the quality of a Janet Reno should be able to distract the attention of an individual who has been responsible for the creation of more wealth than anyone in human history."
Here are a few passages from Cato publications:
- Microsoft's latest difficulties with the U.S. Department of Justice reveal the absurdity of attempting to apply 19th century antitrust law to a 21st century computer and telecommunications marketplace. (D.T. Armentano)
- In his online diary in Slate magazine, Bill Gates wrote, "It's been a year since the last time I was in DC. I think I'm going to be making the trip a lot more frequently from now on."
And that's what Janet Reno's Justice Department is costing America: Bill Gates is going to waste his mind on protecting his company instead of thinking up new products and new ways to deliver them.
Dragging Microsoft into the political swamps is a tragic example of the diversion of America's productive resources into the unproductive world of political predation. (David Boaz)
- At root, the Department of Justice's attack on Microsoft aims to prevent the computer software industry from responding to consumer demand. The Department of Justice, not Microsoft, should be held responsible for interfering with consumer choice and free markets. (Dave Kopel)
Alas, we libertarians don't believe in extorting money from the rich before we protect them, so our voices were not heard as loudly as they could have been.
Blowing a Little More Smoke Up Your Chipset
I watched your rise to power, profits, and service to all humankind not from afar, but from the press box. I was there not quite at the beginning, but very near the beginning, and I made a lot of money tracking you and the rest of the computer industry as a journalist. In 1979 I published The Word Processing Book: A Short Course in Computer Literacy. In response to my book, a senior editor at Random House wrote a letter to Publishers Weekly proclaiming, "No great work of literature will ever be produced on a computer."
Shortly thereafter followed The Personal Computer Book, which, believe it or not, required this question as the subtitle: "What Are Those Television-Typewriters Anyway?" That was only 20 years ago. Today, you have to explain to a young person what a typewriter is (or was).
In addition to other computer books (including the one of which I am most proud, Personal Computers and the Disabled), I wrote extensively about computers for Playboy, The New York Times, and for 17 years I had a column on computing syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate.
I tell you this so you'll know my praise for your overall achievements comes from a working journalist who took great pleasure in criticizing Microsoft from time to time. Windows versions 1.0 and 2.0, for example, were so problematic they went sailing right out my window -- literally. I informed my readers of their flight paths and trajectories, and suggested they do the same should they ever be unfortunate enough to be given this not-anywhere-near-ready-for-market software.
Over the years I watched with awe, appreciation, and no small degree of envy as you made one brilliant business move after another. Your genius was apparent from the start. To buy a preexisting operating system in 1980, license it to IBM as IBM-DOS, thus gaining IBM's stamp of approval, while retaining the rights to market the same operating system as MS-DOS is one of the best business moves of all time. People say you were "lucky" and "at the right place at the right time." Nonsense. A good 10,000 people -- myself included -- were in the same place at the same time, but only you saw the need and successfully fulfilled it.
By licensing the MS-DOS rights to other computer manufacturers, you not only made a royalty on every computer sold, you also created the first important standard in personal computing, the IBM-compatible standard. For the next 15 years, people who were not buying an Apple would ask, "is this IBM-compatible?" in the same way they ask today, "Is this Windows compatible?"
Prior to your groundbreaking move, each computer hardware manufacturer had its own proprietary operating system. Apple had AppleDOS, Tandy Radio Shack had TRS-DOS ("trash-DOS," as the hackers called it, before the government turned the word hacker into a bad name), and so on with Atari, Commodore ("commode door" in hackerspeak), and all the rest. The only other cross-computer operating system was CP/M which was on the market before MS-DOS. But you were an entrepreneur pushing your operating system, and CP/M seemed an orphan by comparison.
You took the babble of a dozen incompatible personal computer operating systems and created not one, ut both, industry standards -- platforms -- on which the phenomenal growth and success of the personal computer industry is anchored. The first was the IBM-compatible standard; the second, Windows. Without these two standards, personal computer advancements would be retarded by at least a decade, maybe more.
These two standards allowed software manufacturers to concentrate on improving software, not adapting the same software to a dozen different operating systems. Further, standards gave the consumer confidence in which computer to buy. This gave the computer manufacturers confidence in which computer to manufacture, and the giant engine of capitalism could kick into high gear. Mass production and competition drove prices down and quality up, which increased sales even more, causing additional price breaks and innovative breakthroughs. For the price of a single word processing program in 1979 (remember WordStar?), you can buy an entire computer today, and the Write program that comes free with Windows 98 is better than WordStar ever was.
You accomplished this so quickly the government didn't have time to jump in with its leaden feet and dictate a standard. You were so swift, in fact, the standards were set before the government even knew a standard was necessary. By the time the government knew personal computers even existed, the IBM-compatible standard was already in place, and the government wrote on its purchase orders, "All software must be IBM compatible."
This speed is probably your greatest contribution to personal computing. If the government had realized that a standard was necessary, it would have -- as it did with digital television -- frozen all private innovation until the "official government standard" had been set. By the time the standard-setting process had gotten through the infinite number of bureaucratic layers of Washington, the United States Standard Operating System (US-SOS) would resemble CP/M and be issued in the year 2020.
I watched as you went public at just the right time and used your capital in just the right way to build your company into one that provided lasting value for your investors, co-workers, stockholders and customers. That you became the richest man in the world because of this, as all libertarians know, is just the way capitalism works.
On the day before Microsoft went public, The Wall Street Journal called and asked my professional opinion of the stock. "Buy, buy, buy!" I said. "It's the best computer company in the business. And, by the way, short IBM." I didn't follow my own advice -- journalistic conflict of interest and all that -- but I should have given up writing and computers and started an investment firm specializing in computer stocks.
Your contribution to personal computers was not just limited to software. When mice were not generally available for IBM-compatible computers, you went into the hardware business. Now rodents run everywhere. Some mice say Microsoft, some don't, but the fact that mice made their way onto every desktop in America was more you than it was Steven Jobs.
(Besides, Jobs was not a very good entrepreneur. In 1982 he was invited to a private demonstration of Xerox computer innovations. These included a graphic interface, clickable icons, and a mouse. Rather than going into business with Xerox, he reverse engineered Xerox's ideas and came up with the Macintosh. But the Mac could never make it into the business world, thanks to the stifled innovation and higher prices Jobs' proprietary control entailed. Imagine what would have happened if Xerox, one of the most trusted names in business, had marketed the Xerox-Apple to the corporate world and Apple had marketed the same computer to the personal world? Jobs would be facing the antitrust inquisitors today, not you.).
When CD-ROM players cost $1,000 each, you looked upon them and said, "This is good." You put all the resources (power) of your company behind CD-ROM development and, behold, CD-ROM players now come standard on almost all computers, even those costing less than $500.
At one time you looked askance at the Internet. You looked again, realized your mistake and put Microsoft in the Internet business overnight. Without your entrepreneurial efforts over the past three years, the Internet would be one-third less popular and one-third less powerful than it is today. Of course, as we all know, you didn't do as much for the Internet as Al Gore, but you've done quite a lot.
You were so good at supporting Internet innovation that your competitors went crying to Uncle Sam. "Nasty Bill Gates is trying to destroy us!" they whined. "Help me! Help me! Uncle Sam!" But you did not have a history of providing sugar for political fundraising coffees, so you had few friends in Washington, D.C.
What would a libertarian Attorney General have told Netscape, Oracle, Sun and the other ProCom crybabies? "Bill Gates is not trying to destroy your company, but he is trying to take your customers. He is doing that by offering better Internet browser and server software than you at a better price. If you want to keep your customers, you'd better get busy and offer them a better product than wasting your time and money bellyaching to me. That's called capitalism, kiddies, and if you're not ready to play in the big time with the big players, then you'd better sell your company to another company that is." (Which, of course, is precisely what Netscape did.)
In my view, the economic prosperity the country currently enjoys is based primarily on the increased productivity that inexpensive personal computers and software have brought to the business world. Thanks to the PC, American businesses -- especially smaller businesses -- have doubled their productivity i the past 15 years. You, more than anyone else, are responsible for this.
Libertarians one and all stand aghast as the government penalizes rather than rewards you for all that you have done. But then, libertarians also know, that's what governments do. Until, that is, some creative genius stands up and says in no uncertain terms, "Knock it off."
What Libertarians Know
Libertarians know that each individual -- not the state, not the church, not the society -- owns and is responsible for his or her body. If one chooses to give one's body to the church or to the state or to another in marriage, it is still the individual who is making that choice.
After one reaches the age of consent -- adulthood -- one is not owned by parents or government. The individual belongs to him or herself. This coming of age, technically, is known as emancipation. Whatever debt there may be to the parents and the stte is cancelled, and the individual stands alone -- free, but personally responsible. Responsibility and freedom are two sides of the same coin. In order to spend the coin of freedom, one must assume the obligation of personal responsibility.
The right of each individual to freedom is so fundamental that the Founding Fathers referred to it as a "natural right." They held that freedom was as integral to the healthy human being as breathing, walking, and thinking. Freedom is not a right granted by the state -- it is the birthright of every human being, a part of "Nature's Laws."
This, of course, is radical thinking, as it has been throughout history. The government holds that your body belongs to the state. The church hold that your body belongs to God (bu, as He's not around much, we'll take authority over your body for Him in His name). The notion that you belong to you was considered outright theft of that which rightfully belonged to country and God. Many "free thinkers" lost their lives on charges of treason or heresy.
Socrates was condemned to death for "sedition" and "corrupting the morals of the young." Jesus was executed for challenging the absolute authority of the government de jour and the prevailing religion of the day.
When the signers of the Declaration of Independence proclaimed the "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" were not rights to be granted by the government or the church, but were instead the "unalienable" right of each individual as set out by "Nature's Laws," such thoughts were almost as dangerous then as they are today.
Of the 57 signers of the Declaration of Independence -- the men who pledged to support their libertarian ideas with "our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor" -- five were captured by the British as traitors, tortured, and executed. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost sons in the Revolutionary Army. Nine of the 56 died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.
Two centuries later, the government of the United States came in with its antitrust suit against you and essentially said, "Watch it, Gates. Don't take this personal freedom thing too far." Libertarians cringe, for we know that inherent in the right of sovereignty over our own minds and bodies comes the unalienable right to gather with our minds and bodies as much property as we can, providing we don't use physical force, the threat of physical force, or fraud.
In fact, in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence Jefferson wrote -- reflecting the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment and quoting Locke -- "Life, Liberty and Property." Benjamin Franklin suggested "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
The Founders were enlightened men who understood that property and the pursuit of happiness were one and the same. But Franklin thought the happiness angle might play better in the provinces. It was, frankly, one of Franklin's most unfortunate suggestions. Rather than educating the populace on the value of property and its inseparable connection to personal freedom -- as essential as life and liberty -- the colonists were sold a crock of ephemeral nonsense known as "pursuit of Happiness" rather than the concrete reality of "property."
This national ignorance continues to this day. If it did not, the government could no more come after your property because you had been "too successful" in gathering property any more than it could have executed you (taken away your life) on the same charge.
We see this ignorance in the press and public over your not donating substantial amounts of your property to "charity." Any libertarian understands that your fortune is invested in your business, and the more of your business you own, the more control (power) you have. Greater control allows you to manifest your creative ideas with greater effectiveness and (here's that word again) freedom.
You're not sitting $90 billion worth of cash buried in your back yard, thereby depriving homeless children of food and milk; your billions are your tools -- your working capital -- just as a mallet and chisel are the sculptor's creative tools. To say that you should give some of your tools away to the poor just because you have a lot of them is as absurd as walking into Michelangelo's workshop and saying, "You have 90 chisels. Why don't you give some away to other sculptors who don't have as many?"
Libertarians know that property is the power necessary to manifest one's creative vision. History is replete with creative geniuses who didn't have the power -- the property -- to turn their dreams into reality, and the world is a lesser place because of it.
Of course, not all creative ideas are good ideas, and even good ideas can be bested by another entrepreneur's better idea. Here capitalism provides the great tester of ideas -- competition in the marketplace.
In a free market, your idea will not be alone in its attempt to woo dollars from consumers, but will be up against everyone else's idea as well. Consumers want the most for their money, so they invest (buy) carefully. They decide which idea makes it and which does not. Enlightened self-interest all around makes the system work.
Capitalism closely emulates the process of natural selection (survival of the fittest). The system does not guarantee that the best ideas will always survive -- as libertarians are fond of saying, "Utopia is not an option" -- but it's the system that works best.
Libertarians know that the most important single element of capitalism is the individual entrepreneur. Ah, the entrepreneur, whose ideas create wealth and fuel businesses large and small.
It is the entrepreneur selfishly fulfilling his or her own vision that creates profits, jobs (these are so that the non-entrepreneurs of the world can get by as well as have money to but the output of the entrepreneurs), innovation, lower prices, more value, a higher standard of living, greater health, longer life, increased peace (it is the international alliance of businesses, not governments, that keeps the peace between nations), equality, integrity, freedom, truth, justice, and the American way.
Libertarians do not admire you because you head a large corporation. We admire you because you are a world-class entrepreneur, worthy of respect and praise no matter how dorky your haircut may be.
And who funds government? Read my lips: taxes. And who creates wealth -- and the flow of wealth for the government to tax? Yep, entrepreneurs. To ponder the fact that the government takes money from you, your company, your employees, and the tens of millions of Americans and American businesses that have increased their incomes using your computational innovations, and then uses that money to try to "break up" your tool of creation makes us libertarians, frankly, sick to our stomachs.
Even libertarian Appleholics who think Windows is the incubus incarnate will back you against the government on this one. "I do not agree with what you manufacture," they might say, paraphrasing Voltaire, "but I defend with my life your right to manufacture it without government interference."
This is because keeping the government's destructive bureaucratic hands off wealth -- and freedom -- producing entrepreneurs is a fundamental libertarian goal. If the entrepreneurs would help from time to time, it would speed us to our goal. But even without their help, we slog on.
What's the Constitution Between Friends?
We libertarians are rather simple-minded people. We read the Constitution of the United States and believe it means exactly what it says. The Constitution strictly limits the federal government to specific activities known as the enumerated powers. They are in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, and I quote:
Section 8 -- Powers of Congress The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States, but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United states; To borrow money on the credit of the United States; to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes; To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States; To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures; To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States; To establish Post Offices and Post Roads; To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries; To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court; To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations; To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; To provide and maintain a Navy; To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces; To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress. To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
As Porky Pig would say, "That's all folks!" Just so there would be no doubt that Congress -- and, therefore, the federal government -- can do nothing more than those acts, the Tenth Amendment (the final Amendment of the Bill of Rights) reiterated that fact: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Just in case, as is often the case today, someone says, "You don't have that right (to, say, run your business as you choose, or let your business get as big and powerful as it can) because it is not specifically granted in the Constitution," you can quote the Ninth Amendment: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
Simply put (for we libertarians are simple people), all rights belong to you, or that of the state in which you live, except for the handful of rights granted Congress in the enumerated powers. Put another way, unless Congress is given the power to do it in the enumerated powers, it can't. This is why libertarians are fond of saying about most laws that pass through the bowels of Washington, D.C., "It's unconstitutional."
You'll note that nowhere among those enumerated powers lurks even a hint at the ability of the government to "break up" a business that just happens to be meeting so many needs of so many people that it becomes really big.
What do libertarians think the government's role in business should be? That was succinctly expressed by some French business owners a couple of centuries ago. The government, noting how successful and taxable these businesses had become, asked the, "What can your country do to help?" The response from the businesspeople came back loud and clear:
"Laissez-nous faire!" Leave us alone!
The Constitution, written primarily by businessmen, loudly proclaims a "Laissez Faire!" America. It is a document -- "the supreme Law of the Land" -- that protects the right of the entrepreneur to entrepreneur, and the more successful he or she becomes, the better it is for everyone.
So what happened? Over the years, one by one, our constitutional rights were wrongly taken from us by politicians who swore a solemn oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America." The two-party system, rather than defending the Constitution, was used to chip away the rights for which millions of Americans have fought hard and died.
Rather than the Republicans saying, "No, Democrats, you're not allowed to usurp that constitutional right," the GOP would say, "Well, if you get to usurp that right, then we get to usurp this right." Rather than the Democrats saying, "Knock it off Republicans, ou know that's unconstitutional," the Democrats would instead say, "If you get your unconstitutional law, we get our unconstitutional law, too."
When President Cleveland refused to sign a law because he felt it was unconstitutional, a politician, echoing the voice of Washington D.C. during this century, replied, "What's the Constitution between friends?"
This is why libertarians see Democrats and Republicans as essentially the same party -- a party of what it can get away with, not what is constitutionally correct, a party of spin doctors, not constitutional scholars. Libertarians call this party either the Demoblicans or the Republicrats.
What You Can Do to Prevent Your Baby from Being Slapped Upside the Head with Antitrust Suits in the Future
Currently the fate of your masterpiece, Microsoft, is in the hands of a single federal judge who doesn't seem to like you very much. He can break your company up into what the press has already gleefully termed, "Baby Bills."
You must feel the way Michelangelo felt when powerful cardinals demanded the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel be painted over because it was obscene and the pope took the matter under divine consideration.
Seen another way, now you know how someone accused of heresy must have felt during the Inquisition -- the trial is over, and your fate in the hands of the Grand Inquisitor, a person who has created nothing of value in his entire life and who sleeps in the same bureaucratic bed as your prosecutors. Yes, you are encouraged to earn, baby, earn, but if you do too much of it, you will burn, baby, burn.
What can you do to prevent this from happening in the future? Essentially you have two choices:
1. Donate, donate, donate. Then start contributing. Big time. There is an election year coming up. It is the ideal opportunity for you to placate the Powers That Be with major donations to Democrats and Republicans alike. Give a few billion well-placed dollars during each election cycle, and you will be sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom, not gang raped in a federal courthouse. I'm certain you have already been advised of this path. I notice that Microsoft's executive vice president and chief operating officer, Bob Herbold, was at the Bush Silicon Valley fundraiser in early July. Of course, there's no real need to send someone from Washington state to Silicon Valley -- for you, all major candidates will make house calls.
2. Work to establish a libertarian government -- and fast. This is not as difficult or farfetched as it may seem. Most Americans are like you -- they already are libertarians, they just don't know it yet.
Many people define themselves as "economically conservative and socially liberal." What they mean is that they believe the government should keep its stifling little hands out of business (conservative) and its paternalistic little hands out of private lives (liberal). Traditionally, conservatives believe businesses should be left alone, but private lives should be regulated, and liberals believe private lives should be left alone, but businesses should be regulated.
Bush is trying to capitalize on this by calling himself a "compassionate conservative." Although he hasn't clearly defined the term, the image seems to be one of a conservative who will leave businesses alone, but still be compassionate enough not to lock individuals up for what they do in the privacy of their own homes. The better word for this, of course, is libertarian.
Add to this the absolute -- and absolutely justified -- distrust Americans have for government, the federal government in particular. This is nowhere more true than in high-tech. As Silicon Valley venture capitalist E. Floyd Kvamme described the political leanings of computer people, "The Valley is about 15 percent Democratic and 10 percent Republican and 75 percent wishing government would go away." The general population is probably 25 percent Democrats, 25 percent Republicans, and 50 percent wishing the government would go away. That latter, larger, percentage are closet libertarians.
Fifty percent of the population does not vote. Is this because they are apathetic, or because they feel they are not being offered a real choice? The answer, of course, is both -- and the latter can certainly cause the former. Keep in mind that in a three-way election you don't have to win a majority, just a plurality. If Gore and Bush split the vote of currently registered voters between them, each would have 25 percent of the potential electorate. That means only slightly half of the current non-voters could elect a libertarian president. Motivating non-registered voters to vote worked for Jesse Ventura in Minnesota.
There already is a Libertarian Party that has been around for a quarter-century and is qualified on the ballot in all 50 states. Add to this a libertarian-leaning, technology-friendly candidate the American public already loves and trusts -- say, Hugh Downs -- and you have the makings of a libertarian president in the White House. If nothing else, it will be the most exciting campaign in United States history.
What would it take? A major educational campaign to let the public know that what most of them already believe has a name, libertarianism, and it has a long, rich history that includes the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, and the United States Constitution. Cost? A few hundred million. Half a billion, tops.
This will be a one-time investment. Unlike the Democrats and Republicans who need their palms greased regularly and perpetually, once Americans experience the fresh air of personal freedom and economic prosperity of a libertarian government, they'll never go back to 900-pound gorilla government again. It would be like giving up word processing and returning to the manual typewriter. There'll be no need to donate any more. Whoever wins will automatically have your interest -- and the interest of every other entrepreneur -- at heart. Gratuity not required. No tipping allowed.
What will you get out of it? First, you'll know that the word "antitrust" will never be spoken again, except in the same context as other major American mistakes, such as slavery, Native American genocide, anti-Semitism or prohibition. Second, when you finally decide to sell all that Microsoft stock and it's time to pay capital gains taxes, you can be assured there won't be any. Finally, you will be passing on a freer, healthier, safer, happier country to your children and their children.
Might I suggest you take a few days and study the issue? Here's a crash course in libertarianism that will take about a week:
1. Surf on over to the Freedom Network (www.free-market.org), the Cato Institute (www.cato.org), Liberty magazine's "Liberty Unbound" (www.LibertySoft.com), and the Libertarian Party (www.lp.org).
2. Read Libertarianism: A Primer by David Boaz. This is not only a well-written overview of libertarian thought, it also presents the solid historical background in which libertarianism is rooted.
3. Read Free to Choose by Rose and Milton Friedman. This is the economic side of libertarianism -- free-market capitalism -- explained eloquently and persuasively. (Alternate option: watch the video of the PBS series of the same name).
4. Read the first chapter (no need to read the whole book) of my Ain't Nobody's Business if You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our free Country (Free online at www.mcwilliams.com/books). This book discusses the social (hands off private lives) aspect of libertarianism.
5. Browse the Laissez Faire Books catalog for titles that might interest you (www.laissezfaire.org).
6. Invite the Friedman family, Hugh Downs, Ed Crane, David Boaz, Roger Pilon, Fred Smith (of the Competitive Enterprise Institute), Steve Buckstein (of Oregon's Cascade Policy Institute), Bill Bradford (of Liberty), Virginia Postrel (of Reason), representatives of the Libertarian Party, and me to your home for nice cozy chat about life, liberty and the pursuit of property.
Links to the recommendations:
The Freedom Network
The Cato Institute
The Libertarian Party
Libertarianism: A Primer by David Boaz
Free to Choose, the book, by Rose and Milton Friedman
Free to Choose, the videos, by Rose and Milton Friedman
Ain't Nobody's Business if You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our free Country by Peter McWilliams
the Laissez Faire Books catalog
the Competitive Enterprise Institute
the Cascade Policy Institute
[On June 14, 2000 Peter McWilliams was found
Many say it was from "an overdose of government."
An appropriately pointed commentary is posted here.
Peter's survivors vow to carry his torch
And spread his writings far and wide.
This is how Peter will live on.
The Liberty he sought to establish will be.]
Liberty, September, 1999, © Copyright 1999, Liberty Foundation
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