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Jewish World Review Sept. 28, 1999 /18 Tishrei, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Elective indignation strikes again -- IT WAS FRONT-PAGE NEWS in the New York Times that an advertisement showing 240 academic experts supporting the Microsoft side of a current antitrust case was paid for by Microsoft.

The story does not claim that the experts themselves were paid by Microsoft. In fact, most of them did not even know that Microsoft had anything to do with the ad. Nor does any of this have anything to do with the validity of their conclusions.

The ad was placed by the Independent Institute, a California think-tank which usually takes libertarian positions on a variety of issues, so it can hardly be surprising that it opposed the government's anti-trust suit against Microsoft.

The Times reporter seemed to find it sinister that Microsoft also contributed money to this institute. While it is certainly true that many corporations contribute money to groups that are hostile to their interests, if Microsoft has better sense than to do so, does that make this whole matter corrupt?

The Times' own story was based on material supplied by a rival of Microsoft. Does that make the facts in its story invalid?

This straining at gnats would be merely silly if the Times strained at similar gnats on the other side. Instead, this is another of those examples of selective indignation, attacking only politically incorrect targets.

While Microsoft and its rivals can each finance public relations campaigns, as well as legal campaigns, against one another, where is the moral indignation against massive government financing of "research" designed to prove whatever serves the interests of the agency financing the research? Where is the private source of money that can match the billions spent by federal agencies to promote the expansion of government power and the raising of taxes to finance crusades against a never-ending series of "crises"?

Do you think the government is as willing to finance some researcher who says that "global warming" is bunk as it is to finance a researcher who is willing to join the stampede of those crying out for more government programs and bigger bucks to meet what some scientists have said is a bogus crisis?

Do you think that the U. S. Department of Labor is as willing to shower research grants on those economists who say that the minimum wage law it administers is costing people their jobs as it is to bankroll those few economists who claim that it doesn't?

For all its billions of dollars, Microsoft is peanuts compared to the trillions of dollars spent by the federal government. For all its importance in the computer industry, Microsoft is insignificant by comparison with Washington's impact on all our lives in innumerable ways.

Microsoft cannot throw citizens in jail on flimsy environmental charges or confiscate their property without any proof of wrongdoing under RIECO laws.

And it cannot turn terrorists loose in order to gain votes in a close election. No business corruption can endanger ordinary people like the corruption of the federal government.

Billions of dollars dispensed by the federal government under the name of "research" is in many cases more akin to subornation of perjury. Why are there no front-page stories in the N.Y. Times about direct federal subsidies to those who reach conclusions favorable to government agencies' programs and proposals?

Microsoft, after all, paid for publicity for conclusions already reached by 240 scholars who had no connection with Microsoft. But money spent by private businesses to promote their own private interests sets off journalistic alarm bells that never ring when far more money is spent by government to promote its own expansion at the taxpayers' expense -- and at the expense of citizens' freedom.

In academia, shrill voices are raised against campus research financed by business, on grounds that it threatens the independence of the universities.

But few voices are raised against government-financed research which allows the feds to mandate all sorts of campus policies, under threat of taking away their billions. The mere possibility of business influence is condemned, while the blatant reality of federal mandates is passed over in silence.

To the intelligentsia, the use of private money to influence issues is corrupting -- and the use of vastly greater sums of government money is benign.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate