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Jewish World Review Nov. 30,1999 /21 Kislev, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Microsoft and campaign finance reform

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WHEN A WRITER from the New York Times was doing a story on Microsoft a few years ago, he asked their top management about the size of their lobbying office in Washington -- and learned that they had no Washington office. But Microsoft's rivals in Silicon Valley have not only been lobbying, they have been contributing big bucks to the Democrats and providing Bill Clinton with an audience of cheering executives during his visits to California.

Is the Clinton Justice Department's anti-trust lawsuit against Microsoft a pay-off to those who paid political tribute and a retribution against a company that didn't? Things are seldom done that crudely or that openly in Washington. But an administration which sent dangerous technology to China, after getting illegal campaign contributions from the Chinese military, should not be assumed to be above that.

Zealots for campaign finance reform tend to see political contributions from business interests solely as bribes to get government favors. It never seems to occur to them that it could also be protection money.

Governments operating protection rackets are nothing new in history and there are gross examples around the world today. Why then is this never even considered as a possible reason for many large campaign contributions from the corporate world?

Perhaps it is nothing more than the anti-business bias of the liberal media. But whatever the reason, the campaign reform issue is shot through with hypocrisy. People who talk about the "root causes" of crime have no interest in the root causes of big bucks campaign contributions.

Whatever special political favors are gotten by this or that particular business or industry, there is no question that business as a whole is increasingly hemmed in by government regulations, mandates and pressures. In short, business as a whole has been losing its ability to mind its own business and has become increasingly a plaything for bureaucrats and politicians.

Is this what you would expect if corporate campaign contributions were just buying favors? Or is it more consistent with paying growing amounts of protection money as there have been growing numbers of government powers to be protected against?

Incidentally, Microsoft has now belatedly entered the political arena. There are even complaints that its influence is behind Congressional reluctance to appropriate the kind of money desired by the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department.

Ironically, what arouses the ire of the New York Times writer is that Microsoft did not have a Washington office before. That was "arrogance" on Microsoft's part, if you believe the voice of the liberal vision. When not bending the knee to politicians and not paying up for protection are considered to be "arrogance," then you know that you are in the wonderland of political punditry.

Quaint as it may be deemed these days to refer to history, the tragic fact is that many nations and many eras have been corrupted, and their economic development retarded, by precisely the kind of relationship between government and business that we have been moving toward. Put differently, American prosperity and American free enterprise are both highly unusual in the world, and we should not overlook the possibility that the two are connected.

Where those who hold political power treat businesses as prey, rather than as national assets to be safeguarded, the biggest losers are the public, whose standard of living never reaches the level of prosperity made possible by existing resources and technology.

While communism is no longer the official ideology in Russia, free enterprise has yet to be established. One painful sign of this are restrictions on the shipment of food out of particular regions controlled by political bosses, who are just as authoritarian now as they were when they were called communists.

The net result is that getting food in the cities is a problem in a country with vast expanses of some of the richest soil on the continent of Europe. The legendary fertility of the Russian black earth region caused Hitler to plan to transport trainloads of it to Germany after he conquered the country.

Whether it is rich natural resources, which abound in Russia, or high-tech know-how in which America leads the world, politicians can muck it up -- to the cheers of those who think business needs throttling by government and who fear that business money will corrupt politicians.


JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate