Jewish World Review Nov. 30,1999 /21 Kislev, 5760
Microsoft and campaign finance reform
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
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
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
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
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