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Beware of governments improving software

Posted By Harry Browne On 06/12/2000 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

In the 1960s, we had by far the best health-care system in the world.

Health insurance was available to anyone, young or old, even those
with pre-existing medical problems. Doctors made house calls, and a
hospital stay for an appendectomy or other routine operation cost the
equivalent of only a week or two of one’s income. Every city had free
clinics and charity hospitals that took care of those who were short of
money.

Then the politicians said, “We’re from the government and we’re going
to improve your health care.”

The federal government jumped in with Medicare, Medicaid, the HMO
Act, and tens of thousands of regulations. Thirty years later,
government now spends half of all the health-care dollars in America,
and we can see how well the politicians have helped us:

  • Doctors no longer make house calls and their waiting rooms
    look like Grand Central Station.

  • Charity hospitals have disappeared, and a routine operation can
    cost as much as a year’s pay.

  • Health insurance has been priced out of the market for those in
    their 20s or 30s, and people with special medical problems must rely on
    the government for insurance.

  • Senior citizens now pay from their own pockets at least twice as
    much for health care as they did before Medicare began — even after
    allowing for Medicare’s contribution and after adjusting for inflation.
    And if they need a medical procedure that isn’t approved by Medicare,
    they’re plain out of luck.

Similar disasters have flowed from government intrusions into
education, charity, farming, and many other areas of society. The War on
Poverty has escalated poverty in America. The War on Drugs has expanded
drug use and produced the worst crime wave in the history of America.

Now the government is going to apply this same expertise to your
computer software.

The computer industry is the most dynamic area of the American
economy. Prices have dropped to tiny fractions of where they were just
five or 10 years ago. Hardware and software today do things we might
have considered science-fiction only a decade ago. And innovation is
greater than in any other American industry — as new companies, new
products, and new technologies spring up almost every day.

So now the Justice Department and Judge Thomas Jackson are saying,
“We’re from the government, and we’re going to improve your software.”

Various shills for the government are saying things like “This will
unleash a more innovative environment” or “Now the market is truly
competitive and prices can drop.” Where have these shills been living
the past 10 years?

Ken Wasch, President of the Software & Industry Association, located
(where else?) in Washington, D.C., actually told USA Today that he
envisions “a wave of new software companies that will develop programs
for word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and e-mail.” Can you
imagine a president of a software association who isn’t aware of
WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Oracle, Eudora Pro, FileMaker, or any of the
other successful Microsoft competitors already in the market?

The PBS News Hour interviewed four “experts” — each of whom said
that breaking up Microsoft will not only benefit consumers, but that
Microsoft will be better off. Since these people seem to know
more about running a computer company than Bill Gates does, you can
imagine how rich they must be.

Even if every charge of meanness, predatory practices, and
manipulation against Microsoft were true, that wouldn’t endow
politicians with the ability to know what you need. And that’s the
central issue in the Microsoft case:

    Do the politicians know what’s best for you to buy? Or should you
    make those decisions for yourself?

If the latter, you can simply refuse to buy Microsoft products
if you don’t like them or you don’t like Bill Gates. But if you think
the politicians know best, you’re saying you trust people like Janet
Reno, Bill Clinton, Orrin Hatch, Al Gore, George W. Bush, Jesse Helms,
and Teddy Kennedy to make the right decisions about your personal and
business life.

In that case, I pity you.

If Microsoft is broken up, it will be the start of a trend in which
politicians, rather than entrepreneurs, decide what choices you can
have. And we can look forward to a future in which a typical personal
computer will cost $5,000 instead of $1,000, when software innovation
will be stagnant, and the entire computer industry will resemble today’s
health-care system.

And school teachers will be telling children that the government
saved consumers from big bad Microsoft — just the way the government
saved people from that awful Standard Oil a hundred years ago.

Of course, they won’t mention the price cuts and innovation that were
the rule before government started running the computer business — just
as today’s teachers don’t mention that oil prices were plummeting,
providing low-cost fuel to nearly everyone, until the government broke
up Standard Oil.


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