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Wednesday, July 1, 1998

Barbarians at the Gates

Businessmen Should Not Be Embarrassed by Their Success or Ambition


I stand second to none in my admiration for Bill Gates. He is the model of a man who gets pure pleasure from exercising his intellect. In the process, he has helped bring on the technological revolution that has made life so much better. That explains his astounding fortune. It also explains the envy on display, among other places, at the travesty of a bearing held by Senator Orrin Hatch’s Judiciary Committee last winter. Senators whose efforts consists in looting productive people to further their careers in power had the gall to sit in judgment of one whose achievement obviously surpasses their powers of comprehension.

Gates’s rivals were also there. Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems, which still resists the personal-computer revolution, called Gates “the most dangerous industrialist of our age.” I waited for the derisive laughter. I forgot McNealy was talking to distinguished members of the U.S. Senate.

A few weeks earlier in Europe, someone stepped from the shadows to throw a pie in Gates’s face. I had an “Ayn Rand” reaction: here was a self-loathing nonentity trying to humiliate the world’s best symbol of success. Who was humiliated?

Then there were the comments the day of the big stock-market drop last year. Peter Jennings of ABC News, in an afterword, pointed out to his smarting viewers that, on paper, Bill Gates had lost over a billion dollars—”if that makes you feel any better.”

As a Gates admirer, I’d like to offer some advice: don’t be embarrassed by your success or ambition. When interviewed by Matt Lauer on the Today show in February, you were just that. The occasion was your appearance at the first library, in Alabama, to benefit from your project to wire “public” libraries to the Internet. (Leave aside for now the tax-funding of libraries.) Twice Lauer asked you to acknowledge that your tax-deductible $200 million contribution would be good for Microsoft and you personally. Twice you evaded the question. You and other businessmen are going to have to stop being ashamed of the fact that in all transactions freely undertaken, all parties profit. Until you do so, liberty will continue to be in jeopardy.

* * *

Every few years the statists come up with a new reason for their meddling. Once statism was justified by the market’s alleged deficiency in producing wealth or “distributing” it fairly. Then it was the environment. Now it’s the need to assure our children a decent future. Several Freeman contributors this month focus on this excuse for violating our liberty.

Russell Madden begins with an overview of the issue, showing how a legitimate concern with children has turned into a blank check for the state.

Next we reprint another classic essay by FEE’s late founding president, Leonard E. Read. This installment of our year-long series celebrating the 100th anniversary of Mr. Read’s birth reminds parents of their obligation to pass the appreciation of liberty on to their children.

Dale Walsh draws on his experience as a teacher to show how the welfare state corrupts the character of children.

Daniel Hager contemplates the ways that children are hurt by their “incarceration” in that alleged institution of learning, the public school.

Robert Murphy takes us back to the origins of government schooling to demonstrate that, by intention, it undermines the family, indisputably the best setting for raising children.

The current occupants of the White House, the would-be First Parents, are of course masters at exploiting children for political purposes. Sue Blevins dissects their new, Republican-backed plan to throw the net of medical care over this vulnerable segment of society.

Dr. Jane Orient broadens the discussion to demonstrate what is wrong with the entire medical system. At the bottom of every problem lies the visible hand of government.

Concern about global climate change is nothing new. Some great Englishmen worried about it in the 1770s and devised a startling plan to counteract it. Aubrey Drewry introduces us to the Lunar Society of Birmingham.

And speaking of climate, believers in global warming want to tax the use of fossil fuels to make up for the alleged damage from carbon dioxide emissions. By that logic, Roy Cordato asks, if C02 is beneficial, would environmentalists want to subsidize it?

Taiwan has every reason to be a backwater island nation. But it’s rich. Hugh Macaulay resolves the paradox.

Critics of the Internet compare it to the Old West. An apt comparison, Andrew Morriss writes, but not quite the way the critics intend.

Can the President of the United States, without the consent of Congress, ignore the Constitution and start a new spending program in the name of the environment? Apparently so. Jesse Walker explains.

Our regular columnists harvest an interesting crop of insights. Lawrence Reed says there is another reason to not worry about population growth. Doug Bandow muses on the career of a congressmen caught in the act. Dwight Lee explains how social cooperation arises out of millions of people seeking their own good. Mark Skousen looks at a lesser-known side of Milton Friedman. And Walter Williams considers the meaning of “social justice.”

In the book section, our reviewers check out volumes on the nature of the corporation, economic freedom, global warming, the future of the city, and life after the Unabomber.

—Sheldon Richman


  • Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families and thousands of articles.