Strakon Lights Up, No. 31

Bill Gates takes his place
at the big table

The instant I switched on the telescreen today I was struck with the worst obscenity — of a particular type — that I've encountered since first reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

Those who aren't in touch with what the Objectivists are up to won't know this, but many of my Randian cousins have long since adopted Bill Gates as their favorite victimized hero. As a self-made entrepreneur and creator of new technologies, Gates has apparently impressed them as the closest real-life equivalent to the independent-minded, courageous, innovative steelmaker Hank Rearden of Atlas.

Gates has certainly attracted Rand-style enemies, Janet of Waco for one. As a villain, the Ministress of Love could have stepped, or rather oozed, right off the pages of a Rand novel. And the regime's attack on Microsoft is horrifying per se. But Bill Gates is no hero. Not with all the business Microsoft does with various governments, he's not. Not with Gates's personal support for gunowner control, high taxes, state schooling, and state-managed "reproductive health and family planning," i.e., population control.

It's tempting to say, as an old Objectivist, that I've known Hank Rearden, I've admired Hank Rearden, and, Mr. Gates, you're no Hank Rearden. But that state of affairs is not particularly obscene given the smelly environment we live in; it's just par for the course for the modern type of businessman, who divides his time between serving customers via the economic means, i.e., the marketplace, and exploiting them via the political means, i.e., the state.

What I saw today, though — that rose to the level, as we say nowadays, of obscenity. It isn't just that Gates is no Rearden. In Randian terms, he has now transformed himself into James Taggart. In Atlas, Taggart is the railroad scion who "goes along to get along" with the state and its depredations. He doesn't hesitate to sell out. He positively allies himself with the worst parasites in society. In his soft, squirmy corruption and betrayal, he is one of the blackest villains of the piece.

Well, I've buried what we old journalists call the "nut 'graf." The long and short of it is, at today's White House conference on the "new economy," there sat Bill Gates next to Bill Clinton. There sat Bill Gates, giving his sanction to the criminal regime, giving his sanction to his own victimization and, by implication, to our own. (Proving again that truth is stranger than fiction, one witness to the transaction was none other than Randian and free-market apostate Alan Greenspan.)

Gates's motive, obviously, was to bring his own victimization (though not ours) to an end. By becoming a real-life James Taggart, Gates makes himself a player in the System. Although cosmically rich and an important government contractor, Gates has not really been a player, as indicated by the regime's repeated and protracted antitrust attacks on his company. Those attacks were purely opportunistic and voluntary in a way that the Central Government's prosecution of Exxon, for example, was not. Exxon did crash a tanker, after all. The Ministry of Love could just have shrugged when Microsoft's less-successful competitors attempted to access the political means to expropriate their rival. Certainly the ministry has shrugged before; in fact, during the past two decades of consolidation of the economy, it has been shrugging so often that one would not be surprised to see whole truckloads of Ben-Gay clogging its loading docks. (The latest shrugging occurred just the other day when the regime endorsed the merger of BP Amoco and Atlantic Richfield.)

When Exxon, unquestionably a major player in the System, crashed its tanker, Wall Street could not have been pleased; something had to be done. The multibillion-dollar penalties that ensued are best interpreted as a form of intra-System discipline. For Exxon, those judgments resemble a special tax more than a penalty, even if the company actually has to pay every last dime; they did not and do not threaten the future of the company and its earnings in the same way that the threatened penalties against Microsoft do.

Or did. The very day Gates took his place beside Clinton at the big table in the Presidential Palace, Microsoft and the judge in the antitrust case agreed to "fast track" the "remedy," i.e., penalty, phase of the case. We still don't know what the penalty will be; it may still be pretty grim; but it is hard to believe it will be as grim as it would have been had Gates declined to be ... educated, shall we say, and accept his place at the table.


Getting Gates to that table is a major accomplishment for the ruling class.

Some libertarians like to describe the new information technologies, and especially the Internet, as intrinsically liberating. That is historically and politically naive. We have seen the Internet, as it now exists, but we haven't yet seen the System's response, which is still developing. Predicting that the new technologies will undermine the System is like imagining the wonderful potential of the automobile for ordinary people while failing to imagine the power of the tank against them.

I haven't yet seen the full transcript of Gates's remarks, but I heard a good chunk of them on the telescreen, and none of the wondrously liberating technological visions I heard him express was framed in a political context that held out any hope of liberation.

He did say that we will not attain techno-paradise until the vaccinations children receive in Ghana equal the vaccinations children receive in Baltimore and the computer equipment in slum schools equals the computer equipment in wealthier schools. Unquestionably state intervention explains a portion of the existing inequality. But those who believe that other factors influence the differences between black Africa and a modern American city, and between Negro slums and white suburbs, may conclude that Gates was feeding us just another dose of that good old civic religion so crucial for building state power in our time — coercive egalitarianism.

Do you suppose that Gates's new partners and educators will provide him a more liberating context?


Gates's abasement at the Palace went far beyond the requirements of self-defense, but still some may say that he had no choice.

It's true that, all else being equal, heroism is voluntary. But it is not so voluntary when the only alternative is villainy. As the modern totalitarianism becomes more absolute and comprehensive, more Americans are losing the option of evasion and "mere" compromise in the interest of self-defense. They instead face the stark choice between heroism and villainy.

It's a hard saying, and I'm not promising that I'd be a Medal of Honor winner if I found myself in such ultimate moral combat. But little people, such as I, need heroes. And just once — just one time — I'd like to see a creative titan, under assault by predators, refuse to knuckle under. Recognize that "business as usual" is no longer possible. Dissolve his company, dynamite his corporate headquarters, head for the hills. And invite the predators and parasites to try and rebuild what he created.

Just once before I die I'd like to know that, somewhere, John Galt lives and breathes.

April 5, 2000

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