We talk a lot in these pages about the challenges confronting the small business man and woman on Long Island; recent events in the news have inspired us to think about a big businessman, Bill Gates, of Microsoft@.
The overlay of the story is that the United States Government is pursuing legal charges against Microsoft for alleged monopolistic practices.
Among the sins Bill Gates has reportedly committed is striking deals with computer manufacturers that would require them to pay him a royalty not just on the sale of their computers that feature Microsoft's Windows@ application, but also on any other computer they produce.
We fully understand how Mr. Gate's less successful competitors must feel. Because he built the better mousetrap years ago when he created Windows, his company is way ahead of the pack. Anyone trying to buck Microsoft has an uphill battle to wage.
However, it seems to us that that is a market issue. Though we must admit we've never been big fans of Attorney General Janet Reno, it seems now that she's intent on punishing a businessman for achieving what we've all been told is the American dream.
Without question, Bill Gates was a man with an idea, that turned into a business, which in turn has given he and his employees prosperous lives.
Why is it, we wonder, that when success is achieved, when one man or woman really begins to stand out in the crowd, society acquiesces or even participates in tearing them down.
Though the government's legal filing against Microsoft is rather lengthy, just look at the example of alleged Gates' wrong-doing we cited above.
By creating Windows, Microsoft made computing accessible to most households in America. By installing his system in their computers, manufacturers were attempting to make their product more saleable to the general public. Realizing that he was enhancing their product line, he asked for a certain price for his goods and he got it.
We remember a long time ago asking a publisher how he determined ad rates. He explained quite simply, you determine a value, based on your costs and other factors, and then you ask for it. If people buy it, then you asked the right price.
Has Bill Gates really done anything more than build a successful business and expect people to pay the prices he wants for his products? If his practices were so predatory, why didn't computer manufacturers ban together ¬ for their own protection and survival ¬ and go to one of the smaller Gates rivals out there?
The theory behind labor unions is that by joining in a collective, workers gain equal footing with their employer. The same principle could have worked here.
Instead what's transpiring here is very analogous to a complaint we've heard many times from smaller entrepreneurs: government is standing in the way, rather than fostering business along.
Locally, that usually means confronting the small business-person with a myriad of red tape. In Bill Gates' case, it appears the feds are "heck-bent" on breaking up one of the most successful companies in the country, just because it feels it can.
School textbooks fill children's heads with all kinds of notions about success, about how wonderful it would be to grow up to be Andrew Carnegie, a man who made a fortune and then became a philanthropist.
The goverment's obsessive pursuit of Bill Gates and Microsoft teaches exactly the opposite lesson.
Perhaps before they start to hound businesses out of existence in the long run undermining the financial stability of the people they serve ¬ our government leaders should go back to those school day text books of long ago and look up a phrase they no longer seem to remember.
That phrase is laissez-faire.
Daniel J. McCue