Bill Gates Dusts Off The Communist Argument For Those Who Don't Charge

from the the-bastards! dept

When Bill Gates first realized Netscape was a threat to the company — and that people were getting it for free, he told a group of people that Netscape was obviously being run by “communists,” because capitalists would never give out anything for free. Of course, he eventually forgot this when he decided to bundle (read: give away for free) Microsoft IE into Windows, but apparently the concept stayed in the back of his head. Near the end of a mostly un-newsworthy interview Gates gave, he claims that those people who are trying to change intellectual property laws are modern day communists. Of course, we just went through this basic argument, but let’s try to simplify it one more time. Intellectual property laws are often artificial barriers in the marketplace to forcefully limit supply and increase the price of something over what the market values it at. That sounds a lot more like the centrally planned economies that are usually called “communist.” Those who are looking to free up the content are simply saying let’s see what the market can do when these products are freed from those government mandated barriers. History has shown that the increased efficiency usually broadens the market and offers new opportunities to make money (for example, by bundling…). So, while I certainly don’t think that those who believe high intellectual property barriers are necessary are “communist,” I do think they’re being quite shortsighted in their economic analysis. And, while Bill Gates is obviously much richer than I’ll ever be, much of that success came from the benefits Microsoft received from their use of “free” products (whether authorized or unauthorized) that helped build lock-in and establish Microsoft as the dominant platform in the market. To turn around and call that same behavior in others “communist” is simply wrong.

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