Bill Gates is No Free Market Hero

A lot of libertarians used Microsoft’s antitrust trial to highlight the numerous problems with antitrust law. Personally, I’d like to see all antitrust legislation repealed (or found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court). But some libertarians went further and almost created a cult of Bill Gates in which the billionaire was some sort of hero, even though Gates had previously supported left liberal political efforts in support of gun control and racial discrimination.

Now Gates is showing his true colors in calling for the Federal Communications Commission to investigate alleged monopolistic practices by AOL with its instant messaging software. AOL prohibits people using other instant messaging clients from communicating directly with people who use AOL’s instant messaging client (which is, by far, the most popular).

Forget for the moment that the FCC simply doesn’t have the authority to do this (although it seems to think it does), not to mention that AOL’s exclusion is child’s play compared to some of the stuff that Microsoft has pulled. If I were Steve Case I’d offer to completely open AIM’s protocols in exchange for Microsoft making Windows API’s open.

The answer to AOL’s exclusionary practice is the same in this case as it was in Microsoft’s case — the market will route around such monopolistic practices. Already there are a number of different technologies and projects that will make it possible to bypass AOL’s closed system or render it irrelevant altogether. As even AOL seems to realize, the days of AIM’s exclusivity are numbered.

The FCC should stay out of the instant messaging controversy and Bill Gates should at least pretend to have a consistent position on antitrust law. And some libertarians might want to think twice about their hero worship of Gates.