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>To All -- I have published an opinion piece, "OPENING PANDORA'S BOX,"
>which is an "Open Letter about the Politicization of the PC Industry,"
>at (HTML version).  There is a
>plain ASCII version at, copied
>below, which is suitable for email distribution.
>PLEASE FEEL FREE TO FORWARD THIS LETTER to any friends who may be
>interested in the issues I've discussed.  This letter was triggered
>by the DOJ / State AG Microsoft and Intel investigations, but it is
>independent of those particulars -- it's about the impact of politics
>on the PC / high-tech industry.  Thanks for your interest!
>Dan Fylstra  danfylstra(--nospam--at)
>(I'd like to use this email address for any public feedback)
>An Open Letter about the Politicization of the PC Industry
>by Dan Fylstra
>Dan Fylstra has been involved in the PC industry since its inception.
>He was founding Associate Editor of BYTE Magazine in 1975, and founder
>of VisiCorp, the marketer of VisiCalc, in 1979. He is currently
>president of PC software vendor Frontline Systems, Inc
>Comments are welcome -- Please send them to danfylstra(--nospam--at)
>Last year, Netscape and several other PC industry companies appealed
>to our government to help them in their fight against Microsoft, whom
>they felt was using its market power with Windows to gain an unfair
>advantage in the browser wars. Our federal and state governments have
>responded, and the results are everywhere in the daily news. I'd like
>to comment, not about Netscape or Microsoft, but about the
>politicization of our industry, what it means for our future, and what
>fundamental choices we can make going forward.
>Somehow, things are not working out quite the way we expected: As I'm
>writing this, we're waiting to find out whether the Justice Department
>and/or a dozen state attorneys general will file lawsuits to stop the
>shipment of Windows 98 -- a decision which will impact the fortunes of
>not just Microsoft, but literally thousands of smaller companies,
>hundreds of thousands of us who make our living in the computer
>industry, and tens of millions of consumers. And there are strong
>hints that the government will soon launch an antitrust action against
>Intel. (Intel? What did they do? Among other things, they paid out
>money to PC makers who put the "Intel Inside" logo on their machines.)
>Now, in countless trade press articles, columns and editorials, people
>are asking: Should the government be involved? Will they do the right
>thing -- whatever that is? And how will it impact us? Have we opened
>Pandora's box?
>My answer is yes -- we've opened Pandora's box, and it will prove
>impossible to close it. Our industry is being politicized. Henceforth,
>it won't be enough to design and build great products, and sell them
>at attractive prices. We'll also have to compete in the political
>sphere. And that will take time and money, which will be siphoned off
>from product development and marketing. We'll have to worry about
>whether we have enough influence in Washington, and in our state
>capitols. Have we hired the right lobbyists -- donated to the right
>PACs -- hobnobbed with the right politicians? Will we get our share of
>any government largess, and can we sneak in our special exemption from
>the latest tax or regulation?
>There will be a new pecking order, defined by the amount of political
>influence enjoyed by various companies, trade associations and other
>groups. And who is likely to come out on top of this new pecking
>order: The startups with the hottest new technology, or the
>established companies who've had the time to develop their political
>Let's be blunt: It's pretty obvious that in today's White House and
>Congress, influence can be bought, and the price tag isn't all that
>high by our industry's standards. If a night in the Lincoln bedroom
>goes for $50,000 and a seat on a Commerce Department trade mission is
>just $100,000, the established leaders in the PC industry ought to be
>able to afford plenty of influence. As for the small and medium-sized
>companies, well -- if you can't afford to pay, you can't afford to
>And who can afford the most influence? Which company is responding to
>the pressure brought upon it by drastically stepping up its lobbying
>efforts and political contributions? Microsoft, of course. Bill Gates
>is no dummy, and he's said it quite explicitly: He used to think that
>all he had to do was design and build great products. Now he realizes
>that that attitude was "naive." The folks who hate Microsoft, the 800-
>pound gorilla in a relatively free market, should be worrying about
>the future Microsoft, the gorilla with so much political influence --
>so many senators and congressmen in its back pocket -- that it's
>practically untouchable. No, this won't happen next month or next
>quarter -- but what about four years from now, given our politics
>We've worried about the market power of a few companies like
>Microsoft, but we haven't anticipated how the true coercive power of
>government might be used for or against us. After all, you don't have
>to buy Windows 98, and many people won't. But you do have to pay your
>taxes, or go to jail -- to finance things like the federal Market
>Promotion Program, which pays for McDonald's hamburger ads overseas
>today, and -- who knows? -- might pay for Microsoft's browser ads
>overseas tomorrow.
>Most of us cling to the notion, or at least the hope, that the Justice
>Department or the state attorneys general will somehow act
>intelligently in the public interest, and things will turn out OK.
>We've never examined public choice theory, which predicts that in the
>public sector as in the private sector, key players will pursue their
>own self-interest, not the broad public interest. We need to recognize
>the state attorneys general for what they are: Political entrepreneurs
>who are simply riding the anti-Microsoft wave for all it's worth,
>seeking to advance their own careers. The results for consumers or for
>our industry are beside the point, as long as we are not that
>politically influential. Indeed, public choice theory predicts that a
>political system like ours will transfer wealth from the politically
>unorganized to the politically influential. The ideal outcome, from
>the politicians' viewpoint, is that we all become supplicants, on an
>ongoing basis, fighting among ourselves for the favors that only they
>can hand out.
>Pandora's box is open. The impact of politics on our livelihoods is
>growing every day, and we don't know what to do about it. Most of us
>would rather avoid thinking about or spending time on politics -- we'd
>rather be creating new technology, and satisfying more customer wants
>and needs. Many of us, if asked, would echo the classic cry laissez
>faire -- leave us alone! But the politicians won't leave us alone.
>Because of our relative lack of sophistication and lack of involvement
>in politics, we are on the defensive. We're likely to end up on the
>short end of any compromise -- whether it's about strong encryption,
>Internet access and freedom of speech, electronic commerce and sales
>tax, you name it.
>So, if Pandora's box is open, what are our choices? Continuing to
>ignore politics is not really an option -- because politics has
>arrived at our door. We can, of course, accept the politicization of
>our industry -- as some have already done -- and become supplicants.
>We can become active in "mainstream" politics, in either the
>Democratic or the Republican Party (is there any difference?), trying
>to move the politicians in a sensible direction, and hope for the
>Or, we can apply some lessons from our own experience and try to gain
>leverage by investing in a startup. Not another high-tech company, but
>a political startup -- one that is capable of challenging the status
>quo. I'm thinking broadly of the Libertarian movement
><>, and more narrowly about the Libertarian
>political party <>.
>It's no secret that Libertarian ideas are popular on the Internet, or
>that they are showing up across our politics and culture with
>increasing frequency. But what practical difference would it make if
>the high-tech community were to embrace the Libertarian movement in a
>big way? I believe that if enough of us made this decision, it would
>fundamentally alter the future, both for our industry and for American
>For the high-tech community, an investment of time, energy and money
>stands to earn a far bigger share of the "Libertarian startup" than we
>will ever gain from the established political parties. Instead of
>being absorbed into the enormous pool of current political interest
>groups, we could play a major role from the beginning. It is already
>true that the Libertarians, on average, have a much deeper
>understanding of technology than the often-clueless Republicans and
>Democrats, and we could ensure that this remains true in the future.
>As for the Libertarians, they can certainly use money, and in many
>cases they could benefit from the kind of professional management, and
>especially marketing savvy, that many of us in the high-tech community
>can provide. The Libertarian Party in particular has struggled for a
>long time at the margins of American politics. But the LP is currently
>enjoying an all-time high level of membership -- 25,000 -- and it is
>executing a "business plan" which is showing some early signs of
>success, and which aims for 200,000 contributing members by the year
>2000. (This would be enough to make the LP competitive with the
>Democrats and Republicans, who typically have about 400,000
>contributors in an election year.) It's certainly interesting that
>this plan includes ads in Wired Magazine and mailings to the BYTE
>Magazine subscriber list.
>But most important, the Libertarians have the right ideas -- about the
>wisdom of relying on the market, about the futility of central
>planning, about the practical importance of liberty for innovation and
>growth, in our industry as well as others -- that I believe we'll have
>to embrace, sooner or later, if we want to realize the opportunities
>ahead of us in the twenty-first century. These ideas are important to
>everyone in our economy and culture, but they are critical to the
>computer industry. We have been held back, co-opted, and bamboozled
>for too long by today's very disappointing political leaders. It is
>time for us to get involved, grow our own new political leaders, and
>get them elected.
>What would this mean in the long run? It would mean that we could
>worry less about politics. It would mean we could focus on creating
>new technology, designing and building great products, and meeting
>customers' needs and wants once again.
>So what should we do? Start up our Web browsers, of course, and visit
>the Reason Foundation <>, the Cato Institute
><>, the Advocates for Self-Government
><>, or the "switchboard of the Libertarian
>movement," Free-Market.Net <>. To learn
>about the Libertarian Party, visit <> or
>call 800-272-1776.
>I admit that as a political startup, the Libertarian movement may seem
>like a "long shot" compared to just coping as best we can with the
>Democrat - Republican duopoly. Just think of it like Apple versus
>Texas Instruments in 1978, or Microsoft versus IBM in 1982. In my
>view, the Libertarians may be the only real alternative we have to
>becoming just another industry that is caught up in the stasis of
>American politics -- the only way to get Hope out of the bottom of
>Pandora's box.
>Today, Dan Fylstra is a contributor to a variety of Libertarian
>organizations, and is registered to vote Libertarian. In March 1998 he
>became the treasurer and webmaster for the Libertarian Party of Nevada
>Comments are welcome -- Please send them to danfylstra(--nospam--at)