Letters to the editor

Mixing bad philosophy with bad economics

After reading Ralph R. Reiland’s May 6 commentary, “Bill Gates vs. the bureaucrats,” I wondered how the Mountain Xpress acquires its editorials. I was particularly curious to know whether Mr. Reiland had relocated to western North Carolina from his Pittsburgh teaching position, or instead, the Mountain Xpress editors just scan the Associated Press wires for extremist viewpoints. I say this because, to paraphrase Robert Bork, only a knee-jerk conservative would say that there exists no role for the government in antitrust issues.

Mr. Reiland mixes bad moral philosophy and bad economics to come up with the conclusion that antitrust restrictions on Microsoft are just “the government shooting the winner at the finish line.” He argues (eventually) that in a society that protects people from coercion and provides free, informed exchange, the individual is then free to exist for herself. When an individual becomes rich, she should not be punished with regulations or new moral obligations.

This kind of libertarianism is very hard to refute on paper. But even on paper, Mr. Reiland has got it wrong, because one of his initial assumptions is incorrect. A person making an exchange with a monopolist, such as Microsoft, does not have an option of going to a different supplier. In the words of Milton Friedman, “Exchange is truly voluntary only when nearly equivalent alternatives exist. Monopoly implies the absence of alternatives and thereby inhibits effective freedom of exchange.” Societies that have an interest in encouraging the freedom of exchange, which Mr Reiland embraces, should actively discourage monopolies.

However, the antitrust regulators aren’t even doing that. The Department of Justice has already conceded Microsoft its Windows monopoly. Instead, the courts are upholding the judicial standard that a company cannot parry its market power in one market to monopolize another. Microsoft has a history of doing this and about a dozen other anti-competitive practices, including exclusive dealing, predatory pricing and buying out rivals.

Mr. Reiland should find a different martyr in his crusade for self-interest.

— Peyton Ferrier

Bill Gates is no Atlas Shrugged hero

I make the effort to pick up Mountain Xpress because it has been a means for getting factual information that includes more than one side of the subject and promotes citizen involvement.

The commentary about Bill Gates in the May 6 issue [“Bill Gates vs. the bureaucrats”] struck me as a one-sided view, lacking in factual research. Of course, the author, Mr. Reiland, associate professor of economics, would love Bill Gates, since there is no question of Gates’ ability to make money! In my opinion, and [based on] real-world experiences since 1981, this does not qualify Gates as a sample of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged heroes, since his approaches have not supported “individualism and economic freedom” in the business world! I cannot “shrug” this off.

Granted that part of Gates’ problems with government can be fit into the ongoing criticisms of interference, but a deeper look will show justification for concern about a company whose product and practice have built an empire of no choice. Talk to the dissatisfied workers who now produce less because their choice of computer and software was removed. It took government interference to force Gates to allow computer makers the choice of using a competitor’s product in conjunction with Windows 95 — and in an interview last month, Microsoft stated it will not allow this choice in Windows 98.

This does not have to do with “[Gates being forced to tell] his software designers to hold back on innovations.” Excuse me, but I had to laugh out loud on that one, since I do believe the professor must have accidentally turned two pages when listing all Gates’ achievements. I think his source must have been a reference to competitor company Apple, which has constantly been known for not making money (until now), but is commonly known for the [improvements] he listed: “ceaseless innovation in a grow-or-die industry — creating easier-to-use equipment, better graphics, enhanced speech technologies, more satisfied customers. …” Maybe that’s why Apple users love their Macs?

Whether the attorneys general of up to 17 states, putting together their own lawsuits, get publicity in an election year … has no bearing on the root reason for this issue to even exist! Computer makers and users both deserve to have choice. (Microsoft will even sell you an Uninstaller for the programs you cannot otherwise remove!)

Yes, I’m biased, for the above is only a tip of the iceberg of what’s been going on in real life. (If Microsoft is so innovative, etc., why do they use Apple’s Macintosh environment for several [projects], including their weekly in-company newsletter?)

‘Nuff said. Questioning minds who want the rest of the story can attend the MACS (Macintosh Asheville Computer Society) meetings at T.C. Roberson High School (Web address is http://members.aol.com/macsnc).

Loved the rest of the May 6 issue. Thank you.

— Sylvia Rego

Representative government is precious

A few days ago, I ended my battle to win my party’s nomination to the U.S. Senate.

Even in losing such an important election, there are reasons to be thankful.

First of all, I had the opportunity to participate in a very important process. I traveled all over North Carolina, learning much about our state. I understand better the pride that North Carolina people have in themselves and their country.

The strong support and good wishes of so many people who took an interest in my campaign makes me proud and grateful.

Finally, I appreciate even more our precious system of representative government and the opportunity it gives us to choose our leaders from among those who are willing to serve.

For these and many other reasons, I want to say thank you for a wonderful experience.

— D.G. Martin
Chapel Hill

There is a grocery store downtown

In “The view from downtown” [May 6 Xpress], the photo caption listed “the lack of a nearby grocery store” as one of the drawbacks to living downtown. Please note that the French Broad Food Co-op is a grocery store located downtown at 90 Biltmore Ave. (near Blue Moon Bakery).

A not-for-profit business, the French Broad Food Co-op offers a full line of grocery items, including all-organic produce, fresh-baked breads, dairy products and more. Although members enjoy benefits of ownership, such as a 5 percent discount, anyone may shop at the store — you do not have to be a member. Senior citizens receive an additional 5 percent discount on Mondays.

We would be happy to show anyone around the store and explain special aspects, such as Back to Basics, a program that provides the staples of a basic and complete diet at far below retail prices, so everyone has the opportunity to eat a healthy diet.

Thank you for your consideration.

— Dawn Ann Woodring,
marketing and education coordinator
French Broad Food Co-op

Ayn Rand is often misunderstood

Reading Ralph Reiland’s commentary regarding Ayn Rand and (sigh) Bill Gates [“Bill Gates vs. the bureaucrats,” May 6] just reminds me of Xpress’ ability to look at all sides of an issue. Although Bill Gates is clearly a loser in his personal life, I do agree with Reiland’s view that he is doing nothing morally wrong (although Rand’s heroes were never nerdy little dwarfs).

Also, not to get into it too deeply, I constantly hear Ayn Rand being referred to as a Republican or Libertarian. Rand was neither Democrat, Republican nor Libertarian, and was pro-choice, anti-racism, and had the credibility of spending her childhood life in Communist Russia and shocking those around her as she formed the beginnings of her philosophy. I can’t wait to read the negative letters regarding the column.

— Brandon Lawrence

Face up to WNC’s real problems

Those folks having sissy-fits over letter-writer Eileen Duignan-Woods’ comments on this area’s predatory people and lack of certain qualities [April 8 Xpress] must not have ever lived anywhere else.

While it could be that Duignan-Woods’ attitude was wanting, her experiences here sure sound familiar. I don’t mean her tragic loss of a 24-hour dry cleaner or other yuppie services; I refer to her experiences trying to deal with everyday folks in business.

My mother was born and raised here, and my father’s family was from the upstate. In my 54 years, I’ve lived in nine states and 14 cities and towns — including Buncombe County — and I would really like to think the best of western North Carolina and its people in general, but simply cannot.

Since moving back here last summer, I’ve had dealings — or tried to — with a couple dozen tradesmen. Most never showed up when they said they would for jobs. I was ready and willing to pay the going wage. Of those that did [show up], most were weeks or even months late, and out of all of them, there are only four — a tree cutter, a gravel hauler, and two tire-store guys — that I ever want to see again.

There are some mighty fine folks around here, but if all we had to judge by were those we’ve tried to have dealings with since last summer, we’d have to say that honesty and any sense of craftsmanship in these parts is mighty rare, and blatant greed the rule.

My wife wanted to open a small business in Asheville but gave up after just too many attempts to fleece her — and we arrived here, not snobbish, arrogant Yankees, but unassuming, happy-to-meet-you Westerners with roots here. We are used to people who say what they mean, mean what they say, and do what they say they will. …

Nowhere have we seen more attempts to play us for fools by smiling merchants, tradesmen, business people. … The Chamber of Commerce might better spend its money finding ways to instill integrity here, instead of enticing elected politicians to illegal schmooze sessions in fancy faraway resorts. (Asheville is blessed with two comparatively good newspapers; we all got lucky there.)

Somebody said, “Home is where you know how the bastards think.” Here we don’t even know who the bastards are, but we’re learning. In the interest of self-preservation, we must assume that most we try to do business with are unsavory until they demonstrate otherwise — but what a lousy way to live!

I don’t care what people do on their own time and place. Junk cars in yards or couches on porches don’t bother me. Old couches can be comfortable. But the greed and sloppiness here in business and the trades should be a real concern to western North Carolina’s leaders.

It’s hardly something one can keep quiet. It is bound to turn off more business executives who might otherwise bring jobs here to replace those moving south of the border and overseas. It’s the sort of thing to convince tourists to never come back, that they’d be better off seeing nicer pretty places, like northern New Mexico or the coast of Maine, where most folks are genuine, and you don’t look at the scenery through tons of litter.

This greed and lack of integrity is especially unseemly where so many proclaim themselves Christians. …

If I’ve made you mad, please note that saying it ain’t so won’t change a thing. I don’t know how you inspire a cultural “sea-change,” but there’s definitely a malady here making the place less becoming to anyone who knows firsthand it doesn’t have to be this way.

If you’re about to write a nasty-gram, first consider two sayings a good North Carolina mom once told her kids: “When something’s wrong, look at yourself first before blaming others.” And, “it takes a far bigger person to admit his or her mistakes, and strive to correct them, than it takes to try to weasel out of something.”

I sure hope the next letter on this page is about the really neat stuff here, like mountain music, good humor and whitewater rivers. The place ain’t all bad.

— Brooks Townes

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