Way back I was engaged in a debate based on the idea that tax-payer subsidies in research and development have helped create a lot of wealth for private individuals.

Noam Chomsky in What Uncle Sam Really Wants (1991, pg 13) put it this way:

“The government has the public pay for research and development and provides a state-guaranteed market for waste production. If something is marketable, the private sector takes it over. That system of public subsidy and private profit is what is called free enterprise.”

In my original pieceDOES NOT COMPUTE: SUBSIDIZED HIGH TECH and the GATES to the FUTURE—I was referring to how public subsidy played a significant role in the development of the computer, I think, which went on into more private hands to make trillions, and be a marvelous machine for personal use in the process. Just today in fact I was at a wedding where a business associate of mine married his Blackberry.

Oh, ‘Gates to the Future’ was a play on Bill Gates’ name.

Anyway, I got flack for an idea that I really believe is statistically undeniable, and thus countered those comments here.

But was I right to hint that Bill Gates’ vast fortune isn’t simply the result of personal ingenuity and free market capitalism, but indebted to tax-payer R&D along the way? I don’t know—and believe you me I’m often wrong—but either way the point was echoed explicitly in the film The One Percent by none other than Bill Gates, Sr., of all people:

“People who have been enabled to accumulate very, very large wealth, have an indebtedness to society for having made that possible. They live in a place which generates individual wealth…[inaudible] for the micro-processor, the human genome, research—the Internet. None of those things would exist but for the 90 billion dollars that the federal government [the tax-payer] spends every year on basic research.

People don’t really see the role that, the use of tax-dollars, plays in making our economy so vibrant.”

And I don’t quote this in support of bigger taxes, at all. And god knows I am against a bigger State. I write it simply to reiterate what appears to me utterly obvious, regardless of dogma: free market is a euphemism for something that is often deeply—in many ways—subsidized and protected.

By the way, The One Percent is directed by Jamie Johnson, one of the heirs to the Johnson & Johnson mega-empire.

Bill Sr. can be seen below, starting around 4:10, being honest regardless of his son. Actually, clearly his son knows this too—and god love him for the hundreds of millions he and his wife have relentlessly poured into desperate causes:

FREE (of truth) TRADE

From, say, the criminal sugar subsidies out of Florida, punishing, (to the rest of the world) Agribusiness subsidies (massive, and deathly for the small farmer), the opening and/or protecting of markets through war (the oil market, for example—and remember opium? Ah, British free trade) and on and an and on—oh yeah, those free market bail-outs!—and the mix of, say, weapons and free trade that China is vilely exporting into Africa, I get truly sad endlessly hearing this talk of the so-called free market. Heck, I can’t even work in the States. Some free market.

And I think this manipulative mythology has contributed to the blindness that has prevented us from seeing the inconceivable debt madness and economic heist of the present day. In this climate of so-called free market we actually saw this lethal combination: grand subsidies and massive deregulation. In short, those who knew how to really play the game and find the loop-holes and send the lobbyists and fix the books (even legally), they got a virtual free-for-all—and I do not exclude from that group the piggy-ness of we middle-class consumers, whose debts ballooned pathologically over the last fifteen years.

Or to quote Mahatma Gandhi, loosely, because I see a lot of different versions of this quote:

“The Lord gave enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

But I do believe, slowly, maybe, we’re learning by thinking, as best we can, of the life of our great, great grandchildren.

Lots of love to you,

Pete xox

PS Getting Bill Jr.’s dad to back my thoughts about Bill Jr. and his computer fortune is a bit like this Marshall McLuhan moment in Annie Hall. And all that said, it doesn’t make it true—and it sure as heck won’t change public opinion. Nonetheless:

Woody: “If life were only like this…”



  1. [...] non-violent protest is demanded instead of burdened by threat of arrest and intimidation, when the exchange of goods are not manipulated by the state or by corporate monopoly, when the difference between a vice and a crime is understood, when government and business are not [...]

Leave a Reply