No matter how he may have voted in the past, there is no doubt that Bill Gates has a liberal impulse.
It's an open secret, however, that his successor, long-time friend Steve Ballmer (left), is a conservative Republican.
This may explain just how badly Ballmer has mis-read the market and, by extension, the changing nature of politics, in his Novell deal.
For those who don't follow the tech business, Ballmer and Microsoft signed a deal with Novell in which the two sides mutually agreed not to sue one another over patent claims. Then he turned around and claimed that, unless companies were running Novell's version of Linux, Microsoft might sue them for violating its patents.
Now witness the market reaction. Novell backed away from Ballmer's claims. Other Linux distros, like Ubuntu, began using the deal in the market against Novell. They are getting a good hearing. The result could be that Novell, which signed with Microsoft because it is a financial laggard, may be destroyed by its own lifeline.
As I wrote on my other blog today, something quite similar is happening regarding attempts by vendors to add "gotchas" in open source licensing contracts. There is a community consensus on what open source means, thus a market consensus on what it means, and anyone who violates this consensus risks the rejection of its market.
This business story is placed here because it has enormous political implications:
- Microsoft is acting just like the Bush Administration, employing the law and bullying tactics to get its way.
- The market is refusing to go along.
We are talking here about the power of consensus. A commonly-held understanding may have no legal force, and it may have no armed force behind it. Yet it can triumph.
The history of America is filled with consensus driving policies that were resisted by legalistic frameworks and institutional power. There was a consensus that action was needed against the Great Depression. There was a consensus in the North that action was needed against slavery.
Consensus is fairly rare, but it's the most transformative force our politics has. A consensus has developed around the meaning of open source, and this will drive the market -- not legalistic licensing mumbo-jumbo. A consensus has emerged about the rights of Internet users, and this will drive the market, not the efforts of institutions to drive it under.
Absent a consensus politics is transactional in nature. Narrow majorities win narrow victories. This is why the Nixon Thesis has not been more successful than it has in transforming American society. Most of its victories have been narrow, transactional.
Only at the height of the Thesis, under Ronald Reagan, was a serious attempt made to create a consensus. That is why Reagan remains revered while Nixon and Bush will forever be reviled. That is the only reason the Nixon Thesis remains powerful. That is why, when pressed, conservatives to this day invoke Ronald Reagan. It is because he forged a consensus.
Consensual ideas can and will drive our politics. Assumptions of right and wrong, a common consensus, are powerful forces.
Resistance against them is futile.