Saturday, January 07, 2006

Shame: Microsoft Acquiesces to Chinese Regime's Demand and Shuts Down Dissident Blogger

The Chinese government remains one of the most repressive in the world.

Simultaneously, it is:
  • increasing the size of its military to alarming levels;
  • using its vast population, willing to work for low wages, to cripple the United States and other countries with vast trade deficits;
  • cannibalizing the technological and entertainment intellectual property rights of the West; and leveraging its size to get vast amounts of property and stakes in the businesses of this and other countries.
Repressive regimes love to export their totalitarianism and the government of China gives every indication of wanting to do that throughout Asia and the Pacific Basin.

Meanwhile, the United States is blithely underwriting the Chinese government's steady movement in this direction, thereby giving aid and comfort to the greatest threat to democracy and to the United States in the world today. The threat posed by terrorists like Osama bin Laden pales by comparison with the damage an increasingly powerful and unrepentantly repressive regime like that in Beijing is likely to bring to freedom and to America.

Many American corporations, dazzled by the huge Chinese market, are increasingly dancing to the tune played by the government there, going along with the government's repression of its people.

The latest example of American corporate acquiescence to totalitarianism is the decision by Microsoft to shut down the blog site of a Chinese dissident. Microsoft defends their action, saying they have an obligation to obey the laws of the countries in which they operate. Maybe so. But they have no obligation to operate in those countries!

Corporations, especially ones the size of Microsoft, overlook the leverage they have over a Chinese regime anxious to placate the masses so desperate that they're willing to give up freedom in exchange for a higher financial standard of living.

It seems to me that if these corporations refuse to do their duty to America and to the cause of freedom by taking a pass on being agents of Chinese repression, then the US government ought to force them to act responsibly.

British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, the "peace in our times" guy who acquiesced to Hitler's demands for territory, is often seen as a failed and naive peacenik. In fact, Chamberlain was acting on the basis of no utopian vision, but to what he thought was sound business principles. He wanted to do what he could to avoid a confrontation so that the businesses of Europe could keep humming along, people's freedom be hanged. Clearly, Microsoft has adopted the same shortsighted Chamberlain-attitude about the regime in China. I hope that our government hasn't done the same thing!

[Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for mentioning this story.


Moby Dick said...

Here in America, the capitalist running dogs are willing to sell anyone down the river so they can make more money. I guess Bill Gates is not rich enough to have integrity. Maybe when he has another $10 Billion.

Marty Daniels said...

Mark: I am so proud of you!

You used the word "Acquiesces", things really are moving on wonderfully, aren't they!

I am trying to use the word acquiesce in a sentence but I guess that's why you are the smart one in the family.

It's early. I am tired. My response is non-sense.

John Schroeder said...


Microsoft is not a nation-state and therefore the Chamberlain analogy is invalid.

Microsoft is confonted with a decsion concerning principle and they have made one. Dennis Prager contends that business is amoral - I think he is right.

I have done way too much business overseas not to uderstand that it demands compromising some principles, you must choose or not do business. Please don't forget that China used to steal from Microsoft.

In business you are confronted with very difficult decisions. I have refused overseas business that compromised moral issues, but I don't think political blog censorship rises to that level, unless it is concerned with specific heinous political acts like phsyical repression, etc.

The bottom line is I think Microsoft is wrong, and I would make a different decsion were it mine to make, but I cannot be quite so condemning of them.

OH, and Chamberlain was a mis-guided utopian, agreed the people would not have backed war at that point, but there was middle ground, as Roosevelt found prior to Pearl Harbor.

Pilgrim said...

I personally feel China is dark cloud on horizon of our country's future. I could be wrong, and hope I am.

I like Marty. I just read the first paragraph of a Cadfael mystery, and ran into two new words: obedientiary and abbatial. Fortunately, the meaning seems evident from the context. (I think I read you are a Cadfael fan.)

Charlie said...

John Schroeder quotes Dennis Prager as saying "business is amoral".

I strongly disagree. Every human institution is faced with moral choices and creates moral effects on culture. Government, religious institutions and businesses operate in God's realm, make use of God's resources, affect the daily lives of God's created beings, and operate under limited authority granted by government, which means granted by the people themselves. They are all limited by certain basic moral laws, the most fundamental of which is that they may generate wealth, so long as nothing they do brings harm to human beings.

Microsoft's decision is perfectly legal, it will swell its profits and make its stockholders even wealthier. It represents good business sense to keep its Chinese masters happy.

But the consequence of its decision is that Chinese men and women cannot be free as God intended them to be. The Chinese government will be less accountable to its citizens, and there will be less information coming out of a very tightly controlled society about governmental abuses of basic human rights

Microsoft can wash its hands, but it is still guilty of putting profit before humanity, and that, by my definition, is utterly immoral.

Mark Daniels said...

Somehow, I received no notice of any of these posts and I apologize for failing to acknowledge them. I do appreciate all who take the time to send their comments.

John, I have to say that I disagree with you on several points.

#1: Chamberlain was clearly afraid of war. But his geopolitical notions were rooted more in the family business than in any nascent hippiedom. He had more in common with Herbert Hoover than with George McGovern.

#2: I certainly hope that Prager is wrong, although as a practical matter, I realize that he isn't. Business, after all, is conducted by human beings and none of us is insusceptible to the charge of being either "amoral" or "immoral."

The question, of course, whether moral considerations ought to play a role in business decisions. I think that they should.

#3: I wasn't trying to draw an exact 1:1 analogy between Microsoft and sovereign nations, although its GCP probably dwarfs some countries' GDPs. I was saying that when corporations allow the bottom line to trump clear-cut moral issues, something is terribly wrong.

I'm probably the moron for using the word "acquiesces." But I just like the word. It rolls off the tongue.

I think that no economic system is perfect. No participant in the economy is perfectly virtuous, be it Bill Gates or me. But those "capitalist dogs" probably have a lot to do with my being a member of a large middle class in a great country. Whatever their faults, I think most of us have to give them that.

The Chinese government is ominous, I think, and I am skeptical of Kissingerian policies designed to co-opt them into playing nice with the rest of the world. Given their size, view of the world, and penchant for patience, it's far more likely that they will co-opt us in ways that will be destructive of freedom and democracy.

Yes, I love the Cadfael mysteries...I also like my brother!

You put things quite well.

God bless each of you!