Pie Central

2006February9

Put your money where your mouth is, Google

Filed under: Uncategorized — pies @ 7pm03

Google’s going to China now. I have noticed one interesting thing about how this decision is framed, both by Google and by Google’s supporters and critics and other members of the online peanut gallery. It’s framed as a pro/con binary decision: either go into China officially and accept the cooperation with and profitting from Red opression that comes with it, or keep your hands clean while denying China access to Google (and denying Google access to China).

That’s a pretty thick way of looking at it. It’s convenient way for those who prefer black and white to colour, sure– Google would like to put it in terms of a difficult decision between staying true to their abstract principles and “at least doing something” for the Chinese people. Conversely critics look at it as yet another real-world epic Faustian tale, the good old company growing up and becoming corrupted, selling its ethics out for the promise of cold, hard cash and glory.

But I can’t understand why Google can’t eat their cake and still have it too. The way they are approaching the problem now, claiming they have decided to go into China and that’s it, let’s go in full hog and make the best of it. Why? That sort of attitude makes it really appear disingenuous. What exactly is so all-or-nothing about going into China?

Here is what I challenge Google to do, if they really do believe in any of the principles which they have convinced us so well that they do: Go on into China if that’s what you really believe is the best thing for the world right now. Go ahead. But don’t take a penny from them. Making the best of a bad situation is one thing. Profitting from evil and passing the profits through the financial system, reinforcing the evil incentives, is another, and quite a different one.
Google has always been a different company, and so far they have shown that being public doesn’t preclude having principles and vision. So put your money where your mouth is. Don’t keep a dime of the net profit you get from China. Do what you will with it, donate it to the EFF or another online freedom advocating organisation, or to the Google foundation or even to your local church if that’s what you want. There is absolutely nothing moral about permitting yourself to accept profit from such a tainted source, and really much worse, to permit it to corrupt others. As an innovative company, they ought to come up to innovative solutions to all kinds of difficult complex problems, regardless of whether they are technical or ethical. This is one. Is Google innovative or are they becoming just like everyone else? Put your money where your mouth is, Google.

2006January26

Why do American firms betray us?

Filed under: Uncategorized — pies @ 8pm19

Shared values distinguish America from other peoples. They include admiration for liberty, for individualism, and for the underdog who fights the man. We all respect them, even when we sometimes do not practice them– how faithful one American is to his values is an individual question. We must also beware of overgeneralising; American diversity is celebrated too. But in most situations an American will make judgements based upon her American values. I address the vague, nebulous idea of what “values” America might have because they affect our entire society and provide a common baseline; their influence can be seen in government, business, and culture. Our values particularly influence firms, the basic unit of our economy. They are bound by American customs and laws, as they should be– we have ground rules that keep the playing field clean.Overseas the playing field is less kosher. Perhaps a corporation feels less ethically bound than a human; I do not know. Whatever the reason, American firms frequently practice heinous acts abroad that they would not contemplate at home. Throughout the world American companies manufacture products under environmental and labour standards that are much laxer than in the U.S. I am also concerned with China, where Cisco continues to supply the building blocks of Red China’s censorship firewall. Microsoft recently assisted in the censorship of a certain Chinese weblogger, and more disgustingly, Yahoo! threw one of their own customers to the Red dogs in 2004, informing on a journalist who dared mention Tiannanmen Square.

When asked, corporate spokesmen ramble about abiding by local customs. This is designed to appeal to our respect for other peoples and stop critical thinking and judgement. But to whom do these companies owe their allegiance? To the Communist Party, to cash, to foreign dictators? Or to the American people who raised them?

Today many firms sullen the good name of America, but they have a responsibility to abide by our high ethical standards everywhere in the world. If a firm is unhappy with our values, perhaps it should refuse to accept the enormous benefits recieved from them, and from the American people that support them.

Yet we do not deserve a good name that we idly permit to be deflowered, even as we have every opportunity to keep it intact. A mechanism to watch American firms and ensure they cannot escape the long arm of the law would be simple to create. An ideal tool is a government agency which detects, investigates, prosecutes, and punishes firms subject to American jurisdiction, for crimes performed outside the United States.

As there is every reason to clean up our act, and no good reason not to, I propose the creation of a Foreign Ethics Board. This will be a federal agency charged with monitoring American firms abroad, investigating allegations of misconduct, and prosecuting firms in the American court system when they sin. The budget need not be extravagant. An appropriate model is the large metropolitan police department, with precinct stations from Calcutta to Berlin and detectives assigned to investigate crimes on every continent. The board of commissioners heading the agency should not be subject to political pressures and special interests, and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors provides a good model (Federal Reserve governors are confirmed for long terms, lending them more independence from the political process).

When a Foreign Ethics Board is instituted, a corrupt company no longer has any place to hide away where they can practice the shameful activities and sins they would not want us to see at home. So long as we permit our good name to be used in crime, we are accomplices to it all.

Why do American firms betray us?

Filed under: Uncategorized — pies @ 7pm54

I recently read through The Elements of Style. As an exercise I have revised this post. I think the second revision is much superior to the more loose first revision. Check it out.

A set of shared values distinguishes America from other peoples. Among them are admiration for liberty, individualism, and the underdog who fights the man. Though we do not always abide by these ideals, we look up to and claim to respect them. How faithful a given American is to American values is only an individual question. We must also be wary of overgeneralising; diversity is another celebrated American attribute. Still, in many situations, an American is likely to make judgements partly based upon his or her American values. It is worth addressing the vague, nebulous idea of what “values” America might have because those values affect the entire society. They provide a common baseline whose influence can be seen in government, business, and culture. Firms in particular, the fundamental unit of our economy, are influenced by our values. They are bound by American customs and laws, as they should be. We have ground rules and assumptions that keep the playing field clean.

Overseas, the playing field is less kosher. Perhaps a corporation feels less ethically bound than a human; I do not know. Whatever the reason, there are many examples of American firms practicing heinous acts abroad, acts they would not contemplate at home. As a small, recent sampling, we know that throughout the world American companies manufacture products under environmental standards and labour standards that are much, much more lax than would ever be tolerated in the U.S. I am also particularly concerned with several recent events in China, including the continued cooperation of Cisco et al in Red China’s censorship. Microsoft has recently assisted in the censorship of a certain Chinese weblogger, and more disgustingly, Yahoo! has thrown one of their own customers to the Red dogs, informing on a journalist who only exercised his mouth.

When asked, companies usually spout talk about abiding by local customs and laws. This is meant to appeal to our respect for other peoples and halt critical thinking. But, to whom do these companies really owe their allegiance? To the Communist Party, to cash, to foreign dictators? Or to the American people who raised them?

Our firms have a responsibility to abide by our standards, practices, anywhere in the world, not sullen the good name of America as now. If a firm is unhappy with our values, perhaps it should refuse to accept the enormous benefits it has received and will continue to receive from these values and the American people that support them.

Yet we do not deserve a good name, as we idly allow it to be dirtied when we have every opportunity to keep it intact. A mechanism to watch American firms and ensure they cannot escape the long arm of the law elsewhere anymore than they can here would be sufficient. An ideal tool would be a government agency which detects, investigates, prosecutes, and punishes firms subject to American jurisdiction, for crimes performed outside of the United States.

As there is every reason to clean up our act overseas and no good reason not to, I propose the creation of a Foreign Ethics Board; this will be a federal agency with the mission of monitoring the actions of American firms abroad, investigating allegations of misconduct, and prosecuting a company in the American court system when it sins. The budget need not be extravagant, and an appropriate model is the large metropolitan police department– with precincts throughout the world, and detectives assigned to investigate crimes on every continent. The board of commissioners which heads the agency should not be subject to political pressures and special interests. The Federal Reserve Board of Governors provides a good model; Federal Reserve governors are confirmed for long terms, lending them more independence from the political process.

When a Foreign Ethics Board is instituted, a corrupt company no longer has any place to hide away where they can practice the shameful activities and sins they would not want us to see at home.

2006January24

Why do American companies betray American values?

Filed under: Uncategorized — pies @ 4pm47

Americans are a unique set of people which have a certain set of shared values that distinguish them from other nations, including the nations that they are composed of. These distinguishing features include a strong admiration for freedoms and liberties of all sorts, for individualism, and for the underdog fighting the man. These values, like most values, are not necessarily something we always abide by (we’re only human), but rather theoeretical ideals, not necessarily things we always practice as much as that we look up to and claim to respect. How honest or hypocritical an individual American is with respect to American values is, of course, an individual thing. And, we must also be cautious when generalising anything to a whole humongous group of people. But then, that too is one of the main distinguishing feature of the American people, diversity.

The reason it is interesting to talk about such a nebulous and vague thing as what “values” America in general has is that these values affect everything in a society. They provide a common baseline and you can see their influence in government, business, and customs. What I am coming to is the actions of American firms. They are bound by American customs and laws, as they should be. We have certain ground rules and assumptions that keep the playing field clean.

The problem comes when these firms go overseas. Perhaps a corporation seems less ethically bound than a human; there is a whole body of research into that question and I do not really address it. But, there are many examples of American firms undertaking heinous practices abroad which they would never contemplate undertaking within their homeland. If this were a rigorously researched paper then various carefully footnoted, diverse, and interesting examples could be mentioned here. But it isn’t, and the bar is lower, so I’ll just mention a few examples. Throughout the world American companies fabricate products under environmental standards and labour standards that are much, much more lax than would ever be tolerated in the U.S. And I am particularly thinking of several recent events in China, including the continued cooperation of Cisco et al in Red China’s censorship, building the Great Firewall. Then there is Microsoft’s recent personal censorship of a Chinese weblogger, and more disgustingly, Yahoo!’s actions when they turned a journalist in to the Red authorities for exercising his freedom of speech.

When asked, companies usually spout something about following local customs and laws. That’s all well and good, but to whom do these companies really owe their allegiance to? To the Communist Party? To Mammon? To foreign dictators? Or, to the American people who raised them?

Clearly, they have a responsibility to continue following the standards, practices, and values of their homeland, regardless of where they go. If they’re unhappy with those values, then perhaps they should refuse to accept the enormous benefits they have received and  will continue to receive from them and the American people that support them.

We have certainly the opportunity, I should think, to force American firms to abide by American values everywhere in the world. All that is needed is a mechanism to keep track of them and make sure that they cannot escape the long arm of the law anywhere on the planet.  What we need is an instrument of the government which detects, investigates, prosecutes, and punishes firms which are subject to American jurisdiction, for crimes which are performed outside of the United States.

There is no good reason not to do this. I propose the creation of a Foreign Ethics Board, a federal agency which would be given the mission of monitoring the actions of American firms abroad, investigating allegations of misconduct, and, if an action is found to be out of line, prosecuting the company at home in the judicial system. The budget would not need to be terribly large. The organisation could follow the FTC somewhat, though not too much. I think a good model would be that of a large metropolitan polic department, with precincts throughout the world and officers assigned to investigate different crimes, as well as a prosecuting division. The main board which would control the agency should be fairly independent, with long terms confirmed by the Senate.

With a Foreign Ethics Board, companies would no longer have any place to hide away where they could practice the shameful activities and sins that they would not want the American people to see at home.

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