16
Jun
05

Boycott Microsoft and All Things Chinese

For a while I really liked Bill Gates. He started a crusade for education that hasn’t gotten a lot of press, or enough money, for that matter. Recently he had some problems with his policies on homosexuals and their rights. I hoped he’d do the right thing on this China deal. I thought, this man, who has changed the modern age with his work and made it possible for millions of people to express themselves, can’t possibly intentionally limit the free speech of others just to add to his already obscene pile of money. My hopes were dashed and alas, the almighty dollar won again. He sold his product to the Chinese, filters and all, to the collective sigh of a billion voices that had hoped to be heard. So now we come to the greater question: Why would Bill Gates do a thing like that? More importantly, why are we still trading with China? Could it be that it would cost American corporations billions of dollars to close down factories and build new ones in other third-world countries? Or, worse yet, what if they had to re-open in America and pay proper wages? Just a theory.

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30 Responses to “Boycott Microsoft and All Things Chinese”


  1. 1 Saur♥Kraut
    June 16, 2005 at 11:27 am

    Good Morning, everyone!

    Polanco, please forgive my posting from my blog to yours, but it’s relevant and your readership is different than mine:

    Yeah, this is pretty scary, Orwellian stuff – isn’t it?

    I talked extensively about this with a good friend of mine who is quite brilliant and well-informed. He told me that there is not a thing the USA can or will do, because China owns us lock, stock and barrel.

    He says they own the majority of our treasury notes. I googled it, and found that China doesn’t own a majority, but close to it.

    China spends over $187 million per day buying up our treasury notes. For more ways that China is attempting a friendly takeover of the USA and it’s economy, go to
    http://www.shout.net/~bigred/ChinEcon.htm

  2. 2 Tabasamu
    June 16, 2005 at 12:32 pm

    Saur, here’s another excerpt too…(from TS’s blog at
    http://butnotlost.blogspot.com/)

    Are you outraged yet? Ha … here’s the clincher: the U.S. Federal Elections Commission is proposing campaign finance restrictions for blogs with political content. The official Blogger blog, buzz.blogspot.com, says the rules would affect bloggers in three ways: mandatory disclaimers, registration as a political committee for team blogs, and filing of campaign expenditure reports. But you don’t see major headlines like “U.S. authorities declare war on blogs,” do you?

    I saw it yesterday and think it’s relevant to this discussion…

    -TC

  3. 3 Anonymous
    June 16, 2005 at 12:34 pm

    As for China’s economy, they are going about it pretty expediently. It is true they are buying up dollars at an incredible rate, but if you look at their monetary policies since 2000, you will see that they are also buying up the Euro, and they contributed quite a bit to the sudden surge in Euro strength since 2002 (a weak U.S. economy helped, but it is a chicken-egg arguement.) The Chinese do not “own” us. The best way to examine a problem like this is to analyze the U.S. Current Account Balance (check out http://www.chicagofed.org/publications/fedletter/cfljune2005_215.pdf for an interesting piece on this)against the GDP. Essentially, we are “borrowing” money from China every year at a rate of about 6%–not a bad loan, but it will come due at some point. With a stronger dollar, imports decrease, but our ability to pay off our debts in foreign currency increases, so it is always a Catch-22. (For more information, check otu CBO.gov)

    As for Microsoft, I think they are in a tough position. As a company, Microsoft has to play by the rules in order to even work in China. One could argue they should simply leave in protest, but this seems a tad extreme. During the 1990s, Clinton saw that China Policy was better served with engagement and carrots, rather than isolation and sticks (something he, being a history and IR man, no doubt saw was working for Nixon and Kissinger) Microsoft can better serve the Chinese people by offering them whatever services they can, and slowly helping change and dissidence grow.

    As for movining to America, it just makes little sense. First, they would have to pay more money and deal with more labor restrictions and a less fluid labor market. Look at what Europe (especially France, Germany, and Italy) are experiencing now. Many there want to create a hybrid combining the European and U.S. models to create a “Canadian” model. Labor flexibility and the ability to hire and fire people according to ability. If I were a company, I would love China–an untapped, skilled labor market where competition for wages puts downward pressure on the wage itself. Government support to the people allows Microsoft to get away with a lot.

    Second, by going to China, Micrsosoft is helping the Chinese people. They are training workers on the job; they are paying people wages higher than they might find in other industries; (this one is cheesy and up for a big debate, but…) they are brining people together on a universal platform.

    I just think that before we panic and begin to salue our Chinese leaders, I think we should take a rational look at the numbers, and see what we can do to make it better (i.e. better U.S. products, cheaper steel, better educated workforce)

    It strikes me that if you are going to bash Gates, you would have to take a long hard look at some other generous, monopolistic rich folks in history and hit them first. I, personlly, think Carnegie Mellon, for all his faults, should be remembered fondly for his efforts.

    But once again, PC, you have found the right thread to start a good conversation, and my buddy Sauerkraut is on target!

  4. 4 United We Lay
    June 16, 2005 at 3:08 pm

    The follow scenarios, for example, demonstrate some of the concerns that arise:

    A. Twenty-Five Dollar Advertisements Expressly Advocating for a Candidate. The centerpiece of the FEC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is the narrow extension of the definition of “public communication” to include paid Internet advertisements. Superficially this seems reasonable, based on the assumption from the offline world that advertisements probably cost significant money. But in the Internet context, banner advertisements often cost in the neighborhood of $25 per 1000 displays of an ad (or less than 3 cents per ad display). While most web sites require that ad purchases be for substantially more than 1000 displays, it is likely that activists in future campaigns will purchase $5000 worth of ad displays and then resell the displays in $25 increments to individuals who want to display an “online bumper sticker” in support of a candidate (declaring, for example, that “Bob Smith of Rockville Supports Jones for President”), with the banner ad placed on community-focused web sites. Imposing burdensome campaign finance obligations on all Internet political ads no matter how trivial the cost would certainly discourage this and other types of innovative individual political speech. Simply stated, this type of paid speech by individuals is not the type of speech at which the campaign finance laws are aimed.

    B. Voters Posting “Online Bumper Stickers” Required to Also Post a Home Address. In the “Bob Smith of Rockville Supports Jones for President” example above, Mr. Smith would be required to display on the banner ad a home street address – a privacy invasion that may well discourage the speech entirely. Moreover, it is unlikely that a disclaimer could even fit within the confines of a banner advertisement (and some individual speakers may not operate a web site that could contain the information).

    C. Production of an Online Video. If an individual, without coordination with any campaign, decides to create and post a short video attacking an incumbent President running for re-election, and he or she spends $251 on the production of the video (aside from the Internet hosting costs), the individual would have to commence filing reports with the FEC (thereby likely discouraging the creation of the individual advocacy in the first place).

    D. Events Outside of the Control of the Individual Speaker Could Push Expenses over the $250 Threshold for Reporting Expenditures. Although the FEC has excluded many Internet costs from the calculation of expenditures by individuals, there are many Internet-related costs that are not mentioned and remain in a gray area, and some of those costs are unpredictable. If an individual makes a short video as described above, it is unclear whether cost charged by an Internet content streaming company would be exempt or not. If the individual makes the video for $100 and plans to spend $100 to stream the video (thereby avoiding the $250 reporting requirement), the $100 streaming costs could unexpectedly jump over $150 because someone publicizes the link to the video without the individual’s knowledge. The individual could find him or herself in violation of the law a filing deadline had passed.

    E. Two (or a Few) Individuals Collaborating on Internet Speech May Unwillingly or Unknowingly Become a “Political Committee.” If four friends get together to create and post on the Internet a video attacking an incumbent running for re-election and the video costs $1001, the friends may be considered a “political committee” subject to a host of burdensome rules. Such a result would very likely discourage the speech in the first place.

    F. An Active Political Blogger Who Incorporates For Liability Purposes Would Thereafter be Excluded from Continuing to Express Support for a Candidate. An active blogger may well want to incorporate for liability purposes, but if the blogger fails to “give reasonably equal coverage to all opposing candidates” the blog might not qualify for the news media exemption. Thus, that individual (incorporated as a single employee company) would be prohibited from a wide range of political speech.

    G. An Active Blogger Whose Blog is Affirmatively Supported by His or Her Employer. The Internet creates a much broader set of situations in which an employer might want an employee to blog, even though the employee is solely expressing the employee’s opinions. For example, Lawrence Lessig is a noted law professor at a private (and incorporated) university, and he runs a very popular blog. Lessig’s active online dialogue on a wide range of issues – including “presidential politics” – is certainly an informal part of Lessig’s academic work, and thus it is unclear whether his blogging would be considered “incidental” to the corporation. The prohibition on “corporate” blogging could well chill academic discourse at private universities.

    These are examples of problems that arise with the application of the campaign finance laws to individuals’ speech on the Internet. Some, but not all, of these problems might be addressed by a single, short and easy-to-understand exemption of individuals’ online speech, as proposed above. Alternatively, some could be addressed by more regulatory exceptions and fine tuning of the rules – an approach that will exacerbate the already high level of complexity.

  5. 5 Anonymous
    June 16, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    I think the Lessig question is interesting, but is his blog hosted by the university? If so, it would be difficult to consider it personal. If, however, he is posting as an individual, and does not use school logos,then his association with the university is a separate issue. There have been countless court cases about personal rights on the internet. Some of the most famous (infamous?) involve police officers doing naughty things with men and women near or on their vehicles. They claim they cannot be fired because it is private and personal activity, but the public use of the cars means that they are involving the department

    I think that you cannot deny the power of the blogs as an open form of media. You probably get excited when you get
    “hits” and comments, and other blogs are no doubt getting more and more. Accepting them into the mainstream provides many advantages in tersm of the spread of ideas, but also comes with the responsibility of media.

    Are we done with China and Microsoft on this string?

  6. 6 United We Lay
    June 16, 2005 at 5:27 pm

    Not done with China – Gates is the current whipping boy because he just made a new deal. That doesn’t excuse other corporations operating in China, and I have no problem boycotting those as well.

  7. 7 Anonymous
    June 16, 2005 at 5:42 pm

    But why would be boycott a company who is engaging a country like China, but in the same breath excoriate Bush for his harsh handling of Iran, North Korea, etc? I think if you do a historical comparative examination of repressive governments you might find that engagement often loosens the hold that the government has over the people. It creates interconnections that the government cannot easily break. If Microsoft were to leave China, would you be willing to pay more money to feed poor, unemployed workers? The solution is not to boycott Microsoft; rather the solution (as with many things) is in the middle. Microsoft is doing the right thing for the company, for the Chinese economy and for the stockholders. More jobs in China and cheaper technology means more communication and more chances to interact with the outside world. Even though some avenues are closed off right now, that is just a start. Let’s ask questions first and shoot later. Let’s see how economic engagement works before we start boycotting products (he says grimly staring at his Windows XP operating system!)

  8. 8 Anonymous
    June 16, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    To follow up, PC, why are you so hot on China? I admit things are not good there, but why does U.S. engagement there bother you so much? I would like to know how you feel about the embargo on Cuba. Do you think that is the way to go? Because boycotting companies that work in China/do business with China would A)be really, really hard and B)create a de facto embargo as companies left or stayed away from China in order to keep customers.

  9. 9 Saur♥Kraut
    June 17, 2005 at 1:53 am

    I would love to jump in, but my day’s been insane. Great discussion, though, everyone!

  10. 10 Saur♥Kraut
    June 17, 2005 at 10:48 am

    Briefly, before I have to scoot (today’s going to be nuts too) I had a thought I wanted to share. Following is an excerpt from the news article:

    According to Reporters Without Borders, China is using a system called Night Crawler to patrol web journals and make sure that only registered blogs are published.

    It’s kind of appropriate it’s named night crawler, isn’t it?

  11. 11 Saur♥Kraut
    June 17, 2005 at 11:03 am

    Also, quickly:

    Just because it’s not easy to do something, doesn’t mean it’s not right to do it.

    If it effects big business, and goods are not as cheap any more, then we will either have to look to other nations or…gasp… ourselves.

    Granted, Americans are greedy, and expect higher living standards than anywhere else in the world. And we need a reality check, perhaps. It isn’t always fun to diet, but it’s healthier for you than staying fat.

    Examples of our excesses abound. Our ancestors reworked their clothing until it was unusable, and then made it into dishrags or rugs. They would have laughed to think that we buy dishrags. Our dumps are filled with things that should be recycled, but it’s easier, and just as cheap, to toss them. I do it too! But during WWII, when everything was in short supply, we used every scrap that we could.

    Our generation is a nation of spoiled brats. We expect to go into war, and borrow money with no thought of tomorrow. Oh sure, our kids will pay, but we’ll worry about that later.

    Bush is allowing this all to go on under the name of Republicanism. He also claims to be a Christian. I don’t believe that he is either.

    Another problem: our porous Mexican border. But Bush allows it to continue, because it fuels Big Business with cheap labor. It’s unhealthy for us, and we’re sanctioning something that is illegal for money. Isn’t that akin to prostitution? And, I will tell you definitively that violating a nation’s laws or turning a blind eye to it is against Bush’s religion that he claims to hold so dear.

    In Clearwater we profit greatly by illegal Mexicans, and the city and the bigger businesses here have openly courted the illegals. I kid you not. But that’s another story for another time.

    …oops…guess it wasn’t so short.

  12. 12 greatwhitebear
    June 17, 2005 at 11:54 am

    I have been boycotting microsoft for 10 years. you really wanna hurt them? Switch to Linux, or buy a Mac!

  13. 13 United We Lay
    June 17, 2005 at 3:37 pm

    China isn’t the only place I have issues with, but it is the one I chose to comment on at the moment. The problem is that all companies do he right thing for the company, and sometimes, that isn’t the right thing for people. When companies step over the line, we need to speak up. If we don’t companies begin to believe that they don’t have to answer to public consciousness, and very bad things start to happen.

  14. 14 Anonymous
    June 17, 2005 at 6:01 pm

    I guess I am confused. Just to make sure we are talking about the same thing, where do you think that Microsoft stepped over the line? Microsoft is following the laws of a sovereign state. China has the right to make up its own domestic laws. We can only hope that change comes from wihtin (or we can tilt at windmills and run out there.) THe Chinese do not have a Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech, and, isn’t it culturally biased of us to push our idea of freedom on them? Shouldn’t the Chinese be left to decide what they want? As much as this string seems quick to take a stand against Microsoft, I have not seen anybody take a stand against Google, Yahoo, Citbank, Coke, etc. who also have offices in China and follow domestic rules. Chinese companies working in America have to follow our rules, so why should the reciprocal be any different? I understand that we are picking on Microsoft because they were the header on the article, but it strikes me that this is worth more though and less gut reaction. For example, PC and Saurkraut, let’s discuss the economic impact of closing Microsoft down. How about both the economic and political impact of Microsoft’s not following the rules and perhaps being sanctioned or kicked out. Who would lose jobs? Money? Who would lose blog spaces to even print what ideas were legal under the current system?

    It is relatively simple for us to talk about boycotts and social responsibility, but as far as I know on this blog, none of us run multinational firms. Actually, as far as I can tell, nobody on this blog has done a real cost-benefit analysis to see if such actions would even effect Microsoft or if they would simply hurt Chinese workers.

    Microsoft is an enterprise established to MAKE MONEY. That is not a bad thing. That does not make them an Enron; it does not make them a villian; it makes them a firm operating in a capitalist society. China is a hybrid, and it is slowly coming out of its shell both politically and economically. Such change does not happen overnight, but through years of trial and error. Look at civil right in America. Although the 60’s and 70’s were turbulent times in America and there was a huge push, there had been movement on the issue (albeit, quietly and with less organization) for almost 100 years. We have to realize that these problems require answers and discussion more than simply chiding Microsoft for stepping over an undefined line. This is economics and politics–not morality.

    Saurkraut–thanks for the tips on setting up an ID here. Once I actually figure out a cool nickname, I am going to sign up.

  15. 15 Saur♥Kraut
    June 17, 2005 at 11:28 pm

    Anon,

    All good points. And you make a good case! It’s true that if Microsoft chooses to go into China that they should abide by the rules of the land. The thing is, should our government be allowing commerce with China when their human rights record is so atrocious?

    Cool nicknames: How about ‘Cool Nickname’ or ‘Anon’? *g*

  16. 16 zydeco fish
    June 18, 2005 at 1:53 am

    I’d be happy if Bill could make a operating system that doesn’t crash. Since he can’t, I’ll have to move on.

  17. 17 The Zombieslayer
    June 18, 2005 at 6:41 am

    PC – you won’t get any arguments from me on this one. For one, the Human Rights issues. China’s one of the absolute worst and they don’t deserve our money for that reason alone.

    For another, the Labor issue. There’s no way we could compete with the Chinese. I’m not going to offer to cut my salary to $2/hr to compete. Anyone willing to do this?

    That’s why those of us that are working in software are so screwed up right now because Bill Gates heavily lobbied Congress to undercut American software engineers with Indian workers. Not only that, they’re shipping them in with this thing called the H1B Visa program so they can undercut us here in America. It’s absolutely disgusting. I really wish white collar and blue collar people will get their heads out of their rear ends and realize labor needs a little bit of unity in this country.

    I’m still making less than 50% of what I was making in 2002 before my job got outsourced, but at least I have something. I know a lot of my former colleagues that are flat broke. Wonder how many families Bill Gates broke up.

  18. 18 Saur♥Kraut
    June 18, 2005 at 11:24 am

    Zombieslayer,

    Ditto.

    I have a close friend who got his degree in Electrical Engineering (E.E.) because he was told that the gov’t. was going to desperately need E.E.s soon. That was 20 years ago.

    Even then, EE’s that were graduating began to quickly suspect that the gov’t. was inflating their need for EE’s to drive the cost down (you get enough EEs, you can pay them lower salaries).

    Now most of what we do is outsourced outside of the states. So the gov’t is actually sending the message that it doesn’t pay to study well or work hard, we’re in competition with China and India, and their EEs and computer programmers will do it much cheaper than ours can afford to.

  19. 19 United We Lay
    June 18, 2005 at 1:39 pm

    TGhe issue: Is it right for Microsoft to intentionally limit the free speech of others? Should we support comapanies that do so?

  20. 20 The Zombieslayer
    June 18, 2005 at 7:29 pm

    Saurkraut – yes, my EE friends are all in trouble now. Don’t have a single one who’s in a safe, secure job and not currently sweating bullets. I’m so glad you’re aware of this. Makes me feel better when someone knows what I’m going through.

  21. 21 Saur♥Kraut
    June 18, 2005 at 9:12 pm

    Zombieslayer,

    It helps, doesn’t it? It’s a shame we don’t have the strong unions of ‘yesterday’. As Ben Franklin once said, “If we don’t hang together, we will surely hang separately.”

  22. 22 back-to-basics
    June 18, 2005 at 9:29 pm

    My husband has an EE degree with a minor in math. He is not working in his field. As a matter of fact it has been over a year. He has always been employed and is now trying to start up his own business. The business has nothing to do with EE.

  23. 23 United We Lay
    June 18, 2005 at 11:43 pm

    Interesting about EE. You think they do the same with teachers?

  24. 24 Saur♥Kraut
    June 18, 2005 at 11:50 pm

    I suppose it’s possible. After all, look at the glut of teachers that have never had the opportunity to teach in a school.

  25. 25 United We Lay
    June 20, 2005 at 2:47 pm

    We really need to unionize nationally.

  26. 26 Anonymous
    June 20, 2005 at 4:36 pm

    I think this has lost a lot of its steam, and I think for a few this gets very personal. I would argue, however, that complaining about competing with other countries low wages has two counterp-arguments. First: Our trade with these countries actually RAISES their national wages and puts UPWARD pressure on their salaries, increasing their standard-of-living. We may not like that they are only working for $2/day, but it is more than they used to get. Therefore, we are raising their standard of living and getting less expensive goods through trade. That is a good thing. Secondly, while people may be losing their jobs, that is a natural occurence in the markey. People who made buggy-whips probably had a pretty strong union, but it got them nowhere because times change. The U.S. spends over $100,000 PER STEELWORKER in the U.S. on subsidies, but I guarantee you that the steel workers are not getting that 100K. Because we want to keep inexpensive steel out of the U.S., we spend billions levying taxes on foreign steel and cutting taxes on domestic steel. Wouldn’t it be better to suffer a short-term painful job loss, and accept the fact that we cannot compete? Sure, people will lose their jobs, but if people want to work they will move…find other jobs. It sucks, I know because my father was unemployed for a while, but he got training and some government support and now has a new job…completely different from what he used to do.

    This is the glory of the U.S. labor force. People can move freely throughout this BIG country to get work wherever they can find it.

    Some final points:

    The tough unions of yesterday were also fraught with corruption, were only for white men, and polarize a nation. Saurkraut, I do not long for those unions.

    THe government probably did not have a conspiracy to drive down the cost of EEs. The government probably saw a need, and too many people answered the call. That happens in every labor market. Salaries look good, so lots of people get in, driving salaries down.

    Microsoft was legally required to restrict the free speech of Chinese, who do have the RIGHT of free speech according to domestic law. Microsoft followed the laws of the country. You may want to change those laws, but you are not Chinese and should not fault Microsoft for wanting to bring the internet and blogs to people who may not have them. Microsoft has taken a step forward to help out…not because they are generous, but because they think they can make a buck. While that is cynical, there is no reason to think that positive externalities can result from cynical motives.

  27. 27 The Zombieslayer
    June 21, 2005 at 7:23 am

    Saurkraut – The problem with EE and computer engineers is that as a group, they are largely anti-union. They are so elitist that they felt they didn’t need to unionize and that drove me nuts because I’ve been warning them since ’99. However, my voice has gone unheard and look what’s happened.

    PC – No, teachers aren’t safe, but safer. The safest industry to be in right now is nursing. Keep a lookout for a bill that will bring in foreign teachers to undercut the Teacher’s Union. They did it to us with the H1-B visa program. They could do it to you too.

  28. 28 Ajay Shroff
    June 21, 2005 at 4:34 pm

    Thanks to the Chinese, America’s deficit is sky high. How can a country refuse to change its currency rate although every one is asking them to? And to add to it, No one is doing anything about the refusal. I didnt know that cheap, low quality goods owned that much respect in the whole world.
    Ajay
    ajayshroff.blogspot.com

  29. 29 Kathleen
    July 10, 2005 at 5:58 am

    Anon said: “Microsoft has taken a step forward to help out…not because they are generous, but because they think they can make a buck. While that is cynical, there is no reason to think that positive externalities can result from cynical motives.”

    If making a buck is cynical, we are all guilty.

    There are only so many billions that Gates can spend. In fact, the Gates donate the majority of their billions to their foundation. The primary two missions of this foundation are to provide imunizations to children in Africa and to fund research to find a vaccine for AIDS.

    I am with anon on this. Good posts anon.

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