TCS Daily


Google Is Right on China

By James V. DeLong - January 31, 2006 12:00 AM

Google has agreed to submit to censorship of search results in exchange for operating in China.

The full scope of the censorship is a work in progress. Wired says: "To obtain the Chinese license, Google agreed to omit web content that the country's government finds objectionable. Google will base its censorship decisions on guidance provided by Chinese government officials." And C|Net News' Declan McCullagh's research found: "Many Web sites censored from Google's Chinese results touch on topics known to be unpopular with the Communist Party: the Tiananmen protest and massacre, political criticism in general, Tibet, Taiwan and Falun Gong (a growing movement that combines traditional Chinese breathing exercises with meditation and that's been renounced by the Chinese government as a cult). But others are more puzzling, such as jokes and alcohol."

As a result, Google is being roasted in the flames of an outraged Internet, accused of selling out its "Don't Be Evil" corporate birthright for a mess of Yuan.

About the only tepidly good word came from George Mason University economist Thomas Hazlett: "the terms of the agreement struck will push modern communications yet further in a basically authoritarian society. That triggers an underlying dynamic that ultimately, will undermine restrictions, allowing civil liberties -- not Chinese government censors -- to triumph."

My view is considerably more sympathetic both to Google and to China and its leaders than is the Internet consensus.

The Chinese are undertaking simultaneously several of the most difficult tasks that any nation can attempt. They are loosening the grasp of an authoritarian regime; fostering rapid economic development; and evolving the proper form of government for a huge population of widely varying sophistication and skill in the technological age, bearing in mind the history and culture of China.

Were I a Chinese leader, I would be thinking along the following lines.

We have no model for this daring and difficult enterprise, even if we think that in the long-term we need some variation of a democratic state. The West's assumption that all we need do is ape it represents a presumption that would be amusing if the issue were not so serious, because democracy in the West is in serious jeopardy.

Look at Russia, where the recommended shock treatment approach was a disaster. The lesson may be that converting to a more capitalistic state requires economic loosening before political loosening -- perestroika before glasnost. The rule of law may have to start at the top and then extend downward, and be followed by a broad voting franchise only after the basics of industrial development are firmly in place. This was, after all, the pattern of the Western democracies. Magna Carta was for barons, not peasants.

A hard-eyed look at the West also reveals more question marks than answers.

Will Europe be democratic in 20 years? The EU structure cuts in the other direction. And the trend of European democracy is that the dependents on the government are electorally dominant, able to resist any reform of entitlements. The result, within a decade, will probably be a revolt of the young, who will see themselves as heavily taxed to maintain a welfare state that will not exist for them, and that allows them very limited opportunities to improve their lot. But the revolt cannot be electoral, precisely because the young are outnumbered, which means it must be anti-democratic. And probably nasty.

The U.S. as a democratic model? An interesting case, that's also full of problems. The nation has an increasing political class of government workers, better paid than the private sector by 50 percent, and capable of combining with other dependents to resist changes. It has increasing corruption among politicians of both parties, who have gerrymandered themselves into safe seats supported by massive pork, using public money to buy support from both interest groups and short-sighted corporations, and who are increasingly using campaign finance controls to censor political opposition to this system.

From an economic point of view, the whole U.S. is turning into a massive anti-commons, where everyone has veto power over every form of productive investment. It has shut down much of its manufacturing and extractive industries. A good symbol is that is a nation with an energy crisis that cannot even find a spot to build a refinery or an LNG terminal. It is now turning on even such innocuous industries as Wal-Mart, for heaven's sake!

Democracy in the U.S. was founded on a sophisticated interlayering of different types of governance in different situations, with the types appropriate to the decisions and interests involved. It is an irony of successful democracy that the whole must be subject to democratic control, but within this framework there must be many undemocratic decision processes, ranging from representative assemblies to market-driven businesses to law-bound adjudication.

The U.S. is increasingly in thrall to a kind of plebiscitary democracy, often by public opinion poll, a residue of the mindless 1960s, where every decision, right down to guilt or innocence in a criminal case, should be decided by vote.

Furthermore, the disturbing trends are getting worse, not better. The technologies of instantaneous communication are rendering the whole nation increasingly vulnerable to that fatal disease of democracy feared since the ancient Greeks -- demagoguery and rule by mass whim, a trend abetted by the glorification of the mass mind and by slogans about the superiority of the crowd. There is some wisdom in crowds, but "it's hard to aggregate the wisdom of the crowd without aggregating [its] madness as well."

Far from a model, the U.S. may be running on the fumes of its human capital of gifted and entrepreneurial people, but is far from clear that current trends will allow for the continuing replenishment of this class. And the nation is pinning a lot on high-tech, since it seems bent on suppressing other forms of economic activity.

But China has gifted and entrepreneurial people, too, and we also like high-tech while taking a more benign view of manufacturing and extraction. Our rise will increase the already severe future strains on the U.S. Will the U.S. be democratic in 50 years? History will tell.

So, what is a Chinese leader dedicated to the welfare of the people to do, given this incredible uncertainty, and the lack of convincing models? The wisest course seems to be: Focus on perestroika above glasnost. Move cautiously. Avoid any threat of losing control to demagoguery and mob rule, which inevitably ends in re-authoritarianism. Develop the rule of law before an extended franchise. And keep maneuvering in the fantastically complicated situation involving the modernists, the PLA, the old Mao-ists, the modern equivalent of regional warlords, the rising demands of the new economic classes, and the restlessness of the people who see that a better life is possible.

And given this Chinese view, what should Google do? Google should do what Google does, which is search engines. Google is not a Chinese leader, and it is not the role or duty of Google to tell China how to rule itself, or to tell the Chinese leader dedicated to the betterment of the people how to act, even when what the Chinese government does goes against the grain of American views of free speech.

In the end, search engines, even truncated ones, will contribute to the economic and political development of China, as Hazlett noted. The working out of this story will be one of the great tales of human history, for tragedy or triumph, depending on how it goes.

So Google should happily contribute to this effort, doing what it does, and avoiding the hubris of thinking it is responsible for China, or that it knows the answers. In this situation, good and evil are not self-evident categories.

Berkeley economist Brad DeLong is fond of saying that it is very important to the peace of the world that in 50 years school children in India and China are taught that the West did everything it could to help the economic development of these nations. Google should focus on being a lesson in these textbooks.

James V. DeLong is a Senior Fellow at the Progress & Freedom Foundation in Washington, D.C. This article represents his own opinions, which may not be shared by PFF, its staff, or it directors.

Editor's note: To see another take on this debate, read Glenn Reynolds's article today on TCS.

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15 Comments

Perverted normality
I'm sorry for dissenting, but I think Google's attitude only works toward accepting as normal dictatorial practices we would not accept for ourselves ever.

Freman Bregg

Google's censorship will result in faster democratic change in China
All searches by the censored Google search engine in China will have a disclaimer to inform the searcher that the results have been censored in accordance with the guidlines of the Chinese government. The result of this notification will be the same as telling the Chinese people that their government does not trust them. This will help push China toward a more open and free government as people can still use uncensored sites such as Google.Com to see what the Chinese government is hiding.

a small correction...
"Google has agreed to submit to censorship of search results in exchange for operating in China."

No. Google has agreed to censor search results according to specifications by the Chinese government.

The Tyranny of Democracy, Again
This is a BRILLIANT passage:

The U.S. is increasingly in thrall to a kind of plebiscitary democracy, often by public opinion poll, a residue of the mindless 1960s, where every decision, right down to guilt or innocence in a criminal case, should be decided by vote.


Furthermore, the disturbing trends are getting worse, not better. The technologies of instantaneous communication are rendering the whole nation increasingly vulnerable to that fatal disease of democracy feared since the ancient Greeks -- demagoguery and rule by mass whim, a trend abetted by the glorification of the mass mind and by slogans about the superiority of the crowd. There is some wisdom in crowds, but "it's hard to aggregate the wisdom of the crowd without aggregating [its] madness as well."


Far from a model, the U.S. may be running on the fumes of its human capital of gifted and entrepreneurial people, but is far from clear that current trends will allow for the continuing replenishment of this class. And the nation is pinning a lot on high-tech, since it seems bent on suppressing other forms of economic activity.

The Moral vs the Expedient
This kind of dilemma: the moral vs. the expedient, is perennial.
Should Reagan have shouted "take down this wall" or should he have worked for slow change?
Should Lincoln have avoided a confrontation on slavery because the "shock treatment" of freeing the slaves would lead to economic chaos for the South.
Try telling a slave: "Wait another generation. Freedom would be too messy right now."

Visionary Essay
DeLong is trenchantly on target. The Chinese may well be on target. Google does best by pursuing profit.

With our incumbent protection laws, our ever expanding nomenklatura of lawyers, greens, and bureaucrats, our poll-driven agitprop, our free-speech fetishism (porn and spam enshrined along with incumbent politicians under McCain-Feingold), the United States may well be running its own democracy down into ochlocracy. Can Roberts and Alito turn the tide? Who knows? But US policies on the environment have driven most manufacturing and energy production off shore. Our economy is increasingly dependent on the Chinese, who have liberated more people economically than any other country in world history and now are leading the world in expansion of manufacturing and the construction of nuclear plants. They have tied their currency to the dollar. They have named their leading school of economics after supply sider Robert Mundell. They deserve some slack. Perhaps the pressure of their competitive example will liberate us.

George Gilder

Perverts
TO: freman
RE: Don't Be 'Sorry'

"I'm sorry for dissenting..." -- freman

You're perfectly correct in calling DeLong on his 'emporer's new clothes' approach to getting close to the Chinese Communists.

His justification of Google is as transparent as the clothing of that old childrens tale. All that Google, as well as Microsoft and Cisco, is doing is going for the money. And truth be hanged, if there's money to be had.

If DeLong thinks that children 50 years from now will think that suppressing their parents freedom of information was a big help, then we should be suppressing DeLong's childrens' freedom of information today. Here.

If it's good for the Chinese, then it SURELY would be good for US. But if it's not good for US, why on God's good earth is it supposed to be good for the Chinese.

It's rank hypocrisy, and DeLong reeks of it.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Surely a lie is the worst of all evils, for whenever someone tells a lie they are stabbing at the fabric of society.]

Hack away, DeLong....

The Tell Tale?
TO: Marquis3
RE: Search Results Notice

"All searches by the censored Google search engine in China will have a disclaimer to inform the searcher that the results have been censored in accordance with the guidlines of the Chinese government." -- Marquis3

I have not heard that. And, based on what I've read of the reports of searches conducted in China using Google, that is NOT the case. I've heard you get a pretty picture. Not that there is verbiage that would indicate the Chinese Communist government doesn't think you're fit to read the search results.

And, even if they did do something truly stupid like that, they'd probably stop doing it once they detected a growing public resentment to such blatant statements.

In the long run, I think you suffer from wishful thinking.

Censorship, and public dissatisfaction with it, has, to the best of my knowledge, never toppled a government. Nor has it been a major factor in bringing down a regime.

Besides, if they're hiding information, how would the public learn what information is being hidden?

You do not know what you do not know.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[What they are telling you can be important. What they are NOT telling you can be vital. -- cbpelto]

Lincoln was both moral and expedient
If you read Doris Kearns Goodwin's latest book, you'll see that Lincoln both during his political runup to the White House and during the first few years of the Civil War did indeed avoid confrontation on slavery, especially dragging his feet on emancipating slaves. He was excoriated regularly by Frederick Douglass as not a true believer in black equality. Yet when Lincoln did issue the Emancipation Proclamation he did so because he felt the nation (i.e., the north) was finally ready for such a bold move. It was a potentially confrontational moment for Lincoln, though, because he was largely opposed by his cabinet and many thought the action would lead to prolonged war, as it would deter the South from surrendering. So the moral vs. expedient dilemma outlined by millikenb is rarely a black and white one.

Oh, and nothing would have stopped Reagan from shouting "take down this wall" while also working for slow change.

Visionary?
TO: gglider
RE: Equivalents, Anyone?

If you are of the opinion that keeping porn OUT of the public eye is anything like keeping the truth of the Tianamen Square massacre out of said eye, you're a 'fine' example of the American public education system, at its worst.

Especially considering that you can find all the porn you could possibly consume on the web here. As well as lots of information about Tianamen Square.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[And the Truth shall set you free....but only if you can hear it in the first place.]

An Enhancement
TO: All
RE: Whereas I Said...

"You do not know what you do not know." -- cbpelto

...in the earlier post, I think that in this situation it should read...

You can not know what they will not let you know.

That's more applicable to the Chinese Communist-Google relationship.

I guess we'll have to smuggle the truth about Tianamen and other such things into China like christians smuggle bibles.

THAT'S really effective....

Censorship weakens Dictatorships?
"They are loosening the grasp of an authoritarian regime"

Search Engine Diplomacy
Slate, January 31, 2006

...The newly launched GOOGLE.CN HANDLES THE CENSORSHIP THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT USED TO UNDERTAKE ON ITS OWN. Type in "Tibet Freedom" at Google.com, and you'll see a flurry of links dedicated to the Dalai Lama; do the same on Google.cn and you get pro-Chinese government sites.

...Some have suggested that major tech companies should BAND TOGETHER TO PRESSURE CHINESE GOVERNMENT to loosen restrictions on Internet content -- Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Oracle, Lucent, and Cisco have a combined market capitalization of more than half a trillion dollars. Shouldn't they be able to apply enough pressure to wrangle a few concessions?

...Google and the others should remember that censorship runs counter to what brought them success. Without the FREE FLOW OF INFORMATION the Internet allows, each of them would be a fraction of the size they are today. And if it's more efficient to build one camera for every market than 20 different cameras for 20 different markets, then wouldn't the same be true in information technology?

http://www.slate.com/id/2135104/

Google is right to agree with the government of China but not for the reasons listed.
Google is not responsible for the freedom of the folks in China nor is it responsible for providing any and all information to everyone. Google is not responsible for any evil, and there is a TON of it, that the government of China has enacted on its people.

Google is simply responsible to its owners. Those owners have decided that Google is better off taking the deal with the government of China than otherwise. That makes the decision morally correct.

If you are an unhappy owner then you can vote your shares any way you wish or even fire Google by selling your shares.

Now the entire world may disagree with the owners of Google. My advice to you is organize yourselves and select another search engine and make that decision clear to Google. Please do not do something immoral like using the power of government to force Google to make a decision against the wishes of its owners.

No, Google Is NOT Right on China
You wrote:

"The Chinese are undertaking simultaneously several of the most difficult tasks that any nation can attempt. They are loosening the grasp of an authoritarian regime; [...] bearing in mind the history and culture of China."

I think it's fantasies - where have you got such ideas from?

Should the worlds people have companies, or should the companies have the world?

Let me put it straight - you have to do your homework!

Well, it's a fact that the nazi and communistic ideologies was an undertaking of a specific group of people, and have the same financing banksters,leading to Wall Street. Is it a time now for do another great harvest, money don't smell?

Shouldn't all people take a stance for all the million people who have been, and still are under a brutal regimes suppression?

The chinese communist party party is behind that over 65 million of it´s own people have met a unnatural death. Pol Pot and other leaders was i Beijing and got "education" and instructions - went home and killed one out of four of it´s people.

The regime have NO thoughts about getting China be a democratic country, or loose it's grasp. Is it not a little scary, China buy peoples conciense - otherwise this article "Google Is Right on China" could not have been written, they tie up other countries, in Africa, now in South America, and Iran, and other countries.

Brad Vogel (bvogel@badgerherald.com) is a senior majoring in political
science and journalism he wrote:

"China's regrettable actions are not restricted to the land behind the Great
Wall, as seen in the nation's foreign policy. China has been a consistent
obstacle to U.N. action in the Darfur genocide, using the threat of its veto
on the Security Council to defend its sizable oil and arms sales interests
in Sudan.

While distracting its populace and using
economic freedoms as bread and circus, the CCP is free to crack down on
spiritual organizations like Falun Gong and the Roman Catholic Church,
repress knowledge (aided and abetted recently by Google) and enforce an
inhumane one-child policy.

This chess game is a momentous one. China may not have a powerful
carrier-based blue water navy, but its soft power - its economic weight, its
cultural influence and its vast spy network in the United States (revealed
in the past year by a number of defectors) - rivals America's ability to
arrange the players. It is this strategy that the Chinese employ to "put
themselves beyond the possibility of defeat" without firing a shot, to quote
Sun Tzu's "The Art of War." The question is this: given our present focus on
the Middle East and our contentment with cheap Chinese goods, will we wake
up? Will America recognize its possible successor for what it is or
nonchalantly tip its king?"

They not put in an enormous amount of money on their military apparatus - which media is calling "for anti terrorist" purposes.

The truth is that they struggle to survive, and want to hold it´s power with all means, including to kill it´s own people, killing is of tradition no problem for them

We could read in media:

""The force's new
squadrons will be in a better position to handle terrorist incidents,
demonstrations and other critical situations," Zhou said, adding that the
Gonganbu had counted no less than 74,000 demonstrations and other forms of
unrest in which four million Chinese took part in 2004. The new units will
be assigned to 36 cities.

"A 600-strong force equipped with helicopters and light armored vehicles will
be stationed in the biggest cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and
Chongqing."

So the evil regim leaders now that if they could not remain in power, the will all been drawn to tribunals for their crimes against humanity. The miltitary strength they build up now in China is not only meant to handle demonstrations, strikes and riots, it build up for the regimes wish to stay in power.

It says that almost every family in China have at least one person who the regime has killed.

So many peolpe are waiting for redress. They are depending of people in the west - it´s the west who is the maker of this evil regime, it´s big business who is the persons behind that the Laogai system (Gulag) is a fact, we want the profits, and cheap products. If we in west thought about other people, set them first, and just not think that money is the solution, but also see that money and a lack of morality is a part of the problem.

Google and other big companies should not have done this, it´s a shame.

We should from now on see after alternatives for Google.

For better doing the homework, I can recommend reading of "Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party" http://ninecommentaries.com it´s awardwinning. Over 7.6 million chinese people have until now said godbye to the communist party, you can see a counter on this page, at the newa paper who published the article serie http://www.theepochtimes.com/index10.html.


what correction
I don't understand this:

"Google has agreed to submit to censorship of search results in exchange for operating in China."

No. Google has agreed to censor search results according to specifications by the Chinese government."

maybe it's my poor english, I don't know, but what do you mean is the difference?

I think a small correction could be that there is no chinese government strictly speaking, it's a junta regime. They hold it's power through force and suppression, propaganda lies, deceiving the west's governments and the cooperation with big business.

The evil regime have destroyed thousands og holy places and temples, and destroyed much of this long cultural traditions. They have done this becouse they don't believe in good things and values, and they don't want the people to have that kind of thinking, behaviour and roots.

They are not communsits either. They are far more worse than the Pinochet junta was. Under that regime, i was still allowed to have organisations for people and rights to follow your own concience an have a spiritual belief. The communist regime say that the party is the supreme power, higher than any gods, so you must worship the party as the highest, before your own mother and any god. So is songs which children must sing in school.

I think that any who looks little deeper behind the false façade the party display know that the party gets stronger after all agreements companies do with it. I think they laugh at the west peoples who maybe believe that they will let China be a democracy - they see that they can do what they want. We gave them the olympic games... one of the leaders said immediate that "now we can haunt Falun Gong much harder, but do it in the secret..."

What we give them will be used against it's people, and be a serious threath to the whole world. But, so what, I love money, and just look one day forward... I don't need to think... and let the truth be spread, just want to play the game.

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