Capitalism and freedom?

by Chris Bertram on June 16, 2005

From yesterday’s Guardian :

Civil liberties groups have condemned an arrangement between Microsoft and Chinese authorities to censor the internet.
The American company is helping censors remove “freedom” and “democracy” from the net in China with a software package that prevents bloggers from using these and other politically sensitive words on their websites.
The restrictions, which also include an automated denial of “human rights”, are built into MSN Spaces, a blog service launched in China last month by Shanghai MSN Network Communications Technology, a venture in which Microsoft holds a 50% stake.
Users who try to include such terms in subject lines are warned: “This topic contains forbidden words. Please delete them.”

{ 30 comments }

1

bad Jim 06.16.05 at 2:39 am

See also “Microsoft deletes ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ in China Find and replace” in The Register.

I think it’s slightly wonderful to find liberty treated like pornography. It’s putting up a neon sign saying “Here are the forbidden treasures!”

Darnton’s The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France engagingly documents (and partly incorporates) the trafficking of “philosophical” works in late eighteenth-century France.

The argument that democracy is like illegal sex has always worked for me.

2

bi 06.16.05 at 2:41 am

From: spammer
Subject: Hu;man ri,ghts and Cia|is f0r sa1e star,ting at $199

Oh well. But remember that some libertarians (e.g. ESR) treat Microsoft as an enemy of capitalism (though they never propose any concrete measures for stopping Microsoft other than making lots of noise). And I figure that Linux is still legally available in China?

3

Geoff Coupe 06.16.05 at 3:00 am

Perhaps you should have read the rest of The Guardian’s piece. http://spaces.msn.com/members/gcoupe/Blog/cns!1pfnKMM_BORf8-PhonbrwGoA!930.entry

4

abb1 06.16.05 at 4:22 am

What a bunch of bozos; they will never build a perfect communist society, I fear.

It’s much more efficient to redefine words than to ban them.

5

enzo r 06.16.05 at 6:10 am

The scariest passage from that Guardian article is this:

”…Microsoft’s boss, Bill Gates, praised China’s leaders, who have mixed market economics with rigid political control. “It is a brand new form of capitalism, and as a consumer it’s the best thing that ever happened,” he said.”

Mala tempora currunt.

6

Jeremy Osner 06.16.05 at 6:46 am

Fr33d0m and d3m0c4cy are on the march!

7

jet 06.16.05 at 7:17 am

Given all the 1337 HaX0r3 in China that I only fend off from my servers by shutting down most public services, keeping everything patched to date, and never putting a Micro$oft machine in a public space, I’m guessing that Freedom and Democracy will be making several appearances on Ch1n4 M3N.

8

DGF 06.16.05 at 7:54 am

We are witnessing the last throes of an illegitimate government desperate to retain power. They won’t be able to stave off the empowering effects of economic liberalization and ever-increasing Internet access and dependence for much longer. The net in particular seems to be rapidly transforming freedom of speech from an abstract and elective “civil liberty” into an irrepressible fact of nature (metaphorically speaking, and only because an effective means of content control doesn’t yet exist).

9

Tom T. 06.16.05 at 8:11 am

dgf, you’re talking about Microsoft, right?

:-)

10

bi 06.16.05 at 8:19 am

By the way, democracy is like illegal sex. And so is rape. In fact, rape _is_ a form of illegal sex. Truly, rape is non-conformist and subversive…

11

Nick 06.16.05 at 8:23 am

An argument could be made in two directions:

1. Such is the nature of the corporation: they do what is in their economic, short-term best interests, and ignore humanistic ideals or any attempt at bettering society. If Gates’ quoted comments could not be put down to simple pandering, they would be bloody sinister. In a world dominated by states like China, corporations would comply with, even assist, governments, rather than help free people.

2. Someone at Microsoft has realised that the alternative is probably No Blogs At All, and this is simply one of many steps towards the opening of the floodgates.

I know that, say, Livejournal doesn’t censor its blogs, so does anyone know if China permits its citizens to visit livejournal.com? If not, MSN Spaces is surely a positive step. The more people who have blogs, the less easy they’ll be to individually regulate.

12

Keith 06.16.05 at 8:35 am

I’ve always thought of Democracy more like sodomy– the form of governance that dare not speak its name.

Kinda makes you wonder about the Religious Right and their attack on the “sodomites” and their nefarious gay Agenda. Does that make PFLAG the new Sons of Liberty?

13

jet 06.16.05 at 8:41 am

Bi,
Are you trying to say that Democracy is subversive if not all parties are willing to accept it? I’m gonna have to disagree with you and say that the murderous assholes who run China deserve to be raped if they don’t get out of the way. You’ve got to keep it in perspective. There is a whole class of government technocrats hell bent on retaining power no matter whom they have to repress, kill, imprison, or go to war with, their capitalistic miracle demanding Democracy or not.

14

tps12 06.16.05 at 8:45 am

Is 13375p34k even possible in Chinese? I guess you could do ASCII art, something like

/
—— |
| | ———
—— | | |
| | ———
—— | | |
| | ———
——

15

Brennan 06.16.05 at 8:46 am

“From: spammer
Subject: Hu;man ri,ghts and Cia|is f0r sa1e star,ting at $199″

…So funny, it might be true

16

tps12 06.16.05 at 8:46 am

Um okay, just trust me that that looks awesome in plaintext.

17

bi 06.16.05 at 8:58 am

jet: gah, relax. I was just playing around with bad Jim’s argument that “democracy is like illegal sex”.

18

abb1 06.16.05 at 8:59 am

We are witnessing the last throes of an illegitimate government desperate to retain power. They won’t be able to stave off the empowering effects of economic liberalization and ever-increasing Internet access and dependence for much longer.

Um, actually, economic liberalization works much better under an authoritarian regime than in a democracy. See Chile under Pinochet, Singapore under PAP, Taiwan, South Korea, etc. and – duh – China, of course.

Democracies don’t put up with too much of economic liberalization.

19

jet 06.16.05 at 9:34 am

abb1,
I think you mean Social(ism) Democracies, not Jeffersonian Democracies.

20

Barry 06.16.05 at 9:35 am

Actually, that’s not true. Chile didn’t do so well, and neither are many, many countries which have dictatorships. Right-wingers just like to highlight those very few which have done well, and to blame the others on somebody else.

There’s a saying, that for every Lee Kuan Yew there are many Mugabes or Idi Amins or Kimg Il Sungs

21

Donald Johnson 06.16.05 at 9:56 am

Barry, the fact that many dictatorships weren’t run by economic liberals doesn’t mean that economic liberals don’t like certain dictatorships. The Chicago boys seemed to like Pinochet. Even Brad DeLong was talking about how politics can “pollute” what the market would have wrought (in a recent post on free trade). Some economists really like the market above all else.

I don’t think abb1 was praising Chile–he was ( criticizing the notion that economic liberalism necessarily goes with democracy.

22

Donald Johnson 06.16.05 at 9:57 am

To be fair to Brad DeLong (not that I think he’s fair to people he doesn’t like), he wasn’t defending Chile or dictatorships, just free trade. Didn’t want to give the wrong impression.

23

Pat 06.16.05 at 10:13 am

You know, if the program tells the blogger that they’ve used a forbidden word, and then lets them change it, and doesn’t notify the chinese government in the meantime, it won’t accomplish a thing.

freedom

“You have just used a forbidden word!”

liberty

“You have just used a forbidden word!”

not-oppression

“Message approved!”

There we go!

24

Bob B 06.16.05 at 10:17 am

What’s new? It’s all there in Emmanuel Goldstein on: THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF
OLIGARCHICAL COLLECTIVISM in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eightyfour:

” . . Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity. But stupidity is not enough. On the contrary, orthodoxy in the full sense demands a control over one’s own mental processes as complete as that of a contortionist over his body. Oceanic society rests ultimately on the belief that Big Brother is omnipotent and that the Party is infallible. . . “
http://orwell.ru/library/novels/1984/english/en_p_2

25

radek 06.16.05 at 10:20 am

‘Chile didn’t do so well’

Helluva lot better than under Allende. And when the crisis struck in late 70’s it was a regional,
maybe even a world wide crisis that had little to do with Chile’s particular form of the political system.

26

abb1 06.16.05 at 11:26 am

Well, if I was a marxist, I’d say that authoritarian capitalism – socio-economic system that combines modern economic forces with feudal social structure – probably is the most efficient system for rapid economic development.

But eventually market losers become more and more restive and the system, in order to remain stable and, often, simply to survive, has to transform itself into some form of egalitarian democratic capitalism.

And once that happens, capitalist economic model that is itself anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian becomes a hindrance and will have to be replaced eventually.

That’s how the theory goes, or one of them anyway. It seems logical, but is it going to pan out like this in the real life? Who the heck knows…

27

Gil 06.16.05 at 11:37 am

Why the queston mark after “Capitalism and Freedom”?

Isn’t it clear that the economic liberalizations are adding more pressure towards more political liberalization? Of course, they’ll try to block things somewhat, but it’s futile and now citizens can communicate with each other (and the rest of the world) like never before.

Microsoft should be praised for helping to enable these changes. Of course they have to comply with local regulations, but the tools they offer are hastening the reduction of oppression, not increasing it.

Is the alternative, no blogs, better?

28

Uncle Kvetch 06.16.05 at 12:52 pm

Isn’t it clear that the economic liberalizations are adding more pressure towards more political liberalization?

Given that the article linked to by Chris suggests pretty much the exact opposite, I would have to say no, it isn’t clear at all.

29

abb1 06.16.05 at 1:20 pm

Yup, in 1990 the Russians suddenly jumped to full political liberalization without any preceding economic liberalizations whatsoever.

The Chinese, it seems, have managed to avoid political liberalization precisely by providing economic liberalizations, creating a significant and powerful elite symbiotic with the current political system.

As long as Chinese rural folk (who, of course, couldn’t care less about internet access, they’ve probably never seen a refrigerator) tolerate this, the political system should remain stable, or, at least, it looks that way.

30

Glenn Bridgman 06.16.05 at 6:04 pm

Lets examine the alternatives here:

Microsoft agrees to censor the service and user’s can’t talk about the banned words on the service.

Microsoft refuses to censor the service and user’s…..still can’t talk about the banned words on the service. Or any other words for that matter.

China, not Microsoft, deserves your ire.

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