Commercial silence about China, what is the equilibrium?

OK, the NBA and its players won’t much exercise their free speech rights, nor will university presidents, so how will this all look in the longer term?  Surely India and other nations are learning from the Chinese experience, and so here is one excerpt from my Bloomberg column:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India is an avowed student of the Chinese experiment. Is it so far-fetched to imagine that he would help to create comparable pressures on speech for institutions doing business with India? The more China’s strategy succeeds, the more likely it is to spread. Modi has not shied away from controversy in making Indian policy, so the domestic pressure to follow the Chinese model could be quite strong.

Imagine a world, not so far off, where Indonesia is a business’s fifth-largest customer or a university’s seventh-largest supplier of students. Will it really be so safe to criticize the government of Indonesia, even for employees of those institutions on their social media accounts? U.S. businesses today are quite reluctant to criticize their customers at all, regardless of how much they collectively or individually account for revenue.

The world is evolving into a place where countries and regimes are exempt from all significant public criticism from any entity (or its employees) with substantial interests overseas — whether commercial or academic. That scenario may sound dystopian, but in fact it would not be a major shift from the status quo.

It is also easy to imagine a norm evolving where major customers, say China and India, become offended if a business or its employees criticize a much smaller nation. The theory might be that if any criticism is allowed at all, eventually it will reach the larger (and more controversial) nations. Or perhaps the smaller nation is an ally or friend of the larger, more powerful one. So you had better not criticize Kiribati, either.

And my parenthetical:

(Paradoxically, China’s concern for speech over actions shows a respect for the power of discourse — and free speech — that contemporary America could learn from.)

Recommended, and here is India already flexing its muscle over Bezos and WaPo (NYT).

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Substantive institutional criticism--commercial AND academic--is the order of the day? Not a day too early.

Sounds like a perfect environment in which informed literary satire can dissect, display, and saute (with proper orthography) any and all waiting victims. (Who publishes literary satire today? --Any American re-issue of Edward St Aubyn's takedown of Man Booker Prize productions [Lost for Words] forthcoming?)

(The tricentenary of Swift's Gulliver's Travels, still the prose monument of English satire, will be upon us shortly, if coronaviruses don't kill us all first.)

+1

-1 seems Edward Burke was commenting on the wrong post.

True, my head's quanta were still entangled with the prose of Natalie Wolchover's earlier linked Quanta piece about new quantum level considerations: quantum error correction is new to me.

Otherwise, I think my comment posted earlier (thanks, EdR) was in fact intended for this thread or text column.

Insofar as Tyler's Bloomberg column addresses concerns about free speech rights not so much in China, India, or Indonesia as in the US, they're here to be exercised in the US at least in part in printed and published satires of governments at whatever level and of any civil institutions left standing under them.

When in doubt on this matter, I always repair to Juvenal's First Satire (ll. 28 to 30): without recent examples of Nilotic guttersnipes fluttering gold rings on sweating fingers, I still suspect these to be days in which properly it is difficult NOT to write satires of contemporary ways and means.

American institutions, no matter how derelict or moribund, bear sharp satiric examination: e. g., and this is free--the dubious states of education in the US, public and private, elementary and post-secondary. Sure, why not?

The Media Sector? Desperately in need of outside perspectives.

Science and tech sectors? Immunity from satiric literary treatment? I still enjoy Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One, a distant literary satire on sciences of the mortuary, but science and tech have accomplished much since Waugh's day without notable or memorable satiric regard cumulatively.

I think the US needs satiric texts, substantive satiric texts to help the polity ward off sclerotic thought and shave away accretions of cosmopolitan provincialism (even maybe conjure away some academic captivities of thought, who knows?).

Thx for sharing this article. Very much looking forward to reading more soon.

Hallo, ich habe Augenprobleme. Ich denke an augenlidstraffung

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My impression is that many Chinese see any criticism of the government of China as a violation of civil rights, with civil rights being understood in the Current Year mode as meaning that all nonwhites have the right to not have to put up with any impertinence from whites.

It's a fairly common reaction to criticism from outsiders to treat it as either uninformed virtue signalling or something that may have questionable motives behind it. I don't think any society is free of this tendency.

That said, I was in Taiwan last year and passed by a shop that had a sign out front saying, in English, "We support freedom in Hong Kong." Imagine how long that shop and that sign would have lasted had they been in mainland China. The Chinese government and its partisans are not just intolerant of criticism coming from white people.

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Zhuangzi I still take to be the classical Chinese author on non- or anti-Confucian "individualism" (or "self-marginalization"), and at least some of their classical poets across the interim have shared deep sympathies with his perspective(s).

--so I wonder how popular Zhuangzi, et al., have become or are becoming in, say, Hong Kong, Taiwan, other peripheries on the mainland. (Laozi, while not anti-Confucian and while attentive to statecraft, is not exactly Confucian.)

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There seems to be a misunderstanding of what the right to free speech means. The US Federal government is not allowed to restrict speech; firms may certainly restrict the speech of their employees. Equilibrium occurs when those wishing to criticize China or India no longer work for firms that forbid that activity.

Free speech isn't a legal issue. The constitution doesn't grant a right to speak your opinion, it prevents the government from stopping you from speaking your opinion. Then it becomes a legal issue.

For a business to sell out and punish the speech of it's employees to gain commercial advantage in an oppressive state isn't illegal; but that isn't the point.

Or if it is the only point then the idea of a globalized economy condemns itself as immoral and vile, and likely to lead to far worse consequences than any economic gains that could be had.

This is very similar to the Rotherham situation. Multiculturalism and it's tenets are condemned by what happened there; the people who got in the way of stopping those horrible acts were acting in good faith in a multicultural worldview. But they enabled evil. They used accusations of racism and all the institutional consequences that would follow from such an accusation to cover over evil and criminal acts.

So we have a situation where Globalization and Multiculturalism mean the rape of young girls and the murder of those who dare challenge the Chinese state are to be ignored, hidden and those who would dare bring them up face punishment. Legally.

As Tyler says, calculate the equilibrium.

@derek - along these lines, we were taught in law school, which I flunked out of, that in the USA the right to free speech is the weakest constitutional right, and for example private employers can place restrictions on it, as can government in terms of time, place (e.g., permits for the right to protest).
Also in view of the Saudi Arabia MBS hack of J. Besos phone reported the other day, there's all kinds of things that impinge free speech (e.g., blackmail) that happen in the private sector too, so it's not just a government issue.

On balance then, free speech is much ado about nothing. I mean think about your own life: do you dare criticize your pesky neighbors in public, and risk a defamation suit (especially in Singapore) or just let sleeping dogs like and just either gossip behind their back or say nothing? Free speech in short is not worth fighting over. One reason some of us use a nym when posting...

Sure. Nothing here is absolute. It is an attitude. Is it worth talking about Chinese treatment of Muslims? Is it worth knowing how many people they killed in Tienanmen a few years ago? Is it worth knowing how the FBI abused FISA processes? Lots of these things have little to do with what I do each day, but if you start seeing massive amounts of Chinese money showing up in Vancouver something is going on that may be worth talking about.

And the net beneficiaries of more open information are the Chinese communists. If you insist on meddling in every part of the economy and society, a free flow of information allows you to survive. Almost everything you hear you will dislike, even may cause you to move your assets to Vancouver. The information you really really need is rarely pleasant.

If speaking your mind means damaging your financial status it's understandable many will not do it...biting the hand that feeds you has never been a smart choice...been that way since the beginning of time be that way till the end

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"There seems to be a misunderstanding of what the right to free speech means. The US Federal government is not allowed to restrict speech; firms may certainly restrict the speech of their employees. "

You seem to be confusing the principle of free speech/freedom of expression with the first amendment of the bill of rights- which is limited to the power of the federal government.

No confusion. You wanna criticize China or India, work for a firm that allows you to. You wanna criticize the wokes, work for a university that allows you to.

Whoever said that talk should be completely free? If it is, it becomes cheap talk, which is what we have.

This misses the point. If we don't accept the U.S. government even indirectly trying to silence or bully people with unpopular opinions, why should we accept a foreign government doing the same thing?

Some people express concern over the influence of billionaires on public discourse but their resources -- and influence in the near future if not now -- pale in comparison to those of the governments of Saudi Arabia and China.

Indeed, you may achieve Dismalist's equilibrium another way; Chinese and Indian trade is censured by the US gov in response and the ChiCom gov declines to push the issue. It's probably what would win the vote.

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And I suspect it would be hard for Libertarians to argue to the contrary (of excluding companies who bow to ChiCom gov pressure to pressure employees).

If the US gov were to command companies to censure employees on their behalf, they'd be up in arms (quite rightly). So it would be hard to effectively a foreign authoritarian Communist party (everything they stand against!) pulling that same MO in the US.

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Note that "free speech" in this context largely means the promotion of Cultural Marxism via 'Woke Capital'. Woke Capital is unfettered and powerful in the US. Goldman Sachs just announced that it won't invest in non "diverse" companies. The fact that a state could impede and restrict Woke Capital, and inspire other states to do the same, is what really upsets those crowing about "free speech" here.

If GS is doing that, it's because they think they can make more money doing so than not. Whether they are genuinely 'woke' or just cynically pretending to be, if GS thinks that's the way to make more money, we should probably give them the benefit of the doubt.

If there's one thing Goldman Sachs knows, it's how to make money.

Or, which might amount to the same thing, they think they can steal a march on their rivals.

Meaning, get that woke money before their rivals.

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What on earth does "cultural Marxism" mean in this context? Is Goldman Sachs part of a plot to encourage the proletariat to revolt against capitalism? How is it in GS's interests to undermine private ownership of capital and what evidence is there that this is their goal?

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Dos this reluctance account for the lack of media coverage and student protests regarding Occupied Cyprus?

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"It is also easy to imagine a norm evolving where major customers, say China and India, become offended if a business or its employees criticize a much smaller nation. "

It seems likely, that China, based upon past behavior would encourage companies to criticize other entities, countries, companies, NGO's, etc that China finds itself at odds with. I'm not sure China will be content with businesses just remaining silent. They'll expect business to toe the party line.

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"U.S. businesses today are quite reluctant to criticize their customers at all... [so this global phenomenon] would not be a major shift from the status quo"

Woke capitalism sort of undermines this point. They do criticize their customers, so long as they're the right race, gender, etc.

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Have no fear. I’m sure both the Democrats and Republicans will fight tooth and nail to maintain freedoms in the USA. Of course what freedoms will be highly subjective.

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That is what blog comment sections are for - criticizing institutions.

You in the back, stop giggling.

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In some sense, I don't care. If this leads to a world where people universally recognize the hypocrisy and clay-footedness of sports stars, celebrities, fortune 500 CEOs, and university administrators (and therefore, routinely ignore all their political pronouncements and posturing) -- that would be fine.

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I think Cowen has the causation backwards: American businesses that relies on China for production have to lay low so as not to bring attention to the fact that the products they sell to Americans are made in China (or assembled in American using intermediate goods imported from China). With our mercurial president, no business in America is safe from a surprise attack. Consider the amount of campaign contributions and patronage of Trump owned businesses because of the threat that Trump will attack them as bad for America.

You think American conglomerates doing business in China tiptoe around the Chinese government because American consumers might learn their products with a “Made in China” label were made in China?

It might be nap time. You should go lay down for a little bit and come back later.

No I think he’s saying our NBA players are manufactured in China and then shipped to the US.

Pretty funny, +5 i.p.

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On a side note - after the last week, I kinda want to see a Bernie Sanders administration. It might end up being like Jesse “The Body” Ventura’s governorship in Minnesota. Both republicans and Democrats hated him so much that they were forced to work together against him.

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China is doing nothing the US right-wing doesn't do, or try to do.

In particular, Trump has issued executive orders gagging speech if the courts do not intervene, with sanctions on corporations, specifically NGOs involved in speaking and acting on moral controversies. These are in line with similar gag orders by GOP legislators and executives.

Specifically the attacks on free speech by all the Planned Parenthood corporations in the US, and on global health care NGOs dealing with various kinds of sexual violence.

And Trump's gag rule on peace advocacy and human rights groups using the same "BDS" tactics used against Cuba, Iran, etc against the violations of property rights and human rights by the nation of Israel by defining the nation state of Israel as a religion.

Paradoxically, "Paradoxically, China’s concern for speech over actions shows a respect for the power of discourse — and free speech — that contemporary America could learn from." has it backwards. Instead of trying to gag speech by prison, torture, execution, China has learned from the US to use sanctions that harm corporate profits.

Of course, that's based on the GOP claiming that not-for-profits, (almost always subsidized by charitable contributions which don't carry tax benefits for most donors), providing birth control, sex ed, abortions, etc are high profit businesses.

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Not to worry, it will always be allowable to criticize the USA, as long as the political leadership is white.

Maybe we need to migrate to a forum for anonymous criticism, so people can actually express views.

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At the end of the day, corporate cowardice is one of those collective action problems.

If nothing else there are compliance costs for making sure that the CCP will not object to something for idiosyncratic reasons related to some arcana of Chinese culture (e.g. many Americans might not know about the current CCP leader's dislike of Winnie the Pooh). If everyone told the CCP to go take a hike, then everyone would end up with fewer expenses and we could direct more resources toward global consumption. But if some grovel and bootlick, then they might be rewarded with favored treatment in China at their competition's expense. Thus ensues an iterated prisoner's dilemma.

Long term, the best payout would be for everyone to ignore China, but real world scenarios have historically required some sort of enforcement mechanism. Almost as though some body, perhaps one, I dunno elected by all the members of the economy, might simply sanction China (and India and so forth) in order to counter a long term threat.

China has been playing "defect" against American interests for too long, maybe Trump's trade war has scared the CCP into "cooperate", but we should be willing to act collectively to punish bad actors rather than endure constant pressure for our corporations to play "defect" with China.

There's no dancing around the fact that China makes the best bargain bin stuff. Not the best quality but for the price paid its value is hard to beat. You would think India, Indonesia, Mexico, or most of Latin America would chomp at the bit but nobody can come close. Vietnam is at full capacity and it's only a tiny fraction of what China can produce. Without addressing the production sourcing issue, there will be no serious alternative and China will continue to gain in strength. Instead of building a wall in Mexico, Trump should push for more factories there.

Suppose we raise a tariff on China. At worst we pay a bit more for the "bargain bin" stuff and have more money in the public purse to counteract China. At best, production shifts to a slightly less cost efficient producer, we pay a tiny bit more, and China ends up receiving a severe economic shock.

Rather than letting politicians pick winners and losers (e.g. Mexico), we should just punish malefactors directly and let the economy sort out where to shift production.

This also establishes a nice precedent should Mexico, or wherever, decide to get on the defector train.

Game theory tells us that in the long run, if only one side plays "defect", the stable equilibrium will be for the defecting side to defect at every possible opportunity. Either play a few defects, knowing that it will hurt us in the short run, or we accept the CCP's vision of the world.

At the end of the day we tried playing a long run of cooperation with China, 30 years or more depending on how you want to count, yet we have not seen China learn to cooperate. Time for something different.

+1

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You don't need to be a large state to cow powerful institutions. Seen any graphic depictions of Mohammad lately? You can't even view them in books about the Danish cartoon controversy!

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Tall Chinese men will marry tall Chinese women and in 75 years China has enough tall people to put together a pretty good team.

Why not harvest Yao Ming's genetic potential now to speed things along?

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I am a great fan of the defending free speech as a constitutional right, but free speech isn't good because the constitution says so; free speech got put in the constitution because it was a good thing, so the benefits of free speech don't magically disappear outside the protection of the constitution. For one thing, it's impossible to coerce a population into self-censoring themselves about a country without them being aware that they have to self-censor themselves about it. So Chinese consumers favour western brands of some foods because they worry that scandals about contaminated food from Chinese brands will be hidden from them. (For that matter, when I buy green tea I make sure it's from a large western brand, not a niche brand or a Chinese import, for that reason). I think that countries that use economic pressure to censor speech will lose more than they gain when this becomes obvious, and I think it is worth encouraging this reaction, because when we decide what foreign policy to support or what product to buy we need good information on which to make that decision.

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Again, it's unclear to me why anyone, least of all libertarians, would expect a global corporation employing H-1B visa holders to cater to second-worlders to uphold American values when they have no connection to America beyond the financial benefits they realize from holding offices in the arbitrary economic zone formerly known as the United States. Maybe if this was important to you, you should have insisted from the beginning that American companies employ Americans and serve American customers and interests, instead of insisting that they were free to take any number of anti-American actions in the name of freedom and profit.

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