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Google and the Anti-Capitalism of the Right

Blogs are slamming Google for cooperating with China.

I am saddened and dismayed to see anti-capitalist and anti-corporate rhetoric, especially from right-of-center blogs. Making a mistake is one thing; maybe Google did. But assuming the cause must be the profit motive is anti-capitalist. There are many ways to make a mistake that are not about greed.

I have not seen, in a single post, any actual evidence that Google is doing this out of greed. No arguments explaining why the profit motive causes mistakes. No quotes from Google executives advocating greed. No calculations about how much money Google will make by this decision, and whether that is enough to cause corruption. No discussion of whether this is profitable at all (generating negative publicity is bad for business). No explanations of why people with good ideals would turn to evil beyond assertions that money is a force for evil. The big fuss is, I have to say, nothing but unreflective calumny that one would normally expect only from very silly lefties.

I don't know if Google's cooperation is a mistake or not. I (and other bloggers) do not have the necessary inside information to accurately judge just what options Google had and exactly why it chose this. Guessing that Google is a sinful capitalist company may be fun, but it doesn't tell us why this happened or whether it was the right decision.

There are dual sins at work here. First we have the debate tactic of saying the people we disagree with have immoral motives (while failing to acknowledge their actual position). Second, we have the profit motive as the evil motive of choice.

Here is an example of an unfair headline:

Don't Be Evil - Unless It's Profitable
The Conservative Voice
The right wing anti-capitalist pieces don't seriously argue their position. What could they say? That US corporations are greedy and corrupt and if only we weren't capitalist we could live in freedom, with no censorship?

This piece calls Google evil, and suggests that caring about business may entice Google more deeply into evil. It suggests Google plans to notify users when search results are blocked, but it asserts that is only worth brownie points and makes Google a little less evil. It goes on to say:

They say that they will have a link somewhere on the Google.cn page enabling users to access the U.S.-hosted version at: http://www.google.com/ig?hl=zh-CN. So that Chinese users who prefer can opt for the pre-Google.cn experience.
but doesn't believe this to absolve Google of evil because it might not be displayed prominently enough. Evil is the premise, not the conclusion.

Here is Google's explanation of its decision.

Edit: "Very silly lefties" links to the Democratic Underground. If you don't believe in conspiracy theories, that doesn't apply to you.

Elliot Temple on January 27, 2006

Comments (11)

a insightful and poignant critique of the criticisms, and while I agree, may I suggest some possible explanations?
1) While going for profit may not be immoral, neither is it necessarily moral: and indeed, more then once, companies have been lead down immoral paths for profit, so it does not harm us to be appregehensive, consider, and investigate.
2) Perhaps the claims of ‘evil’ are for sensationalism…some accusers might have their own agenda, such as fearing China’s growing power and influence, a hot topic for the last few years, so rather then an accusation meant to stand on logic or ethics, it is actually a emotional argument…”beware!” They cry

Lastly, as a very silly leftist, may I point out that silliness or bad ideas are not inherently lefty[evil] just because you disagree with them? I hope you see the irony in that, though admittedly, you are not a hardcore leftist basher as I’ve seen in some others

Sitraahra at 2:57 AM on January 28, 2006 | #44
sitraaha: I'm curious whether, as a leftist (clearly not very silly), you are aware why people on the libertarian right tend to believe that profit is fundamentally moral. (If there is anyone who believes it is necessarily moral, they would be from the very silly right, so let's ignore them.)

Sir Michael at 4:14 AM on January 28, 2006 | #45
> But assuming the cause must be the profit motive is anti-capitalist.

What? Why is assuming a profit motive anti-capitalist? I don't buy that argument at all. Further, I don't think it's at all a stretch to suggest that a corporation would be interested in profit. I also think your "anti-capitalist", "anti-corporate" complaints are unfounded. The links you provide seem only to show evidence of anti-censorship.

> we have the debate tactic of saying the people we disagree with have immoral motives (while failing to acknowledge their actual position).

Is that sorta like painting people as "anti-captialist" and "anti-corporate" while failing to acknowledge their actual position?

Anonymous at 12:27 PM on January 28, 2006 | #46

Assuming a profit motive is the cause *of evil* is an anti-capitalist attitude. Someone with a positive attitude towards capitalism would only start guessing a mistake was based on trying to make money after being presented with good arguments that it was. A capitalist would in general expect the profit motive to be either a neutral or positive influence.

Each link about anti-capitalism shows a blogger saying Google did something bad, and saying the reason Google did it was to make money.

I realise their intended point was not that capitalism is bad, but it's implicit in their posts.

Elliot at 5:20 PM on January 28, 2006 | #47
I have written something about whether Google did evil as a comment here.

Elliot at 5:44 PM on January 28, 2006 | #48
to Sir Michael:

hmmm. well, I am not a libertarian, so I cannot be sure, but there certainly are some very positive attributes to capitalism: more free time, more freedom to pursue random ends, and the entire thing about getting new stuff is great: we all like stuff. Historically, the rise of capitalism has also lead to amazing breakthroughs and revolutions of processes, while at the same time socialism [communism in particular] is associated with backwards thinking, totalitarionism, and enemy nations. So, if they embrace the good elements and/or dismiss the bad of capitalism or embrace the bad elements of socialism and/or dismiss the good elements, they might find profit to be fundamentally moral. I certainly see the positive aspects of capitalism, though I have one friend in particular, a libertarian by chance, who can't seem to see the positive aspects of socialism and dismisses the negative aspects of communism. You might even know him, though I'm not sure

Sitraahra at 10:37 PM on January 28, 2006 | #49
Many Socialists are well-intentioned and we share the same general goals in terms of human development. Many have seen the roots of dissatisfaction in their families or friends; others correctly see great inequities and suffering on a global scale. Who could disagree with the need for improvement.

The real question isn't whether to find profit is fundamentally moral. Rather, it's whether the mechanism that creates the profit -- providing something that is of higher quality and at a lower price (the revolution in processes that has been mentioned) -- is the most advanced organized system of development on the planet today; this includes leadership in science, democratic processes, relatively high standards of living, and culture, including a thriving blogisphere.

Michael Bacon at 7:02 PM on January 29, 2006 | #50
To sitraahra:

some very positive attributes to capitalism: more free time, more freedom to pursue random ends, and the entire thing about getting new stuff is great: we all like stuff. Historically, the rise of capitalism has also lead to amazing breakthroughs and revolutions of processes

I asked about profit, not capitalism generally, but the issues are similar. I think most libertarians (of the kind who believe that profit is fundamentally good) are in favor of profit not for the reasons you gave but for the following one: in systems in which transactions are motivated only by profit (which, to them, would include all altruistic motivations), all participants to every transaction consider themselves to benefit by it. This is fundamentally good, under a wide range of conceptions of morality. 'Pure' libertarians might deny that any other factors can ever outweigh that good, but most people on the libertarian right merely take it as a baseline assumption which any proposal to use force as a motivator instead of profit has to work hard to rebut.

Sir Michael at 9:56 AM on January 30, 2006 | #51
Here's the announcement on Google's own blog.

It contains Google's explanation for their choice.

Gil at 1:19 PM on February 1, 2006 | #52
Pretending for a moment that morals exist, the profit motive is morally neutral.

It can be profitable to me to do lots of research and come up with, say, a cure for [your horrible disease here].

Equally, it can be profitable for me to do lots of research and come up with a biological weapon that, say, slowly and unstoppably burns the skin off of anyone in a ten mile radius. At least I hope so, or my life's work will be in vain.

Assume, in this case, Google took to censorship to make themselves more money. If censorship is bad, then the profit motive has led to bad.

Obviously, all these points don't happen in a vacuum, and have endless knock-on effects/consequences. The scientist searching for a cure may bring forward knowledge that allows for 'better' biological weapons, and vice versa.

And if the Google service in China is now better, people may be able to educate themselves and work their way up to become, well, the corrupt and sadistic species we call 'politicians'.

A man can dream, though.


Anonymous at 5:23 AM on February 9, 2006 | #53
To Sir Michael

sorry its been awhile

what about the term 'ill gotten gains'? While both participants may be happy now, a transaction may effect others [a thief selling goods and the sonsumer is happy, the one stolen from is not], or the participents may change their mind later. And additionally, there are both situation where people might think 'man, I'm getting screwed in this deal, but I have no choice....'...an alternative choice, being death, starvation, etc. If we were talking about capitalism is genral, of course, these would not be relevent, but profit is much simpler.

And isn't capitalism more of a theory of supply, demand, and style of labor force? Although, perhaps libertarians have taken capitalism and given is a moral element as well: I dunno, I should ask my friend. Or is the morality of profit called soemthig different all togather? Plutothetics?

Sitraahra at 12:07 AM on February 10, 2006 | #54

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)