Friday, January 15, 2010

The Power of Corporations

Google has announced it will exit China unless the government stops censoring its search engine, and now everyone's talking about it (see, for example, these good articles at The Economist, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal).

Google's actions come in response to hackers who attempted to breach the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Now human rights activists around the world are celebrating. To show solidarity, many Chinese have laid flowers outside Google's office.

What strikes me about this development is that it dramatically demonstrates how corporations can function as powerful political actors. We're already very familiar with the rapacious-political side of corporations, but Google's case suggests that there also exists a principled-political side. Whether or not Google is truly acting on principle, as it claims, is besides the point; the move still forces China to confront its human rights problems, which is really more success than U.S. diplomacy can speak for.

Thus, in this incident we see how corporations can pick up where states fail. The U.S. government can wheedle and reprimand and scold the Chinese government indefinitely, but when it comes to business, money talks. Plus, corporations are more politically agile than governments, which are weighed down by treaties and concerns over trade relations.

In the coming decade, I expect corporations to play a larger role in internatinal affairs. They have weight and power and they can use those for good as well as for ill. Please, corporations of the next decade, don't be evil.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting analysis. I think that, with globalization, corporations are beginning to occupy roles traditionally held by states; economic bonds often transcend political constraints. Perhaps the most important example is that of how the promise of capitalism contributed to the dissolution of the communist Soviet Union.