Apple leads editorial list of ‘corporate chicken-hearts’

From Megan McArdle’s “These spineless weaklings have shamed themselves and their country” in Saturday’s Washington Post:

[T]he NBA-wide genuflecting to China is just one disturbing example of a much larger problem as U.S. companies have wiped Taiwan off their maps, erased Tibetan characters from American films, and expelled or cut ties with anyone who dared suggest that democracy is better than China’s one-party rule, and that liberty is better than living in an authoritarian surveillance state. These corporate chicken-hearts include: Apple, American Airlines, Blizzard Entertainment, Coach, Delta Air Lines, Disney, ESPN, Gap, Marriott, Nike, Ray-Ban, Tiffany, Vans, and Viacom…

Those business “leaders” who have tacitly endorsed Chinese policy are too afraid of losing their access to China’s 1.4 billion consumers, or its marvelously cheap and efficient supply chains, to bother about any of that. And in fairness, they do have a duty to protect shareholders’ investments and to increase their value if possible, and therefore arguably have no moral obligation to stand up for liberty.

That may be a fundamental indictment of American capitalism, as many have suggested over the past few days. But one can never indict “markets” without implicating millions of co-conspirators: the shareholders and consumers who will keep buying the companies’ shoes and watching their movies and attending their games no matter how eagerly they parrot the Chinese Communist Party line.

The rich world is still a much more valuable market for these companies than even 1.4 billion consumers with low to moderate incomes. If the public had ever demanded that they stand up for liberty, they’d have quickly become champions of freedom. But we won’t, so they don’t.

My take: Tim Cook is still paying the price for pulling Even John Gruber has called BS. As the saying goes, “He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.”


  1. Jerry W Doyle said:
    I always have had ambivalent feelings about companies who take on cultural and social values as part of their mission. It’s a fine line to walk, similar to interjecting oneself into a lively discussion on politics or religion. Some folk quickly during the discourse are going to become offended. It gets heated.

    This is where I always felt more comfortable with Steve Jobs approach to running Apple. Steve said that “… companies were mankind’s best invention for getting groups of people to pull in the same direction.” So, if the company is focus on what it is about, “making the world’s greatest products and providing premium services” then the company doesn’t get caught up morally in these geo-political issues.

    Tim Cook, though, decided to take Apple a giant leap beyond where Steve Jobs believed the company should focus. Tim has stated, “… I don’t think business should only deal in commercial things. Business to me is nothing more than a collection of people. If people should have values, then by extension a company should have values.”

    Well, all of what Tim says is fine. At some point, though, true adherence to that business philosophy is going to create a public image problem if that business philosophical principle is not applied in an “equitable” manner across the board on all issues confronting the company.

    Steve Jobs could have side-stepped this issue easily in the way he ran Apple by saying “I’m taking care of business. I’ll leave the social, cultural and political issues to governments and their citizens.”

    Tim Cook is in a bind because he interjected himself deeply into humanitarian causes and pursues them vigorously until pursuing them causes a blowback to Apple’s bottom-line. Is that approach hypocrisy; or is it an oxymoron? Let’s ignore truth and use euphemisms.

    October 12, 2019
  2. Gregg Thurman said:
    Megan is another in a long line of shorted sighted do gooders.

    First and foremost she doesn’t like Corporate America and ignores that the abuses she cites have been going on since 1949. She’s also probably a consumer of a number of lower cost Chinese products.

    Lastly, in expressing her dislike of American capitalism she conveniently disregards that the best way to effect change is active engagement, not confrontation.

    Megan is the worst possible critic of Corporate policy, worse still she has an unbridled pulpit to spew her nonsense.

    October 12, 2019
    • “Megan is another in a long line of shorted sighted do gooders”

      More like a lapsed do gooder…

      From McCardle’s Wikipedia page:

      During her junior year of college, she worked as a canvasser for the Public Interest Research Groups, the nonprofit founded by Ralph Nader. Her experience there hurried along her “transition from ultraliberal to libertarian.” The organization was, she later wrote, “the most deceptive, evil place I’ve ever worked.”

      October 12, 2019
      • Fred Stein said:
        I like Gregg’s comments and Philip, your coda.

        Seems like Megan is a “joiner”. People join organizations, fall into group think, and enjoy the false sense of moral superiority by throwing stones at others.

        October 12, 2019
      • Gregg Thurman said:
        As much as some discussions here drive me to drink, it’s discussions like the above that keep me coming back.

        October 13, 2019
  3. Fred Stein said:
    The giant hypocrisy is that all governments do evil things, and most of have a sin or two in our past.

    October 12, 2019
  4. Robert Paul Leitao said:
    In my view these are sanctimonious shrieks mixed with loud howls of hollow hypocrisy. Any American can scream vitriol and profanities with impunity from the cheap seats of our political theatre yet we turn silent and look away from the labels which indicate the nation of origin on the products we buy for the sake of expedience and savings.

    The PRC is not governed by a western-style democracy. The nation’s One-China policy has not been seriously questioned by an American president from either political party since the “opening of China” in the early 1970s. Only the interpretation and application of that policy have been the subject of some political debate.

    It has been the working policy of this nation and its political leaders to engage China through dialogue and trade. In my view, the issues related to the app in question have little to do with free speech in Hong Kong and more to do efforts to reduce violence and maintain some level of civil order. The issues involving Hong Kong are unique and complex and influenced by the political transfer or “Handover” of Hong Kong from British colonial sovereignty in 1997 with negotiations beginning as early as the mid-1980s.

    So there’s an issue of an app which discloses the location of police in Hong Kong during a time of civil unrest. After conferring with security personnel in Hong Kong, Apple chose to remove the app for the local App Store. This is hardly an international incident. It may be an act of common sense.

    It’s outrageous that angst over claims of human rights violations by the government of the PRC and concerns about the lack of western-style freedoms in the nation be placed at the doorstep of Tim Cook. In my view, it’s nothing but a cheap shot from the cheap seats of the American political theatre-in-the-round.

    There’s a presidential and congressional elections in 2020. For those who have real and sincere concerns about any issue related to China, speak now and speak to the candidates running for president, the Senate and the House. Let’s focus on making our own political system work, safeguarding our own freedoms of expression and be grateful for the freedoms we do enjoy. Scapegoating Tim Cook for a rational decision, whether we agree with that decision or not, does nothing to foster earnest discussion and debate.

    October 12, 2019
  5. Jerry W Doyle said:
    There’s a joke told amongst some business folk in China. Xi Jinping is sitting in his limousine reading a newspaper when his driver interrupted the president and says, “…Comrade, there’s a problem. The sign says turn Left for communism, turn Right for capitalism. Which way should I go? Xi tells his driver, “…There’s no problem. Just signal left and go right.”

    The hypocrisy existing in the Peoples Republic of China is most visible under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP is a small group of elites that cling to power over good Chinese citizens. The CCP’s ideology is power and therefore, a defense of that power to continue its privileged status.

    The CCP makes multiple attempts to explain its governing model. It is a benevolent Singapore style autocracy. Other times it is a capitalist development state, such as Japan. It is Neo-Confuscianism mixed with market economics. It is post Soviet Russia methodically grabbing productive public assets for private gain. The CCP is a robber-baron of socialism. The CCP makes multiple attempts to describe itself as anything other than what it is: the party of Communism run by elites who benefit from the spoils at the expense of Chinese society.

    The hypocrisy knows no end within the CCP. The CCP preaches equality, yet presides over incomes as unequal as anywhere in Asia. There was a period when the Party disposed the pre-revolutionary comprador class of Chinese businessmen, but didn’t hesitate with shame while rushing into an alliance with Hong Kong tycoons when taking back the British colony in 1997.

    Rupert Murdoch once remarked in the late 1990s that he “… had yet to meet any communists during his trips to China.” It is an odd statement. Anyone who studies the CCP and the PRC knows that any Chinese government official of any consequence is nominally, communist; or at least a member of the Party. The Party is omnipresent in the country’s politics. No outside entity does business in China without approval of the CCP. When a Chinese professor learned of Murdoch’s remark the professor responded, “…the Party is like God. He is everywhere. You just can’t see him.”

    American and European CEOs long have pushed aside many complaints when dealing with Chinese leaders, but not when later meeting with American political leaders. American political leaders get an ear-full from our country’s CEOs.

    It is well known that in a meeting with Chinese Communist Party leaders with fifteen of Europe’s most senior business executives and the EU Trade Commissioner in attendance all voicing many complaints about Chinese market access, that the Chinese Vice-Premier sat patiently listening to everyone complain of Chinese government “irregularities.” The most senior Chinese official responded: “… I know you have complaints. The charm of the Chinese market, though, is irresistible.”

    In summary, according to executives attending the meeting the Chinese Vice-Premier was saying that whatever your complaints may be, the Chinese market is so big that you are going to come anyway. Even worse, many of the executives realized that the Vice-Premier was correct.

    What we saw this pass week has been going on clandestinely for decades. The frustration of China not willing to play on an equal trading field and adhere to the rules of the WTO of which it agreed to do when it was allowed to join along with the frustration in Hong Kong (that also has been bubbling for years) all now is erupting to the public surface.

    October 12, 2019

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