While a worldwide economic depression is all but certain, the despotism and wars that depressions usually breed are not certain. My nominees for next year’s Nobel Peace Prize are Google’s co-founders Larry Page, president of products, and Sergey Brin, president of technology, and Eric Schmidt who joined Google as chairman and chief executive officer in 2001.
Last week Google threatened to shut down its Chinese operations over two key issues: censorship of its search results and, even more importantly, a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack on (Google’s) corporate infrastructure originating from China.” The latter seemed to be designed to obtain information on dissidents and journalists and was almost certainly launched by the Chinese government.
Some have argued that Google was never much of a success in China and that they will surrender very little if they pull out of the Chinese market. On the face of it, these arguments are absurd. China is, all at once, the world’s fastest growing major economy and one of the world’s fastest-growing markets for mobile phones and Internet usage. With Google’s expansion of its core business into mobile phones, they will potentially surrender billions of dollars of profits by leaving the Chinese market.
There is an important business reason why Google is willing to risk its Chinese operations in a showdown with the Chinese government. Google is among those firms who have made a heavy bet on cloud computing. Cloud computing shifts both software usage and file storage to the Internet. The widespread adaptation of cloud computing depends upon the perception and reality of security. No one will trust their files to Google if users perceive that either they are not secure from hackers or that Google will voluntary relinquish files to national security agencies.
The coming years are likely to be terrible times in the world. As national economies collapse, governments will seek to distract their publics and stifle dissidents and critics. When citizens fail to unite behind further centralization of government power, blame will be heaped upon the Internet because “the Internet provides too much freedom to disseminate radical views.” Despite the fact that we are only in the very early stages of an economic depression, such nonsense is already being chanted in the United States.
When internal scapegoating fails to assuage their citizens, governments predictably turn to external enemies. I’m not capable of predicting who the governments of the United States and China will blame for their coming economic miseries. One wouldn’t be surprised if both countries act against their economic self-interest and blame each other. I say “one wouldn’t be surprised” because politicians place their own political success above the economic well-being of their nation; and with the recent tariffs placed on Chinese steel, this process is already underway in the USA. Often, as the socionomics work of Robert Prechter has pointed out, after years of deteriorating social mood and near the bottom of an economic depression, war breaks out.
If you have followed me so far, you understand why Google’s actions last week are heroic. In their efforts to crackdown on critics, governments around the world will depend on the cooperation of companies like Google. If Google is joined by Silicon Valley and other firms who refuse to cooperate, a major weapon disappears in the war of governments against their own citizens. A vibrant and free Internet community will continue to play a major role in providing alternative views, preventing tyranny, and slowing—and eventually reversing—further centralization of governments. More importantly, a free Internet community will provide alternative views to the demonization of foreign and domestic “enemies.” By their actions last week, Google may have begun a process that will save the world from the horrors of another world war. Sometimes an act of courage can change the world. Stand tall, Google, the world is in your debt!