The Hammer of 1984.


The last 70 years have been the years of American brands’ expansionism. Whether the industrial juggernauts or the hitech monsters the Americans have lead the pack of international brands. However, if the former had been proud to be American companies and presented themselves as such to the outside world, the latter are a lot more reserved about their birth country. The new cohort portrays itself as purely international companies. In the public stance their American origin is rarely accentuated. They are Americans only in so much as the majority of their workforce is still located in the US. Their goals and interests are purely global and, given the total population of the world, lie primarily outside of the US. This is a new phenomenon the American policymakers need to consider when crafting the policy of the future. And no company exemplifies this trend better than Apple.

Domestically Apple presents itself as a bastion of Progressive Liberalism. It advocates gender equality at the workplace, supports LGBT rights, louds free immigration and defends privacy rights of the individual. It is hard to find a single progressive cause Apple does not publicly embrace. It does not shy away from openly confronting the US government (be it Democratic or Republican). It had doggedly defended its refusal to help FBI to unlock the phone belonging to an accomplice in San Bernardino terrorist attack. It has done the same in dozens other less publicized instances. It has loudly criticized immigration and environmental policies of the current administration. It is questionable whether a publicly traded company should take a stand on any issue deemed political. However, assuming this stand is crucial to safeguarding the democratic character of the country (as being claimed) this activism maybe understood if not condoned. Sadly, these positions have absolutely nothing to do with the “culture” of the company. A culture is a behavior to be uniformly adhered at home and abroad. It is easy to see a different Apple’s “culture” the company presents in the places where the benefits are plentiful, but the freedom is lacking.

Apple’s relationship with China is the best example of that behavior. China’s human rights record is abysmal. Yet one does not hear a word of criticism from Apple. It claims to be an international company. However, with this self proclaimed global ambition comes international responsibility. Just a few weeks ago Apple announced opening its first data center in China to store the data of the country’s users, ostensibly to adhere to different security laws mandated by the country. Apple claims it follows similar approach in Europe and, hence, there is nothing controversial  in the decision which will only improve the user experience by shortening the distance for the data to travel. This technological fig leaf is hiding total surrender of one of the most successful and innovative companies of the Democratic world to the demands of an authoritarian nationalist regime bent on defeating the values of the Liberal order. Obviously, we in the West will never hear about orders of the Chinese government to hand over personal information of Apple users. The data centers will be run in cooperation with the local “data management company” as claimed in Apple’s press announcement. Also we are told the removal of vpn apps from the Chinese App Store is simply to comply with local regulations. Given Apple’s prior reluctance to criticize the Chinese government, it is absurd to expect a different behavior from the company now that so much more investment is at stake. A few days ago the news of Liu Xiaobo’s death highlighted the irony of Apple’s decision. Mr. Liu was a Nobel Prize Laureate and a prominent Chinese dissident going into eighth year of his 11 years sentence. He was the modern day Andrei Sakharov. The Chinese Government not only refused to allow him to travel to Norway to accept the prize (he was represented by an empty chair), but forbade him to leave the country on the humanitarian grounds for treatment for the liver cancer he was suffering and to which he eventually succumbed. Apple will have no problem selling his books to the Chinese customers as its online bookstore for China was closed a year ago under the orders of the Chinese government.

It is hard to argue whether publicly traded companies are responsible to their investors only or to the society in general. Judging by the public declarations of Apple and other prominent US companies the answer is the latter. The Liberal Western Democratic Order has created the environment where these wonders of modern capitalism could be conceived and prosper. Helping the self proclaimed enemies of democracy and basic human rights is not beneficial to the future of the companies themselves as their growth requires free competition and transparent governance. It is timely to remember Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl commercial. The history of the last two centuries teaches us the proverbial revolutionary hammer, so crafty used in the commercial, may, one day, become a tool of the oppression.