Evening, my time – 6 hours or so off British time. I listened to BBC World News via computer. BBC radio is common fare for me (usually BBC4 and BBC7). I can easily locate distinct links to specific programs from 4 and 7, but am not skilled at finding re-play links for World News. I’ve looked at the website, but cannot find the in-depth program I heard this evening – nothing with today’s date on ‘China’ and ‘intellectual property’.
The program was at least 30 minutes – I did not track the time. The topic was China’s economy, with a specific look at 3 issues: intellectual property, China’s policy toward corporate contracts with non-Chinese companies, and value of yuan against other national currencies.
Much is said on these issues by people who know economics. When I weigh in, I expose the limits of my economics understanding. Lack of training, lack of vocabulary, and lack of practice in “discussing high-level economics” is quickly obvious. I cannot say anything sophisticated!
Boldly, I enter the discussion. I do not offer what should be done for global and national economic “wellness”. I suggest we are not asking the right questions.
Humanity is humanity, wherever it is found. It is human interests, dreams, goals, and efforts that catch my attention. Since everything we do, among our efforts called “development,” is measured in economic terms, and is captured by economic dynamics, economics interests me very much.
The Chinese, we know, are a huge population of people with individual, as well as societal, interests, dreams and goals. As we learn more of their systems and approaches to development, we recognize their society, as ours, has the full range of potential – with the same general barriers and supports to realizing those interests and talents, dreams and goals. They have Big Players, a mover/shaker crowd; they have entrepreneurs, workers, and people of the land. Some of their workers are in privileged situations, given voice; many many others are not and work long hours at very low pay. Some of the Chinese of the land have been dramatically relocated (call it “by cause of imminent domain”) for equally dramatic massive development projects. Entire new communities of consequential size have been built or are under construction. (I had personal experience with such a consequential community – no people were displaced, but many grizzlies and other mountain woodland creatures were. Rich economic boost for 20 years or so, then ‘poof’ and value was gone!)
We do know that China is appearing in a very powerful way as major player in world economics. Much fuss is made by spokespeople of established international economies on unfair practices of Chinese economic policy. We do not like our vulnerability.
Yet, as I listened to interviews with assorted Chinese developers on how their efforts impact international economic affairs, I hear “people down the street” or “people of my country” – they sound very similar to humans I’ve known elsewhere!
I’ve also spent the last some months reviewing history of Britain’s development to empire and eventual loss of same, of Rome’s economics and eventual loss of empire, and most recently have explored history of Russia – conditions pre, during, and post Czarist empire. A rich experience for me, and a lot of ‘same old, same old’ pattern on display.
On Chinese disregard for fair use of intellectual property, the BBC program mentioned western Europe’s similar practice during times of economic emergence. (I also had flash-backs to many conversations among North American women working as office support. The women described in great detail episodes when their personal ideas and development work were accepted by bosses who moved the finished product forward as their (the boss’s) work.)
An interesting twist revealed by the documentary was the plight of a Chinese engineer who has developed a motorcycle likely to enter international markets. He based his initial work on existing technology with no special regard for “intellectual property”. Over time, his work has become distinctly different from ‘borrowed’ models. Now that his product has reached a good level of sophistication, he finds himself wanting to protect his “intellectual property”!
Question to be asked: “As we progress through the 21st Century, do we humans want to hang onto our “proprietary interest concept” in matters of technological development; do we want to continue to have this fight?” (You say: “Of course we do! Think of the effort, the dedication, the economic value to the individual brains and bodies that put time into the technology!”) I’ll return to this question later.
Further to ownership of “intellectual property”: The Chinese, as I understand it from today’s BBC World News program, have “thrown yet another wrench into the works”. They have a policy, quite new I think, that international (non-Chinese) companies which form a cooperative venture in China, and locate in China, cannot “own” any research results. “Intellectual ownership” will be held by China. (I’m not clear if this means a Chinese private or state company. I assume it could apply in either case of a Chinese company forming a cooperative venture with a non-Chinese company.)
On Chinese refusal to let international conditions dictate how the yuan is valued: Most of us know why they handle the yuan as they do. We recognize they have the same employment issues as the rest of us, but are at a different place on the line of progress as these things go. Tens of thousands and more ordinary Chinese have benefited at least to some degree with low wages and high product export numbers. It’s well to remember, also, that a considerable number of companies creating and profiting from these products were American-based, and I assume many came from other established strong economies as well. These trans-national companies were very pleased at profits to be made out of low wages and extremely sparse worker protection guidelines. (Think sugar plantations during British empire days!)
The Chinese have need to protect employment opportunities for their many people. If we deny their humanity, we ultimately deny our own. I have heard reports in the last some months that as Chinese workers gain safer conditions and improved wages, the country experiences the same phenomenon as have we: corporations move out, seeking a more desperate worker pool.
It seems to me a second good question to ask is: “As we move through the 21st Century do we humans want to continue in a dynamic that forces labor to work for pittance, in dreadful conditions, in order for “the global economy” to be “healthy?” (You should quickly say: “But what can we do? This is how economics works. The bulk of all goods and services must be produced at the lowest possible cost – but – you add: it’s still not fair that the Chinese are doing what we would do! Oh! If only we didn’t have regulations and unions forcing our wages to be too high!”) … Oh, really? Somehow this line of argument doesn’t sound to me as if it’s going to “solve” the issue of international trade and effect on living conditions of workers.
I’ll turn to this and the previous question now. The two questions raised are: (1) “As we progress through the 21st Century, do we humans want to hang onto our “proprietary interest concept” in matters of technological development; do we want to continue to have this fight?” and (2) “As we move through the 21st Century do we humans want to continue in a dynamic that forces labor to work for pittance, in dreadful conditions, in order for “the global economy” to be “healthy?”
Both questions suggest an unexamined assumption behind “gospel-driven” current economic models. Both questions challenge unexamined, unexpressed, belief that dominant economic models, as we know them to operate, are firmly rooted in “full and complete understanding of human behavior”. The assumption that a “capitalist free enterprise system” is the most “natural” demonstration of the full potential of humanity is itself built on numerous unexamined assumptions – more than I care to count.
Generally, there seems universal agreement that “human behavior (psychology)” constrains us to carrot-stick economic systems. “Most of us”, we assume, “will never be motivated to accomplish anything significant except through motivations such as fear, greed, and “fight” mentalities.” (Even ‘conquering’ technological problems can be perceived as “engaged in a fight”.) The assumption, that without promise of carrots, or fear of sticks, we cannot accomplish anything significant, needs to be questioned – the sooner, the better.
Who says that we know all there is to know about human behavior, about human psychology? Are we courageous enough to accept a challenge on this? A challenge that, if taken up, might reveal aspects of our psychology, our behavior, that do not require carrot-stick economic systems, such as capitalism and management vs. labor?
Are there ways to support interest in technological questions without a system that relies, ultimately, on small children crawling through toxic trash heaps in very poor parts of the world to retrieve scraps of recyclable materials? Can we humans think of anything within ourselves, in our psychology, in our demonstrated behaviors, that suggests we would prefer no one were so impoverished?
Are there ways for specialized interest and talent to be developed for unique individual expression (arts and enterprise) that similarly does not ultimately end up “accepting” deep impoverishment of someone, somewhere (conveniently out of sight.)
Can inventors, entrepreneurs, and those in the arts pursue their dreams and find deep satisfaction without need of an ever-expanding pile of carrots? Can we make all essential resources and felt support available through such a wide-spread, generally equitable, system that – instead of needing proprietary measures to assure “present and future carrots” we create a new problem – what to do with undreamed of abundance of human energy, service, talent and good will? (Imagine a world with such a problem!)
Is there any outward evidence that at our essential core, our deepest humanity, we find life “good” when we act with compassion and justice, and that we can do so while enjoying our own unique talents and interests? Every human on this earth has evidence, countless moments of personal experience, that suggests an enduring commitment to compassion and justice is within each of us – is part of our behavior, part of our psychology.
Given such evidence, can we find our way to a radical ‘goal shift’ that brings this out in us more widely? Can we begin to shape policy in line with such a goal?
“The Chinese problem” is a problem because we (including the Chinese) are trapped in unexamined assumptions about human nature – theirs, ours, everyone’s. We’ve held these for thousands of years. Across generations, we tell and re-tell unexamined “truths” of human behavior in relationship to economics to ourselves by a continuous set of mantras. It’s no wonder the ideas are so well entrenched!
I believe the one great challenge of our new century is to seriously consider fostering the heretofore neglected up-side of human nature.
My Best! –MaggieAnn