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4 minutes reading time (770 words)

Don’t Blame IBM - Blame Adam Smith

In this WSJ article, the Congress is investigating the meteoric rise of Huawei, China’s major telecommunications equipment provider and accusing it of using technology theft and government handouts as the path to its’ incredible growth. The article insinuates that IBM is a major cause of this situation because they have shared advanced technology and management best practice approaches as a shortcut, and summing it up with:

“U.S. government concerns culminated this week in a report by the House intelligence committee that labeled the company a security threat and warned U.S. telecom companies against doing business with it.”

Huawei counters that they have spent over $400M with US consulting firms like IBM, Accenture, BCG, PWC and others since 1997, and at one point after signing a strategic agreement, they had 200 IBM consultants onsite to optimize core systems and train management in the most efficient approach expand internationally. If there is real evidence of technology theft (none in the article), that would be basis for retaliation, but it did not seem like IBM and others were complaining during the bonanza: Gerstner’s IBM made the transition from antiquated mainframe manufacturer, about to be broken up, into the world’s largest professional services provider on the back of international deals like this, and probably got a couple of large US government contracts in the process. McDonalds, Wal-Mart, Oracle and Boeing have done pretty well also, and American consumers have been blessed with an abundance of all the “stuff” they can buy for the absolute lowest price (not cost). According to the venerable Adam Smith:

“Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.”
-Adam Smith, The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV Chapter VIII, v. ii, p. 660, para. 49.


This is a technology blog and we try to steer clear of politics, but sometimes you have to scratch your head when you read articles like this. We have written on the effects of optimization on society, including the leading role of IBM with its’ Smarter Cities initiative to build global intelligent and optimized networks.

Married to China - Economist CartoonThe telecom services and equipment segment is a cornerstone of a country’s infrastructure and economic development, which is why virtually every country controlled it through government monopolies and trade barriers until global trade pressure forced them to open it – through direct pressure or infrastructure loan programs that directed spending. There was certainly value to opening the markets, as it is impossible to function in the global economy without a robust telecommunications infrastructure; the point is that there is a balance between internal development of capabilities and purchase of imported materials. We discussed this last week in our post comparing the evolution of the Internet in China and Korea. The article also hinted that trade friction was caused by onerous conditions that went into the negotiations between GM, GE and Google: “Companies such as General Snatching the Pebble?Electric Co. and General Motors Co. have had to contribute valuable assets and technology to participate in markets such as aviation and automobiles that China considers critical to its economy. Google Inc. lost market share after moving its Web- search and other services to Hong Kong to avoid complying with China's censorship policies.”

Some might find it difficult to find sympathy for those three - didn’t GM get a public bailout to prevent it from disappearing? And doesn’t Google own the market in virtually every country in the world except China? And how many times does GE fail to negotiate profitable terms in international infrastructure projects? By making them such a large trading partner and buyer of our national debt, we have become inextricably linked to China economically. Decisions have long term consequences.  They are flexing their muscles and  it is not the first time, nor will it be the last, especially as their economy continues to slow.

Again, from the Father of Capitalist thought:
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages.”
-Adam Smith, The Wealth Of Nations, Book I, Chapter II, pp. 26-7, para 12.


In other words, China is going to do what is good for China and America is going to do what is good for America. Don’t be surprised when the pupil tries to snatch the pebble from the master’s hand.

 

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Tuesday, 20 October 2020

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