Who’s in Charge, Here?

Recently, Chinese officials made several demands on a number of multinational corporations that immediately relented and even apologized profusely in order to protect their business interests. In a single week, more than two dozen corporations including Marriott Corporation, the fashion brand Zara, Audi, Delta Air Lines, Qantas and Medtronic drew Chinese official wrath for various presentations that were not consistent with official government policies.

The Chinese officials didn’t like the wording of a survey that Marriott Corporation sent to its rewards club members. They even objected that a U.S. based Marriott employee “liked” a tweet favoring Tibet independence. They didn’t like a drop down menu on the website of the fashion brand Zara. They didn’t like a presentation during Audi’s annual meeting that showed Taiwan as a separate country. In every instance, corporate CEOs removed the offending materials and publicly apologized to the Chinese government. Marriott’s CEO, Craig Smith, went so far as to say publicly “This is a huge mistake, probably one of the biggest in my career” as reported in the government owned China Daily.

The striking point is not Chinese repression of free speech which we are all familiar with, but the degree of submission by the CEOs and the level of deference shown the Chinese officials. Compare that with the level of submission by multinational corporate CEOs and deference shown to American officials. “What submission and deference?” you ask. And rightfully so. In fact, in the U.S., it’s the other way around. In China we have multinational corporate CEOs bowing and scraping to government officials while in the U.S. it’s government officials that bow and scrape to multinational corporate CEOs. What’s wrong with this picture?

The big difference is that in China, there are no elections that can be bought with corporate contributions. Officials in China can always be bribed (like any other country) but that has to be done secretly on an individual basis and officials who are bribed are severely punished along with those who bribe them if they are caught. On the other hand, in our country we have biannual elections where money can influence the selection of the entire cast of public officials in a single event, and it’s entirely legal.

This is a textbook example of why we need to get money out of our political system. Our government is supposed to govern. It is not supposed to be governed by corporations.