One of the standard arguments for the superiority of “free enterprise” is that in the wake of economic freedom -- defined as the freedom of capital to enrich itself -- political and other freedoms follow in its wake. There are a few problems with this argument: first, it is often framed in the broad sweep of history, looking ahead at decades or even centuries. Most people don’t have centuries or even decades to waste, when it comes to being imprisoned, assaulted, tortured, and executed. Second, freedom exists in many places where the marketplace is heavily regulated; in fact, most European countries place greater restraints on the rights of corporations than is the case in the United States. Third, capitalists are more than eager to do the work of tyrants when it will assure them profit in return.
A current example of this third problem is currently gaining new notoriety. The leading multinational internet corporation Yahoo! is under growing fire for its admitted service to the government of mainland China in helping identify political dissidents there. As noted by Reporters Without Borders, “We already knew that Yahoo! collaborates enthusiastically with the Chinese regime in questions of censorship, and now we know it is a Chinese police informant as well.” The human rights organization’s website points out: “The text of the verdict in the case of journalist Shi Tao -- sentenced in April to 10 years in prison for ‘divulging state secrets abroad’ -- shows that Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. provided China’s state security authorities with details that helped to identify and convict him.”
Lest any reader think that ten years in prison, while hard, is nothing when set alongside the glory of money flowing into corporate coffers, it is well to keep in mind that a prison sentence in China -- especially when handed down by a civil court rather than the special courts used to try Communist Party members for identical offenses -- can often be a death warrant, either from beatings by other inmates encouraged by jail management or due to lack of medicines and incarceration in unheated cells. Such conditions were widely publicized in the case of Wei Jin Sheng, author of The Courage to Stand Alone.
The one thing that can get the serious attention of vultures is the lack of carrion. On this principle, a growing boycott of Yahoo! -- its site, and by extension, advertisements viewed there -- is being organized by word-of-email and a blog expressly established for the purpose. BooYahoo! was recently created by Jim Etchison, who explained his concern in a New York Times article. In addition to his concern, the same article also quoted part of a letter written by Liu Xiaobo, a dissident in Beijing, to Jerry Yang, Yahoo!’s founder: “I must tell you that my indignation at and contempt for you and your company are not a bit less than my indignation at and contempt for the Communist regime.” He adds, “Profit makes you dull in morality.” No kidding.
As of this writing, I have cancelled my Yahoo! accounts, and no longer use their search engine. Yahoo’s profits are underwritten by oppression sustained by its own activities. Conscientious users of Yahoo!’s services and site should give serious thought to utilizing other services; BooYahoo even provides a helpful step-by-step explanation of how to cancel Yahoo accounts.
Someone’s life and freedom just might depend on it.
Dan Raphael has been an activist since the Vietnam war was heating up and is a member of the Green Party of the United States.
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