Ethics, Economics an Uneasy Mix in Global Marketplace

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Ethics and economics have always made for an uneasy mix. This is truer than ever in today's global economy.


That's the premise of a thought-provoking article in Slate, which discusses how export-rich countries like China, seen primarily as a source for cheap manufacturing labor, are accumulating enough capital and business savvy to buy American companies.


While it's hard to see this as anything but a benefit for companies eager to get their hands on Chinese cash now, there are certainly political and possibly moral ramifications on the horizon -- and they are already in plain sight, as the examples outlined in Slate illustrate.


The specter of foreign governments inserting themselves squarely into American companies' business decisions through ownership stakes notwithstanding, some might argue that U.S. firms are already compromising themselves in myriad ways to gain market share in growing economies like China.


Microsoft, for instance, has abandoned many of the tenets central to the way it does business in most parts of the globe for a chance to earn what Chairman Bill Gates describes as "a wonderful position" in China in a Fortune article published on CNNMoney.com. (And it isn't only Microsoft, as Google's activities in China make clear.)


Microsoft relaxed its usually tough anti-piracy stance in China and forged a strong partnership with the government, a partnership that opened the company up to criticism when it removed a blog from a government critic from its MSN Spaces service in 2005.


Microsoft, Google and others contend that the best way to encourage human rights advances and other positive change in China is by example. Yet China's recent execution of an (admittedly corrupt) government official serves as a reminder of the depth of the cultural chasm that separates American society from those of many of its global trade partners.