Behavior Modification

by Dave Schuler on May 25, 2014

In his op-ed in reaction to the revelations of official Chinese cyber-espionage against the United States Eliot Cohen makes an error that all too many American elites do:

If this is the game of nations, played by old rules (old, as in 17th- and 18th-century, at least), there is no point in focusing on individuals. “It’s business, not personal,” as they say in the mafia movies. At some point we may want to have dealings with people we have identified as crooks and malefactors, so in most cases, there’s no need to make it harder for us to do so.

Which is why the law is not the best instrument here. This is about our coming to terms with the existence of an unscrupulous mercantilist state of unprecedented size, wealth and power. It does not accept our legal norms — and in any case, given the revelations of Edward Snowden, we sound foolish standing on those grounds. That being so, action that bites — inflicting some pain on sizable Chinese companies that benefit from stolen information, for example — makes a lot more sense than pretending that U.S. jurisdiction is both universal and legitimate. Even the attorney general cannot believe that it is.

That reflects a misconception. We are absolutely, positively, totally unable to influence China’s behavior. It is too large and the authorities have too many levers that they’re ready, willing, and able to throw.

However, we can change our own behavior and, if we elected to, we could change the behavior of American companies. Rather than thinking about changing Chinese behavior we should be thinking about how we can change our own behavior to make us more secure against Chinese depradations. If we’re unwilling to do that, we should quit our belly-aching and accept them as the cost of doing business.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

michael reynolds May 25, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Somewhat related, the CIA is considering hiring hackers who’ve smoked weed.

Duh.

You want smart, self-starting, lawbreakers – and any good hacker has broken laws – who for some bizarre reason want to work for government salaries in depressing government offices, but have never smoked pot. We’re eliminating 99% of potential recruits, and wondering why we can’t win the cyber follies.

Reminds me of the military firing gay Arabic and Farsi translators. Or refusing to make use of African-Americans in the Civil War or WW2. Or dragging the Japanese-Americans off their California farms and discovering, huh: no vegetables being grown.

People just don’t get prioritization.

bob sykes May 25, 2014 at 4:57 pm

No immigration (expel the illegals), and no free trade.

Zachriel May 26, 2014 at 8:31 am

Dave Schuler: Rather than thinking about changing Chinese behavior we should be thinking about how we can change our own behavior to make us more secure against Chinese depradations.

That’s how you change their behavior.

Dave Schuler May 26, 2014 at 8:41 am

It might. I don’t think we should count on it. The decision-makers are relatively small in number and very hard for us to motivate.

Zachriel May 26, 2014 at 9:04 am

Dave Schuler: The decision-makers are relatively small in number and very hard for us to motivate.

There are several political forces in China outside the communist party, including business interests, who want to maintain good relations with their major customers.

Weakness encourages depredation. Strength discourages it. Other developing countries are already starting to make inroads into the export markets. Limiting exposure, especially exposure to a single country will discipline the market. China is also a member of the WTO, which, though a weak organization, is still essential for their participation in international markets.

Dave Schuler May 26, 2014 at 9:41 am

There are several political forces in China outside the communist party, including business interests

You’re trying to make a distinction that’s not appropriate in a Chinese context. Businesses in China, especially major establishments, require support from local or national leaders to operate. There’s no fine line between business and government there. There are simply degrees of involvement.

Zachriel May 26, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Dave Schuler: There’s no fine line between business and government there.

That’s right, which means there are powerful political forces, including forces that are intent on continuing international trade.

mike shupp May 27, 2014 at 5:00 am

It’s not clear to me how the US government would “change the behavior of American companies” anent China, when most American businessmen are only too happy to satisfy the Chinese government to keep their costs low. Republicans aren’t going to pass laws against this, especially when those businessmen make campaign contributions, and Democrats aren’t exactly clean handed either, so what’s —

Uh … you suggesting that Steve Jobs didn’t exactly die naturally?

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