Temper Enthusiasm for China's Digital Age
I really enjoy the Monitor, and have been reading it for many years. But sometimes your perspective is a bit too rosy. Take the article "When a Quarter of Humanity Joins the Digital Age" (Dec.12), for example. While it is true that China is quickly being pulled into the "computer revolution," don't forget that China is very unlike the rest of the world.
China passed a law in 1996 requiring that Internet service providers be licensed by the national government. The law also requires Internet links to be filtered through government computers and all news content to be approved by the Xinhua News Agency before it's distributed to online users. Citizens must register with the government within 30 days of obtaining an online account.
While I applaud Feng Jun and other Chinese entrepreneurs for their vision and spirit, their country's government is doing everything within its power to make online access as limited and difficult to obtain as possible. A belief that "within the next decade, every urban Chinese family will own a computer" is simply not justified considering the political climate and government control over the lives of people in China.
We also must recognize the horrible poverty outside China's urban areas. Surely we cannot expect China's rural population, many of whom go to bed hungry every night, to join "the rush to cyberspace."
There may be a computer revolution going on in China - but it is not the sunny, bright dawn your article portends.
Douglas J. Swanson
Assistant Professor of Journalism
Oklahoma Baptist University
Entrepreneurship increases options
As a graduate-level educator and an experienced businessman, I recommend you find editors with some idea of economics to screen the nonsense in the opinion article "It's Late - Still at Work?" (Dec. 11), regarding attempts to shorten the work week.
1. The article mentions how the Kellogg Company instituted a 30-hour week in 1930. But how did it produce the increase in productivity that this demanded? Kellogg increased investment in machinery, methods, and procedures, boosting the productivity of each worker.
2. The author says, "most managers ... now are on call 24 hours." I say, thank goodness for the cell phone and fax! Without them I wouldn't have a family life at all. I work 55 to 65 hours a week because I own 2 percent of the company, I am learning a lot, and I am responsible for things I wouldn't be allowed to touch in larger enterprises. If we are successful, I'll be financially secure and perhaps work less.
3. The article does not connect the shorter week in Germany and Holland with high unemployment, unionization, regulation, high marginal tax rates on investment returns, and the prejudice in Europe for established, large enterprises protected by the government. Business "gambles" produce companies like Microsoft and Intel, which may never have peer in Europe or Canada.
4. Why does "it take two breadwinners to achieve the standard of living achieved by a single [one] 30 years ago?" Most wives then did not have the education or the opportunity to make what they do now. The standard of living available now was not available then. Two working parents may not be the best thing for children - but I also am keenly aware that the decision my wife and I made to have her stay home to raise our child is costing us about $60,000 a year in salary she is not making.
5. The comparison of German and Brazilian productivity is ridiculous. The reason the average Brazilian may work longer hours and get paid less is because there is less per-capita investment in Brazil than in Germany.
The article's ideas are superficial, old hat, and doomed to failure. I suggest the author come down to street level: We need bottom-up ideas and risk takers to try them. Improvement in living standards and choices that allow us to make a living without working all those hours come from taking risks and the freedom to do it.
Dennis J. Conlon
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