Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Quiz: Corruption Lite

Some ideas transcend political parties.  The concepts of equality and free enterprise are examples.  Perhaps there are some on the far left that might oppose free enterprise, and some on the far right who might oppose equality; but for the most part, Democrats and Republicans both would agree that equality and free enterprise are virtues.  There are times, though, when the almighty dollar transcends even those virtues. 

Now for the quiz: Who said this, where, and about what?
He appealed to the idea of free competition [...] and claimed that Villanueva's bill "breaches the principles of equality before the law, that of nondiscrimination and the right of free private enterprise, freedom of industry and of contract, protected by the Constitution."
Hints: The person who said that was supported by an American ambassador.  It was in somewhere in South America.  He was talking about software.

Governments everywhere are trying to save money.  Every once in a while, a government official gets an idea that would do just that.  The problem is, when the government saves money, often a business looses out.  Then business interests pressure the government, sometimes succeeding in getting the government to do act contrary to the interest of its citizens.

In the USA, if a company donated a lot of money to government projects, in an effort to get that government to continue to do business with the company, a lot of people would be concerned about it -- and rightly so. 

This isn't exactly the same as what I wrote about yesterday.  It is not overt corruption, in that there are no government officials who are profiting, personally, from the donations from business.  Even so, one could argue that the principles are similar.  The difference is that the business is pressuring the government to accept a short-term gain, even though the decision will cost the government a lot more in the long run.  The business gives up an amount of money -- small, relative to the long-term profit -- in exchange for a long-term lucrative business arrangement.  The people loose, and the business wins. 

Of course, if the people who stand to loose are citizens of a different country, but the business is a US corporation, then our government will go along with it.  It will even help pressure the foreign government to accept the tradeoff. 

I suppose that is an example of the moral values that we voted for in the last election.  It's not illegal, and it's good for business. 

The only down side is that people in another country end up going hungry as a result.

The answers to the quiz are: the president of Microsoft Peru, said it in Peru, about legislation that would have required the government of Peru to adopt and promote the use of open-source software.  The story is from 2002, in Wired magazine.

The same kind of thing has happened in Pakistan:
For instance, some 50,000 low-cost computers are to be installed in schools and colleges all over Pakistan. These will be PII computers, each being sourced for less than $100 a piece, he says.

Proprietary software for these PCs would cost a small fortune. Surely more than what the computers cost! But, using GNU/Linux as the OS would ensure that the overall price is kept low.
And in Spain; in Sri Lanka, there is a project that is using open-source software to help with the tsunami relief effort.  A project called Sahana is being developed that will result in the production of a free software package to facilitate management of refuge camps, tracking lost persons, etc.  The German city of Munich has adopted Linux for its municipal offices.  There are many other examples, but you can Google them as well as I can. 

Now, Bill Gates himself wants to meet with the President of Brazil in an effort to slow the open-source movement there. 

Is this the softer side of corruption?

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