An Apple a Day Keeps Nationalism Away

AppleTaking a bite out of crime took on a whole new meaning for the iPhone producing giant Apple, finding itself under pressure from the FBI to help with the San Bernardino terrorism investigation. The G-Men want Apple to digitally crack open a seized iPhone found in the possession of the Islamist terrorist murderer Syed Farook. The problem for the feds is that the software installed on the device wipes the phone clean if a passcode attempt is entered more than 10 times unsuccessfully. To change that, apple would have to provide new custom code (even if intended only for this one phone), thus potentially redefining the security capability of the system for all users permanently.

Advocates for cracking the phone have said that Apple should do it, claiming it’s their patriotic duty to help crack the phone, but this oversimplification misses the point that programming can be reverse engineered to allow other phones to be opened the same way. This raises questions about the responsibilities versus the rights of Apple from a product liability standpoint and for the future for information technology providers.

They say all publicity is good publicity, and for Apple an opportunity to use public attention to its advantage is rarely missed. That’s partly why they so quickly came forward, in an orchestrated fashion, with their statements refusing the request.

They gain the perception of solidarity with their customers by looking like they are standing up to government pressure.

The feedback they have received says a lot about the public distrust of government, given the growing concern over terrorism. Is this the healthy fear of government that Jefferson referenced when writing about preferring dangerous freedom, or is it a cynical backlash against an incurably ineffective government that is overstepping our liberties?

The real story here isn’t just about iPhone security or patriotism, it’s about the interplay between government officials and a large multinational corporation. It’s about a society at the intersection of conflicts of technology, privacy and government. It’s illustrative of the pressures building between consumers and citizens, governments and multinational corporations, and the public versus private split in a connected world.

The globalized economy is among the largest growing contradiction of capitalism, one that puts national borders and governments in a race for relevance against forces they can no longer fully control. Both governments and multinational corporations are becoming increasingly defined by exchange driven relationships.

In the best case scenario, multinationals see governments as generating taxes from the business operations within defined borders, a cost of doing business that generates revenue drawn from transactions through their shared spheres of influence. Governments theoretically provide security, stability, a functioning legal framework, important infrastructure, and most of all, access to well established markets. Without a sound marketplace and ready purchasers, multinationals would struggle to connect with the right consumers in a predictable way.

The friction comes not only between countries and companies, but between countries at odds with non-state actors, leaving companies in the middle. Events may arise that see a national government’s agenda directed against a rival state, and in so doing jeopardize the wellbeing of a resident company and its brand. Form the company’s perspective, it may no longer be possible to remain loyal to one country without jeopardizing their business position with others.

Consider that Apple is the most valuable brand in the world. At $536 billion the market cap dominates most other tech companies by a wide margin. With sales of $234 billion, its revenue producing activities are greater than the total national economy of New Zealand, or Slovakia, or Ecuador. Apple operates 481 retail stores across 18 different countries. Their online services are available to consumers in 39 different countries. It employs some 92,000 workers with an additional supply chain that creates economic value employing factory workers, technicians, developers, programmers, producers of every type, across every industry involved in the creation and management of its products. This is a staggering amount of positive human output from vendors and allies of Apple. But all this does not a national company make.

In the brave new world of the global economy, we are familiar with transnationalism, but we relegate its true impact to the subconscious. We are comforted in our belief that an American company is one that has historical ties to America.

But increasingly how can a company remain tied to any one country the way we that individually pledged citizens do? Loyalty is to production, profitability, investor return, and progress as arguably it should be. So why then do we personify companies, and what reason should we have to think they would behave any different than we would when pressured?

In the strictest sense a corporation is a legal person. But that is not at the same as a legal citizen. Well run corporations operate by evaluating economic factors and conduct cost benefit analysis devoid of emotionalism. Can it be said that Apple is an American Company? What does that really mean? Are they exercising rights or responding to governance that does not fully apply?

Is a company’s national identity found in its incorporation? Is its perceived nationality determined by their corporate headquarters geography? What of the employees it hires, when they are comprised from among several different countries? Does a majority of their workforce having citizenship in one country or another make them definitively loyal to one country over another?

“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us” said Marshall McLuhan, as such the world that shapes us also defines us. The economics of globalization are inseparable from their influence on culture. The spirit of entrepreneurship has doubtlessly benefitted from interaction with international market opportunities, but what we have gained in innovation, lower costs, and greater prosperity, we have partly lost in identity, community, and fidelity to the intangibles that make us American’s. This question of nationalism, and therefore corporate loyalty is a multidirectional question that affects both companies and citizens.

The story of the Apple iPhone hack isn’t simple. It’s not about whether Apple is patriotic, it’s about whether corporate citizenship is a meaningful concept and whether it applies in a substantive way.

The nostalgia for a simple binary world of American Corporations and foreign corporations is fading. What does a Patriotic American company, grounded in American values and traditions even look like in a globalized world? How can we reasonably expect companies who represent shareholder interests to trust an anti-prosperity equality obsessed government with detailed functionality of products that define a brand?

The people are searching for answers, and the Apple issue is but one of many fissures in our collective understanding of ourselves. The “Make America Great Again” rhetoric, whatever you may think of its standard-bearer, the phrase encapsulates an indisputably brilliant insight reflecting this paradigm. It plays to a unifying concept running counter to meaningless, ever changing policy nuance and word bending. The empty promises of the old politics just won’t do anymore. It reflects a passion for a simpler time, a place we used to call home.

A country that was indivisible, united, and was one nation under God. That was the time of great things, when citizens were called forward to sacrifice their lives to protect their families at home and save the world, preserving a free future.

The greatest generation ran America’s companies transitioning from war production and leading the world, carrying American ideals forward as exemplars of our way of life. Such times have passed and the winds of change may be blowing ever counter to those ideals.

There remains though, deep with many of our people a longing for a connection to the ordered liberty that a limited and healthy government gave us. That government of the people, for the people, and by the people is under attack from many different directions.

Big government redistributionist, (self-describing as progressives) have pushed a perpetual entitlement debt encumbrance that will burden future generations with restrained growth and reduced opportunity. The left’s prescription has been and always will be for the necessity of freedom sacrifices. Excellence, wealth creation, and the risk taking leaders of the economy create naturally occurring inequalities. These (according to their thinking), must be slain to appease an insatiable appetite for fundamental fairness, a self-righteous construct of their own imaginations. As true believers, (even though they know a rising tide lifts all boats) they prefer to run such aground rather than allowing unequal ships to set sail. As Churchill said “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery. We must continue to confront and defeat this ideology at home and abroad.

Whether Apple ultimately decides to assist the FBI with its investigation remains to be seen. Whether their decision ends up being right or wrong is becoming harder to know. But what is knowable is that the government that fails to protect us from terrorism fails not because of Apple, but because of its own lack of commitment to serious citizenship and preserving the integrity of our boarders. Apple didn’t give a special visa waiver to the terrorist black widow bride, and it doesn’t continue to allow thousands upon thousands of unknown’s to pour into our country daily.

Our national future may be slipping beyond our control. Empty promises lead to failed institutions. Runaway spending, the entitlement culture, empty pursuits of consumerism, these are the forces proliferating under weakened national identity. Multinational corporate complexity won’t fit into a neatly packaged red white and blue box anymore. Forces of our own creation have changed our people into consumers first, and citizens second, where there are markets first and nations as an afterthought.

One day when our country and all that it stood for is gone, a future generation may discover a time when prosperity was not confused with blatant consumerism. A time where the type of people leading companies and countries were leaders who “more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!”

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