International -- Readers Report
Microsoft Should Just Move to Japan (int'l edition)
I would like to propose a solution to Bill Gates's problems with the Justice Dept. that would both strengthen his company and, judging from its past behavior, be welcomed by Washington ("Does predatory pricing make a predator?" Economics, Nov. 23; and "A pattern of predatory behavior?" American News, Nov. 30).
Microsoft's giveaways are viewed as predatory pricing or equivalent to taking losses to drive competitors out of a business. In addition, Microsoft is accused of strong-arm tactics: threatening to harm Intel's new microprocessor if it didn't shelve its own software efforts, swearing retribution if Netscape didn't cede most of the Internet browser market, and encouraging distributors to shun competitors who ignore Microsoft's threats. The result is that few PC company executives will criticize Microsoft on the record, but anonymously they unload ample frustrations.
All of these aspects of Microsoft's "culture" and its predictable results have been documented to be characteristic of Japanese business "culture" in numerous articles by BUSINESS WEEK and others on Japan over the past 15 years. My suggestion: Mr. Gates should move his company to Japan.
Justice would drop its case out of political and security concerns. Microsoft would gain instant approval and immense support from the Japanese government in selling its products to the U.S. The U.S. Trade Representative would exert pressure on Europe to buy Microsoft's Japanese products. And Wall Street would reward Microsoft's stock price for reducing its American work force and moving offshore.
Even Seattle would benefit. The ex-Microsoft workers could join the ex-Boeing workers in their downsizing support groups. Their shared experiences would magnify their sense of being part of the new American community spirit, which seems to be: Level our playing fields, throw out all the guys and girls on our teams, and slash and burn any advantages our teams might have--while letting the other teams play the game by their own rules.
Riyadh, Saudi ArabiaReturn to top
Swedish Taxes: You Get What You Pay For--and Then Some (int'l edition)
I left Sweden in 1980 because I found it too socialistic. I believed the U.S. was the right place for my family and business. I have experienced both nations' social policy and see advantages and disadvantages in both. I love America but still I love and understand Sweden ("Companies may vote with their feet," European Business, Oct. 19).
Taxes are high in Sweden, yes, but you get something for what you pay to "Mother Svea." Every citizen and business has to participate in paying for everybody. I can say they get better service for a better price than what Americans get for what they pay to Uncle Sam plus all insurance expenses.
If you move to Sweden, your chances of becoming a billionaire are small. But that is not why people live there. People who want to work and live in Sweden have to accept the values and the ways of life the Swedish system offers. If they prefer to work for Swedish companies elsewhere in the world they can do so. Hiring top executives or consultants is not a problem for Sweden's industries. Most Swedes, including top executives, are generally better educated and better adapted for working internationally than their American colleagues.
Brain drain--nonsense. All countries miss skilled citizens trying to find greener meadows elsewhere. But new good ones immigrate. You don't need to earn a lot to live a decent life. Competition is tougher because the home market is smaller and the government has little patience with "smart" people cheating others with falsified or substandard goods, foods, and services. A bad doctor or lawyer cannot escape the consequences of malpractice.
Some Swedes move some money abroad, of course. Taxes in Sweden, as in the U.S., come more from the working masses than from the high-income takers. Employers collect taxes and insurance premiums for a variety of social services that do not interest investors of fast, hot money. Investors interested in intelligently developed quality products and socially responsible enterprises will always be interested in Swedish companies, inventors, and engineering.
The Swedish krona dropped a few years ago, not through mismanagement but because it was hit by sharks with headquarters in the U.S. Enormous personal profits, later lost in other parts of the world, had to be paid by the Swedish people. The same thing happened to the Mexican, Thai, and other currencies. Such coups will not hurt Sweden after it joins the European Monetary Union.
The opposition--Greens and Communists--are not a bunch of economic illiterates. Their hesitancy to join the EMU is a sign of the slow way of thinking, often ridiculed as typically Swedish but which often results in finding good solutions. They have good reasons to distrust the way big money acts internationally. It is a myth that profits to business always serve the interest of society. It is also a myth that all state or community-managed activity is bound to be less effective than privately run activity. In Sweden, it has been proved that a state-run, nonprofit insurance can be cost-effective and still be generous and include low-income people.
In Sweden, generosity and solidarity are deep-rooted. People believing that egotism and greed are accepted routes to economic success will find it difficult to understand that generosity pays.
Centerville, Mass.Return to top