Eric Schmidt: Vanity and hubris in North Korea
(MoneyWatch) Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google (GOOG), is in North Korea, along with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, ostensibly to have a good look around and assess the country's social media.
The North Korean government is calling this a "Google delegation" which may be news to the governor. They will meet North Korean leaders, visit some universities, talk to some economists. So not exactly a vacation. But the trip doesn't have the blessing of the U.S. State Department and it isn't really clear who -- or what -- it is for.
- Google head Eric Schmidt in North Korea
- Richardson dismisses State Dept. concerns about North Korea trip
What bothers me about this trip is that it implies that Schmidt thinks he is more important that the State Department, or at least a better judge of global politics. I seriously doubt that. He may have a think tank advisor giving him good background but that isn't the same thing. He appears blissfully unaware that North Korea gets more out of his boondoggle than anyone else. But perhaps vanity prevents him from seeing that he is being used. If you take yourself seriously enough, such an idea is inconceivable.
It also implies that his -- or Google's -- interests supersede national interests, that a commercial business matters more than an elected democracy. I balk at that conclusion and I would have hoped that Schmidt would too, but apparently not. The U.S. government, after all, has no diplomatic relations with North Korea so, in diplomatic terms, Schmidt's trip looks like a snub to his own government. This may offer great kudos to North Korea; it doesn't make Google or Schmidt look anything except egregious and vain.
There's a lot of talk these days about how companies, being larger in revenue than some national GDP, are also smarter than governments. But dollars and IQ aren't the point here. We still live in a democracy, we are still citizens in a state and even corporate CEOs should recognize that they aren't above anyone or anything.
I'm not arguing that no one should visit North Korea ever. That's a more complex question of geopolitics. But for any CEO to perform as though his interests are above his country's reeks of hubris. Nor does it do Google any good. As Google's power gives more and more cause for concern, acting as though you don't care even about your own government makes it feel pretty intuitive that you definitely won't care about your customers.
Forget "do no evil." Let's just try "do nothing stupid" for awhile.
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