Google learns to dog-whistle

This morning’s Observer column.

Another sign of Google’s growing political sophistication is the way it has started to translate its Chinese difficulties into terms that the US government takes seriously, namely trade. “Since services and information are our most successful exports,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin told the Guardian, “if regulations in China‚Ķ prevent us from being competitive, then they are a trade barrier.”

This is pure dog-whistle politics. Western governments, especially in the US, engage in endless posturing about human rights, but rarely do anything to endanger their economic interests. But governments do care about restraints on trade and are minded to take action to deal with them. As General de Gaulle, paraphrasing Lord Palmerston, once observed: “Great nations do not have friends; they only have interests.” By aligning their company’s commercial interests with the wider economic interest of the US, the Google boys have begun to recruit powerful allies…