About the stakes for China in the Google showdown

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In a first reaction to the Google-China news I mentioned that if Google left, it would have little immediate impact on information-flow within China. "Why? Anybody inside China who really wants to get to Google.com -- or BBC or whatever site may be blocked for the moment -- can still do so easily, by using a proxy server or buying (for under $1 per week) a VPN service. Details here." But in the longer term, Google's departure might symbolize China's separation from the mainstream of modern, open, global innovation -- and might weaken its technological development and broader capacity to modernize and prosper, through the removal of a leading competitive force.
 
A reader who specializes in the history of technology sent this response to my claim about the effectiveness of China's Great Firewall to date:

"Analogously, in the information revolution following the introduction of the printing press, censorship in Catholic countries (especially Spain) had a similar "non-effect" initially because  there was an active black market in banned books. However, in less than 50 years, in the Protestant countries, where the press was not controlled, people of the crafts-producing class were able to become literate and change the way they produced goods. Over time this new way of producing goods became capitalism.  

"In Spain, Italy, Portugal and to lesser extent France people of the crafts-producing class did not become literate. They continued  producing goods in the same way as they had in the past. Soon they were out competed by Holland and then England where better goods were produced more cheaply. Over time this had a profound economic impact on the wealth and power of the various countries.

"Innovation by the "out group" based on access to the benefits of the new information technology that creates new sources of wealth and power. I would conclude, therefore, that China, having made Spain's decision to control information, is now out of the running for world leadership."

This is in keeping with one of my arguments about the Chinese government's potential to limit the country's development, here and here.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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