Cartoon protectionism

The likely outcome of China's attempt to protect its domestic cartoon industry is instructive to other markets segments flirting with protectionism.

The Monkey King, a protected Chinese cartoon
China, apparently, has decided to ban popular foreign cartoons such as "The Simpsons," Mickey Mouse and Pokemon, from kid prime time hours of 5 to 8 pm in an attempt help out the domestic animation industry.

I know, just the sort of thing to make you want to grab your pitchforks and torches and storm the ramparts, if only it wasn't 80 gazillion miles across a very large body of water experts like to call "The Pacific Ocean." Well, do try to keep it under control, because the harm is borne more by China's domestic animation industry than foreigners.

Why do people think the only way to make an industry STRONGER is to protect it from competition? If I was Don King, would I help to make my star heavyweight boxer a stronger contender by making sure he only practices against opponents in the featherweight class? Would France turn Bull Computer into a global computing giant by banning sales of foreign PCs in the French market?

Of course not. You become the BEST by COMPETING with the best. Only by competing with the best do you learn what you are doing wrong, and do things differently. Becoming the best, in other words, is a process that requires going toe to toe with others who are equally striving to be the best (though, truth be told, the market for products doesn't demand a "there can be only one" outcome a la "Highlander," so multiple products can end up equally "the best.")

There is a lesson in all this for the computer industry, specifically, those whose instinctive reaction to foreign competition - whether goods or labor - is to shut the doors tight. First, China is partly shutting the doors against MUCH more expensive foreign cartoons that Chinese parents and the kids in their care seem to prefer in spite of it.

Those foreign cartoons, in other words, have a quality value that people in a much poorer country value in spite of the cost.

The same applies to the market for domestic programmers. Though we cost more than foreign programmers, we have stacks of advantages that a foreign programmer would have difficulty matching, such as personal skills necessary to interact with domestic customers (Americans deal better with other Americans than someone in Hyderabad), a lifetime immersed in the products and culture of the biggest spending (and pickiest) consumers in the world, living on the home turf of some of the biggest software companies, and more venture capital firms per capita than anywhere else (just as examples).

Yes, some work is going to go overseas, just as some cartoons will be made in China, but come on now, do you have no sense of advantages you have as programmers given the culture you've grown up in?

Just to link things back to cartoons, we're the Homer Simpsons of the programming world, and as the success of that cartoon has shown, we're some of the best selling products around. So, wear your mu-mu proudly, and stop going into a panic every time someone whispers the word "offshoring." Things might move around, but it won't go away, particularly with 2.3 billions Asians rapdily joining the consuming world and needing products to fit their needs...

...something Americans have historically shown themselves to be very good at.

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