The FTC blocked a genomics technology merger, leading to the firing of a CEO. The deal involved Bill Gates, Barack Obama, China and Jeff Bezos. And corporate America is in shock.
One of the most famous lines from progressive muckraker Upton Sinclair has to do with incentives. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something,” he said, “when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Typically, this line is used to promote the idea that corruption makes it impossible to get good ideas implemented. But there’s a more optimistic flip-side. If you can create a scenario where the incentives are to operate a company prudently, then attitudes at the top will shift in a positive direction.
With that in mind, it’s worth taking a look at one of the biggest recent stories in corporate America that went largely unnoticed by the political world. Last Sunday, Francis deSouza resigned from his position as the CEO of Illumina, which is one of the most important medical technology firms in the world.
Like most political operations of big technology-focused firms, Illumina is deeply enmeshed in China, because the Chinese government makes it worthwhile for firms that have important technology to integrate themselves with the state. Now, there’s nothing wrong with doing business in China, indeed, it’s a good thing that Chinese scientists had the Illumina machines in 2020, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to sequence Covid. But Illumina acts as a ward of the Chinese government. It promotes Chinese genomics startups along with FTX backer and politically wired venture capitalist Sequoia, it does PR for Chinese genomics firms, and even supplies technologies for biometric-enabled surveillance of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The corporation isn’t some innocent exporter of medical technology to Chinese firms, it’s a global political operation.