I'm not saying Google kingpin Eric Schmidt definitely is a Bond villain, but several stories appearing over the past week have led me to wonder if we shouldn't be casually checking up on any hollowed-out volcanoes the company may have acquired recently.
Last Thursday, Google was given a smacked bottom by the Public Accounts Committee for avoiding tax. Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge was up all night thinking of the terribly clever line “I think that you do do evil,” and learning to suppress the urge to high-five the guy sitting next to her.
I'm sure the Google board reeled from Ms. Hodge's rhetorical burn for a least half a second, but there is evidence that the multibillion dollar company may already have plans to completely bypass all those pesky national laws.
The day before Google henchman Matt Brittin faced his sound scowling in parliament, attendees of the annual Google I/O conference witnessed what may be the first recorded example of real-life evil monologuing. In a rare Q&A session, creepy computer genius and Google CEO, Larry Page, wondered aloud if it wasn't time to “set aside a part of the world” for exciting things “that are illegal or not allowed by regulation.” If that isn't a plan to set up a hidden lair staffed by genetically perfect underlings in identical jumpsuits, I don't know what is.
The geek press leapt on Page's arched-eyebrow speculation as a declaration that Google was thinking about setting up its own country. They can call it a country if they like, but I'm fully expecting this 'set aside' facility to be at the bottom of a shark-infested sea, and to have surprisingly low corporate tax rates.
I've often wondered why super-rich companies don't just go ahead and set up their own countries. The cost of keeping what would only need to be a pocket-sized nation going would surely be far less than whatever these companies spend on tax and complying with irksome regulations. In Googletopia, for example, it would be perfectly legal to incorporate backscatter body scanners into Streetview cars, which, with all those genetically perfect underlings around, could generate a pretty healthy revenue stream on its own.
The long standing barrier to setting up your own nation has always been the threat that, if it is successful, one of those creaky, legacy nations will simply find a reason that you were never independent in the first place, and could you fill in a tax return please. Google might be the first organisation in history able to overcome this problem thanks to its sheer indispensability. Nothing gets done these days without somebody having to google something. Who would really risk a gun boat if it meant Google going offline?
The other problem is finding a physical location for your micro-nation. Again, it seems to me that a boatload of cash could surely buy you a corner of an impoverished developing state, and the private army needed to defend it. There are plenty of candidates, but I was struck by Eric Schmidt’s travel plans last week.
The day after the Hodge smackdown, the Independent reported that Schmidt had: “touched down in Rangoon with the promise that the internet would transform the country.” His speech included the ominous phrase: “I believe something extraordinary is going to happen in Myanmar.” There is no evidence that he was later overheard rehearsing the line “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die,” but there isn’t any that he wasn’t either.