Scenes from the War of our Ruling Class Against the Rest of Us

Scenes from the War of our Ruling Class Against the Rest of Us January 25, 2012

Your iPhone Was Built, In Part, By 13 Year-Olds Working 16 Hours A Day For 70 Cents An Hour

Funniest part. When you protest this sort of crap, the cry goes up that the protestor is the one engaging in “class warfare”. Indeed, we are actually asked to believe that not only is the Evilcorp not robbing the country that made its success possible by sending jobs overseas, but it is actually doing a huge favor to the toiling serfs it graciously exploits abroad.

The problem with great wealth and power is that it shields you from the consequences of the human capacity for sin. As a result, there is a natural tendency to drift away from normal human obligations to family, the weak, and God. It is not impossible for the rich to be saved, of course. But not for nothing does Jesus speak of camels and the eyes of needles. And when it comes to multinational corporations we are looking at a thing that not only has no soul, but no country either. Hence, it should not surprise us that the super-rich, while they may use patriotism as a tool for manipulating the little people who actually love their country, have less and less concern for the country they loot and the people they exploit.

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  • Marthe Lépine

    I had copied the following quote and link a few days ago, with the intention of sending you a note as soon as a looming deadline was reached about my work, but as I just read this post, I found it was connected with the same subject. Here it is… And I particularly “liked” the quote extracted from it by the NYTimes:
    “They could hire 3,000 people overnight. What U.S. plant can find 3,000 people overnight and convince them to live in dorms?”
    JENNIFER RIGONI, Apple’s worldwide supply demand manager until 2010, on the advantages of using foreign plants.
    I guess the rush to downgrade US (and Canadian) workers’ standard of living will not stop until we are reduced to the same level of working conditions…

    • Well, yeah. When different groups of people compete against one another they necessarily grow more alike, not less. Their standard of living is going to come up a little bit; ours is going to come down a lot.

    • Johnb

      The NYT article linked above is also a good read. Sure, the conditions are not ideal, and Apple is a case study here, Dell, HP, etc are all guilty. But what I took away from the article is:
      1. The American workforce is not trained to work in a factory environment. The article states more than high school but not a bachelor’s degree is required. 2 year trade/vocational schools are almost non-existant now. Finding good technicians to not only work the assembly lines, but to run and manage them are hard to find in America at the scale needed to manufacture i-devices and others.
      2. The parts used in manufacturing are all made in nearby factories. The article states that labor costs in the US would be higher, but an even larger expense would be supply demand issues. Lets say a screw used to hold the iPad together is made in a factory in china, and 10 million of them are shipped to the US. When they arrive, the screw is slightly larger than needed and needs to be modified. The cost of shipping 10 million more screws to the US is substantial.

      If the US wants these jobs, we’ve got some serious competition that goes beyond profit margin. We have to re-think and re-train our workforce to meet these demands.

  • Christopher Erdman

    While this is clearly not a defensible state of affairs, I think a couple of things are worth pointing out. For one, this is the state of all electronics right now and Apple is the only one working to fix it. Apple performs regular audits of their suppliers, pushes for improved working conditions and wages, and cancels contracts with companies with confirmed child labor cases. The results of their reviews are published annually. Additionally, Apple was the first tech company to join the Fair Labor Association this month. As I said, not a desirable situation, but among all the tech companies Apple is the most socially responsible.

    • Harpy

      I work in the electronics industry (well, at least I have until now – but it won’t be for much longer sadly because of offshoring). Apple talks a good game, but my experience is that the Fair Labor Association has near zero impact on working conditions or anything else. Apple knows what will happen to their business model if there are any significant shifts in the Chinese labor market. As the article points out their so-called audits are almost always known about ahead of time and even when violations are found and “corrected” you can be sure that the amount of time they stay corrected is measured in days, if not hours.

      So, despite the truth is quite different. All you have to do is read the actual statements by Apple executives to see that they intend to provide nothing more than lip service to these issues. And to be fair, so long as other companies can sell products in the U.S. benefit from these practices they pretty much have no choice. Sadly, much of the manufacturing infrastructure in the U.S. is lost – no simple answers for sure.

      • Marthe Lépine

        Maybe this could be an opportunity to begin building smaller local businesses employing local people to serve local people, for example in the form of coops. Time to start trying out those good distributist theories, it just might work now.

        • Harpy

          Because of the capital equipment and investment required for electronics manufacturing, there is a certain scale required that prevents such a business from being able to survive on local patronage. Also, the supplier relationships required make it impractical at smaller scales. There are a few notable counter-examples which I cheer on, but very few.

          • Oregon Catholic

            This move to offshore manufacturing is due in large part to our cooperation with consumerism and a desire for ever more cheap disposable toys. Companies wouldn’t need dormitories with 8000 workers for a nimble workforce (see the article in the first comment) if we weren’t buying up every latest gadget and going into debt to do so.

            The article also mentions that Apple made a profit of 400K for every worker it employs. How much profit is enough? Apparently, Obama thinks that’s a good model since Apple and Steve Jobs got such a compliment in last night’s SOTU speech – he want us to churn out more like him.

        • Marthe Lépine

          Why can’t people think outside the box? When I suggested smaller local businesses to serve local people, I did NOT mean electronics and hi-tech. The main reason people flock to purchase every new gadget, particularly electronic, is the hype around every step of their development. What I meant is that there are a lot of other local needs to meet, all over the “map”, for goods and services from local people to local people, and this emphasis on huge organizations to make possible, instantly, every little change to a new development, such as changing the type of screen on a gadget within 24 hours, is not the only way to run a business, and is not even really necessary for people to live their lives.

  • Andy, Bad Person

    If it wasn’t for our socialist labor laws, our 13 year olds could be doing that work.

    • Marthe Lépine

      It would certainly be much cheaper than getting them to school… Imagine how much could be saved: teachers’ salaries, school buildings, etc. , all paid for by taxpayers money. In addition, those 13 year old would begin paying taxes, thus helping to pay off the deficits incurred by wars abroad…

  • Tim H

    I’m only commenting on the Mark’s comments and the comments in here (I didn’t read the article). But I guess I’d like Mark or someone to tell me the desired outcome here. Are you upset that Apple is paying what seems like so little (to us)? Or are you upset that these things aren’t made here? Or are you just upset that these things are made at all?

    As Jon W points out above, when workers compete for jobs, wages head towards equal.

    I understand that the 70 cents an hour looks measely and I’m not necessarily defending it, but what would be a just wage? These folks value the 70 cents an hour more than not working for 70 cents an hour. I get that there are pressures that make for a weak bargaining position for these workers, but the whole point of a price is to figure out how scarce a resource is. It’s whole point is to get you to compress all of your wants and desires into a single small piece of information that can be easily conveyed in a non personal way. You can complain that’s what a price is (which seems puerile). You can complain that it’s a bummer that these folks are willing to work for so little, but what seems a little unfair about your commentary is the tone of “SEEEE . . . SEEE what those evil bastards are doing!” What good is that and what exactly is your suggestion? I don’t think anyone gets off on the fact that they pay peanuts and the peasants lap it up. They might get off on the bargain, but I seriously doubt company policy is to get off on seeing people scramble for 70 cents an hour despite what OWS and Jon Stewart might think.

    So work it out. What is it you’d like to see happen? Have Apple pay them $10 an hour . . . then what happens when Motorola moves their plants to Bangladesh and pays 10 cents an hour again. Follow the all the consquences.

    Ya know Mark, I’m glad you do bring these things up. They are troubling – I don’t feel like 70 cents is a just wage either – but when you complain about this stuff and then dismiss your own study of economics (because your “eyes glaze over”), I don’t feel like you are giving the problem the weight that it deserves. This is a difficult issue and not one easily tossed aside with moralizing. I do ask that you make some attempts to understand economics a little more. (Read Hazlitt’s book – Economics in One Lesson. He was a pretty good writer. I’d like to get the impression you see the problems for what they are.)

    And btw, I’m not saying business people won’t do everything they can to make a profit. I friggin’ know that is exactly what they do. Hell, Adam Smith 240 years ago said don’t let the merchants get together because they’ll collude. What I’m saying is given that reality and the other reality that government regulators often get into bed with the regulatees, these problems are hard to resolve.

    You’re responses remind me of your own arguments against those who say what do we need all this theology/Church for? Can’t we all just love each other? Well . . . yeah, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple.

    • Amy

      Do you really think there’s a case for saying that having 13-year olds work 12-hour days while living in dormitories (presumably apart from their families) coincides with just labor practices?

      I’d say just labor practices would have to include age limits, an 8-10 hour work day, and the ability to live with ones family (excepting, of course, situations where that would present a danger or hardship such as working in remote areas).

    • Oregon Catholic

      It seems to me that any business person who puts morality even a baby-step ahead of profit can answer most of your questions quite easily.
      Here are just a few moral questions off the top of my head that Apple execs could ask themselves based on that article:
      Do we have a patriotic duty to the country and people that make it possible for us to be so profitable? (YES)
      Is it right to make 400K profit for every employee and still say we can’t afford to make the products in the US? (Probably Not)
      Is it moral to work with a labor contractor who forces workers to live in de-humanizing conditions in huge dormitories away from family and family life so he can accomodate our every manufacturing whim and unreasonable deadline even if it means they have a job? (NO)

      If only what we call capitalism today was anything like what Adam Smith envisioned.

    • Hezekiah Garrett

      “…but the whole point of a price is to figure out how scarce a resource is.”

      Well, there is your error, my friend. You aren’t dealing with a resource.

      Commoditizing human beings is the root of so much evil.

      • Tim H

        For those arguing against me – I agree for the most part that there are issues. What I want you to see is that there are more than just mean people trying to be mean.

        Oregon Catholic
        Should Apple put US workers to work before Chinese? I agree they should, but what is your argument and how do you make it without sounding racist.

        Is it right to make 400k on each worker? I question that number but like I said, I didn’t read the piece. Second, you make it sound like they are taking that cash and sitting on the beach drinking pina coladas. Usually profit means the company is stronger and can do more research or take more risks in other ways (a related point here – everyone complains about massive profits but who (besides the banksters have someone else absorb the losses). Third, if they don’t make these kinds of profits people will invest elsewhere and the company dries up and blows away.
        Argue against those realities if you like but at least acknowledge them. Again, my point is that these are difficult problems not subject to easy solutions.
        On the contractor business – didn’t read the article – but are you saying these kids are forced to work for Apple – as in slaves?

        I guess I’m willing to go there with you on this . . .

        Are you saying the market “commoditizes” human beings just by setting a price for an hour of a person’s labor?

        If you are then you have a huge battle on your hands. Even more so than arguing like Mark against the world’s power elite.

        I do not kid myself that price tells the whole story of a produced good or service. On the other hand, if you read something I-Pencil from Leonard Read (available one the net), the concept of price does do a lot of work – really quite amazing the vector of processes it manages to boil down to one single solitary piece of information. And for markets to function, we need it. If you don’t want to have markets that’s another issue. Just trying to establish the boundaries of the discussion.

        • Oregon Catholic

          You really ought to read the article. It’s eye opening. Basically electronics manufacturing will stay in Asia because that’s where the supply chain is now. Labor has less to do with the cost of an iphone than I realized. (FYI-actual cost to build the iphone in the US would be $22)
          China has the jobs because they are willing to accomodate Foxxconn which treats labor like slaves, subjects workers to hazardous conditions, pollutes the environment, and throws up factories overnight. One of which had an explosion recently. This all appeals to companies like Apple because Foxxconn is “nimble” enough to meet their demands for pushing out new products in rapid succession which create their record profits.
          I find it all disgusting and de-humanizing. Not just for the Asian workforce but also the way we have bought into the consumerism behind it all. This is what life is about?

    • Marthe Lépine

      “These folks value the 70 cents an hour more than not working for 70 cents an hour.” — Does that mean that you think a small farmer working in a rice paddy is not doing real work? That real work is only having a job? I think that’s where the real problem is: In my opinion (having been trained both in economics and in Catholic social teaching), it is incorrect to identify “economic development” to moving people out of their traditional farming economy to put them into factories. Actually, working in the fields is a lifestyle that has many advantages for individuals and families, is good for the environment, and produces much more useful “goods” than electronic gadgets. In addition, a self-sustaining farming family does not need very much money to get their essential needs met, such as food and a roof over their heads. That’s all I can come up from the top of my head, if I had more time to think I could probably write a long treatise… A better way to see economic progress would be to make food production in the fields a better paying proposition, while at the same time showing more respect for traditional ways of life, which can also be more human ways of life.

    • Marthe Lépine

      To Tim H.: “These folks value the 70 cents an hour more than not working for 70 cents an hour.” — I have already commented earlier, but I think that there is something else to consider here as well. Maybe those people would value even more having been allowed to maintain their traditional lifestyle of working in the rice paddies (and farming in general, for which they were local experts) than being displaced by larger agribusiness operations and finding themselves downgraded to “unskilled workers” and told to consider themselves lucky to get 70 cents an hour instead of not working…
      There is a tendency in many developing countries (I am not sure China is part of this tendency, but the argument applies there as well is small farmers are being “cleared”) to chase small farmers from their lands in order to make room for large agricultural businesses doing intensive cultures of a limited number of products, therefore doing great damage to the environment by exhausting the land’s fertility, using considerable quantities of chemical fertilizers that make their way into the underground water, concentrating on products that have export value(such as corn for ethanol) instead of feeding the people, and other problems that I would look up if I had the time right now… This is not the only thing I have to say about all this, but much is already on my other post – but I don’t know where this one will attach, nor where my first one did attach…
      See my other post for more points.

  • Yesterday or the day before, I actually heard Rush Limbaugh commenting on this very story. He explained it from the POV of an Apple employee who had basically said it’s no concern of Apple what happens to the US, Apple’s concern is selling IPhones. Limbaugh went over this and explained the conditions in China in detail. He also read the statements by whoever wrote the article that the US just can’t compete with this. I heard him say, or read, that US workers would never agree to work for so little in such conditions. I didn’t hear the whole segment (had to get out of the car), but heard Limbaugh saying something about Unions. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop – and now, this is where Limbaugh slams the Chinese, this is where he says how horrible it is for Apple to do this, where he laments the conditions in which these things are built. I didn’t hear him say any such thing. Maybe he did after I was gone, but for the part of the segment I heard, it seemed somehow, at least to my hearing, that he was almost suggesting that Unions had spoiled American workers, and that’s why we’re getting trashed by the Chinese. If I missed another conclusion that he arrived at, my apologies. I dunno. Maybe it was just his usual satire. But I had to wonder.

    • Hezekiah Garrett


      You’re a nice guy, I’ll give you that for sure.