Apple and the Outsourced Economy

This is interesting segment from “UP w/ Chris Hayes” that discusses Apple’s recent successes and what it means about the U.S. economy. Mike Daisey, creator of the one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”, is a special guest. While the discussion is framed within a political undertone, the segment is largely non-partisan.

There are key points made about the decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs. Those jobs have declined in part because improved conditions and pay for workers in the U.S. have led to companies outsourcing manufacturing to countries where regulations are weaker and scalability is more flexible. Profits are subsequently increased at companies like Apple, which is celebrated as U.S. innovation and a sign of a strong economy. At the same time, celebrating that flexibility is really celebrating the oppression of foreign workers. It is a slippery slope.

Where does this get fixed? For the economy to appear strong, people need to buy things. To buy things, people want cheap products. For products to be cheap, supply chain economics dictate that jobs must be outsourced to countries where workforce rights are weak. What are people willing to give up? Cheap products? Probably not. Regulated working conditions and fair pay in the U.S.? Hell no. The guilt of knowing poor, overworked, underpaid foreigners made their product. Most likely.

I do take one issue with the segment as a whole. I understand that Apple is singled out because they are the largest PC1 and smartphone manufacturer in the world. However, they are but one piece in a larger industry. The same company that manufactures Apple products also assembles devices for Microsoft, Amazon, and others. Mike Daisey’s assertion that Apple alone can fix the problem by throwing money at the situation is laughable. To affect real change in China, it will take a concerted effort by all U.S. companies to demand strict adherence to supplier responsibility. Until then, ask yourself what you are willing to give up.

  1. I’m including iPad. [return]