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Steve Jobs and the Joseph Stalin Charm School
January 4, 2012 6:35 AM   Subscribe

"“Out of the crooked timber of humanity,” Kant wrote, “no straight thing was ever made.” Not even an iPad." "[A]ll the credit you give Steve Jobs for the ecstasy must be equal to the blame for the agony." Gary Sernovitz on Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs (previously), and Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. [via]
posted by daniel_charms (50 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
The question, "is the iPad worth the mistreatment of junior Apple employees?", seems to imply that at some point, the asker expects they'll have to make a choice like how much mistreatment they're willing to inflict, for how much technological progress.

I don't think it works like that. Whenever you do anything, there are side effects; when you do something big, the side effects get bigger; and so, when Steve Jobs set about turning himself into Apple CEO Steve Jobs, he also accidentally made himself a bastard. That's my guess, anyway. It's a pretty common pattern for obsessive people.

So instead of assuming that you gotta abuse your employees in order to make awesome stuff, and then asking if that's okay, wouldn't it be better to talk about how to become a Steve Jobs without becoming a Masterwork Bastard Steve Jobs?

If Sernovitz doesn't mean to assume that, then I don't understand why he's asking the question. Comparing the ethics of two events makes sense if you really can't have one without the other, not if you can. And I'm pretty sure you can.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:49 AM on January 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's well-known that Kant really hated iPads, though, so we shouldn't take that quote out of context. He just happened to be one of those Linux geeks with a chip on his shoulder.
posted by koeselitz at 7:02 AM on January 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


"is the iPad worth the mistreatment of junior Apple employees?"

On a list of all the people in the supply chain whose mistreatment deserves more introspection on the part of consumers, the place we should focus our efforts is junior Apple employees and their hurt feelings?

If nothing else that's classic n+1.
posted by mhoye at 7:05 AM on January 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh god, can we stop making back-handed compliments about a dead CEO now?
posted by clvrmnky at 7:08 AM on January 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


mhoye, I think it's reasonable to regard the Foxconn employees in China as really being proxy Apple employees.
posted by pharm at 7:11 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


mhoye, I think it's reasonable to regard the Foxconn employees in China as really being proxy Apple employees.

In the article, I believe he does mean official Apple employees when he talks about mistreatment. But, the reason he says that is because this is what Isaacson's book focuses on, and it largely ducks the big question of it's Chinese suppliers.

Oh god, can we stop making back-handed compliments about a dead CEO now?

Yeah, I think we should stop beating around the bush and just move on to the direct attacks. It seems Sernovitz starts to do that, as he essentially compares Jobs to Communist China, Mussolini, and Joseph Stalin.
posted by FJT at 7:19 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


On a list of all the people in the supply chain whose mistreatment deserves more introspection on the part of consumers, the place we should focus our efforts is junior Apple employees and their hurt feelings?

Sounds like somebody did not RTFA.

I appreciate this piece's ambivalence. It echoes my own. I think the reality is something a friend of mine said to me the other day in a mostly unrelated conversation: Nobody's hands are clean until everybody's hands are clean.
posted by pts at 7:26 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've just finished Isaacson's biography and I disagree with the premise of the n+1 review that the book signals that "in the end his awfulness was probably OK." It didn't leave me with that impression at all. I took from the book that Jobs was a control freak with a strong sense of style and who was proud of making products anyone could use -- the book did not push one way or the other on whether this was "OK."

Regarding factory conditions, this wasn't the focus of the biography, but the reviewer must of missed Isaacson's description of the meeting with Danielle Mitterand:
“Things were not quite as sweet when Danielle Mitterrand toured the factory. The Cuba-admiring [from the AP story: "She once even kissed Cuba's revolutionary Fidel Castro at a residence for visiting dignitaries near the presidential Elysee Palace."] wife of … Mitterand… asked a lot of questions, through her translator, about the working conditions, while Jobs, who had grabbed [Apple employee] Alain Rossmann to serve as his translator, kept trying to explain the advanced robotics and technology.
After Jobs talked about the just-in-time production schedules, she asked about overtime pay. He was annoyed, so he described how automation helped him keep down labor costs, a subject he knew would not delight her. “Is it hard work” she asked. “How much vacation time do they get?” Jobs couldn’t contain himself.
“If she’s so interested in their welfare,” he said to her translator, “tell her she can come work here any time.” The translator turned pale and said nothing. After a moment, Rossman stepped in to say, in French, “M. Jobs says he thanks you for your visit and your interest in the factory.”
posted by exogenous at 7:29 AM on January 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


When people talk about Apple using Foxconn, I'm always left wondering where all the other computer/smartphone/electronics manufacturers get their parts made. To some extent, this article handles that by pointing to Apple's 40% profit margin. I'm not clear whether that's the only reason people want to hold Apple to a higher standard.

I, too, like the ambivalence of the article.
posted by bardophile at 7:32 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sounds like somebody did not RTFA.

I did, sadly, and thought that drawing parallels between how affluent Western tech employees feel and how Chinese labor actually lives and works in the attempt to make a pretty damp argument was really unfortunate.

I may be wrong in that, but I'll be honest with you: I get tired of the n+1 "wikiquote-helps-me-sound-deep" style of writing awfully fast, so I'm not going back in there to check.
posted by mhoye at 7:38 AM on January 4, 2012


When people talk about Apple using Foxconn, I'm always left wondering where all the other computer/smartphone/electronics manufacturers get their parts made.

Mr Jobs should have insisted on a name-change for 'Foxconn' to 'Seed'. In this tangled narrative of culpability we weave, he knew the importance of semiotics.
posted by panaceanot at 7:50 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dada dada DAH dada dada duhnt (pause)
Dada dada DAH dada dada duhnt (pause)

I sell the things you need to be
I'm the smiling face on your teevee . . .
 
posted by Herodios at 8:09 AM on January 4, 2012


mhoye: “I did, sadly, and thought that drawing parallels between how affluent Western tech employees feel and how Chinese labor actually lives and works in the attempt to make a pretty damp argument was really unfortunate.”

I have no dog in this fight, mhoye, but I'm pretty sure in this article "junior Apple employee" means "Foxconn worker."
posted by koeselitz at 8:17 AM on January 4, 2012


There are so many things wrong with this concluding paragraph:

Certain corporate leaders, who’ve been making 40 percent gross margins, do have that luxury. We are back to Mike Daisey’s fantasy. Had Steve Jobs never lived, there would probably be the same number of workers in Foxconn factories and their treatment would likely have been no better or worse. But Daisey is right that Jobs was in a unique position to make a difference had he decided that it was OK to be slightly less profitable by being significantly more humane. Jobs’s legacy as the lovably jerky Edison of our time ignores that he wanted us to believe that there is an escape from life into cleanly designed and efficient technology, and that only a ruthless dictator could show it to us. It ignores that many of his products were manufactured with child labor in brutally efficient factories. “Out of the crooked timber of humanity,” Kant wrote, “no straight thing was ever made.” Not even an iPad.

The Edison comparison is apt, and supports the author's point in a way they probably didn't realize - by calling Jobs a "jerky" Edison, he implies that Edison wasn't a jerk. He totally was, and his talent wasn't in innovation but in self-aggrandizement (at the expense of true innovators like Tesla). Edison's staff, like Jobs', have accomplished a lot - but what glory is there in drawing the best talent into your private tyranny?

Shareholders would have never stood for sacrificing any profits for social responsibility. It was probably explicitly forbidden in the corporate bylaws to do so. This is an inherent problem with modern capitalism, as is the elevation of megalomaniacs like Jobs.
posted by phrontist at 8:21 AM on January 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


he also accidentally made himself a bastard

I know it isn't what you meant but I just imagined him traveling back in time and undoing his parents' marriage by mistake like he was Michael J Fox.
posted by srboisvert at 8:27 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


When the iPhone first came out in 2007, it cost about $500. You can now get an iPhone 4, with a telephone contract, for $99. Some of this price drop is natural for consumer electronics. Yet Apple’s ability to drive down prices also has to do with the almost total outsourcing of its manufacturing function, most of it to China.

According to this paper, there has been no price decrease. Yes, they've moved manufacturers, but generally speaking, iphones are still 500 dollars. The 99 dollar price says less about squeezing profit out of labor and more about how much carriers profit from selling $40/mo. dataplans.
posted by pwnguin at 8:33 AM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I, too, like the ambivalence of the article.

That's pretty much the main reason why I posted it (and even then, it took me two days before I decided that I really must share it). I normally don't care about neither pro- nor anti-Apple pieces, but I really liked the way this article was written.

posted by daniel_charms at 8:45 AM on January 4, 2012


I saw Daisey's early performances of Agony and it's a shame there's not a way for more people to see it. I have long liked his work but I think he really moved up a level with this show (though you see hints of it in How Theater Failed America). Hopefully a video version will come to pass, though it seems like Daisey prefers to stick to live performances.

Daisey's piece was even more poignant while he was roughing it out in late 2010; at that point he was the only person who'd been digging deeper into FoxConn, and his stories of talking to workers - while in town pretending to be a businessman looking at local manufacturing - were enough to make your blood boil about the state of modern journalism. Wired and some other outlets stepped up and ran some deeper looks in the early months of 2011, before Daisey's show returned here to DC, but I remember thinking "about damned time you caught up with a monologist."

I honestly can't recommend it enough. If you're inclined to give weight to the idea that we know someone by their works and are interested in Jobs and Apple it'll interest you.

Phontorist, perhaps "jerky Edison" isn't meant to imply that Jobs is a worse version but a less heinous version...
posted by phearlez at 8:48 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


From a strictly business point of view, the promise of possible 40% profit margins is what allowed Apple to "bet it all" on that gambit. Business likes the possibility of big returns if they are going to gamble big. A CEO who turns around and say "yah, I know you bet on this for a big return, but I think I'd like to see chinese workers in our plants treated better then the industry standard" does not survive, generally speaking.

You can regulate a companies behaviour by government regulation, or by demand regulation (i.e. don't buy their stuff), but expecting them to behave well just because they could is not in line with how the entire system is designed.
posted by Bovine Love at 9:04 AM on January 4, 2012


Agreed, but it doesn't excuse them either.
posted by clarknova at 9:38 AM on January 4, 2012


Still, the low cost of something like that is usually put into further innovation by a place like Apple. Listen, it's still a corporation, but if you are going to have a corporation like Apple be as wealthy as it is, it might as well be one that wants to invent new devices and make technology objectively better though.
posted by skepticallypleased at 9:48 AM on January 4, 2012


or by demand regulation (i.e. don't buy their stuff)

The more commodified the supply chains for our goods and services become, the less we have this power too, as commodities become more and more fungible and the end-consumer market has no influence over the sources of raw materials, etc. The more we outsource and otherwise compartmentalize our production models, the less consumer demand influences the markets and the more it's all down to control on the supply-side.

That's why, even though no one likes iPads made in sweatshops or oil produced by dictators, we don't have economically competitive alternatives because those choices are all made in the producers' markets before they ever even reach consumer markets. And it would be uncompetitive in the context of those markets to do the right thing, even if it wouldn't be uncompetitive to do the right thing once you get to the consumer market level.

expecting them to behave well just because they could is not in line with how the entire system is designed.

Putting aside systemic thinking, economic theory, etc., isn't it just a minimal social expectation imposed on all human beings at birth, that in none of the roles we play in society, should we expect to be allowed to behave in ways that are purely self-interested without regard for our customary human social and moral obligations? If the "entire system" is designed to shield some of us from being held to the same standards of social behavior and morality as the rest of us, then the "entire system" would seem to be the problem.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:57 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


along with bill gates inventing the computer, and the little boy getting a free heart transplant because you shared his picture, it's common knowledge on facebook that steve jobs was a great man.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 10:02 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've often thought someone should make "fair trade" and/or "local" electronics. Maybe just a basic cellphone for now, by which I mean you can make phone calls and text only. Yeah, it would be really expensive and it probably would never get a carrier subsidy but I think there's a toehold available. It would be a huge challenge to design something visually compelling while also sourcing all the commodity parts ethically, but I'd buy one as my second (non-work) phone.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:05 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The elephant in the room of this article is that pretty much EVERYTHING consumers buy now is made by workers in Asia whose salaries, benefits, and routine working conditions would be unacceptable to most Americans (not that this work is available to most Americans because the jobs have all moved overseas). EVERYTHING. To narrow the focus down onto one controversial CEO with popular products is ... I'm not sure what the word is. Disingenuous? It minimizes the horrific inequality of the global economy and its effects on the United States to boot. And it's unfair to Jobs. Where is the Agony and the Ecstasy of Sam Walton? Sounds like this guy is trying to assuage his guilt about his own participation in the consumption economy by lashing out at a controversial public figure. I've no patience for that.
posted by zomg at 10:11 AM on January 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


It's no more disingenuous than when free-market boosters dismiss complaints about sourcing for manufactured goods by saying "You don't have to buy those unethical products," knowing full well, that yeah, we probably do have to buy at least some of them, since they're all produced this way and the sourcing takes place in the producer markets long before the products ever even reach the mythical "King Consumer" for his imprimatur.

We're routinely told the only legitimate remedy for most market failures is the exercise of consumer choice by people who know full well the consumer markets aren't ultimately making most of the day-to-day choices that cause the market failures, but who simultaneously deny any legitimate role for the government in regulating producer markets.

It's a train-wreck of an economic philosophy we've got going in the US these days, all around.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:23 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


saulgoodman: If the "entire system" is designed to shield some of us from being held to the same standards of social behavior and morality as the rest of us, then the "entire system" would seem to be the problem.

It isn't designed to shield them (to companies), it is designed to drive them to be as "efficient" as possible. The system is also supposed to have counterbalances/limits to ensure that society is protected from this, essentially, sociopathic behavior. So, we incentivize (sorry) companies to to reduce their labour costs as much as possible. This makes goods and services cheaper for everyone and can increase everyones standard of living. But, the workers can lose out badly on this, so we provide workers a mechanism (unions) to get leverage on their employers to protect their interests. We also provide various laws to protect these workers. Traditionally we would also employ things like duties to protect our own workforce against outside workforces that may be enjoy cost advantages over our own. So we start with a basic idea -- capitalism -- and then employ varied hacks to help correct its shortcomings. On the whole, over the last few centuries, we've enjoyed longer and more fulfilling lives (yes, that is debatable, but IMO at least it is true). But I do think we've lost some view of the whole game recently, and have looked at some of those hacks and said WTF? and started removing them, forgetting perhaps why they were there in the first place: To restrain a system we put in place that only acts on behalf of society so long as week keep boxing it in. So we no longer protect our workers vigorously against cheap foreign labour, and people get cheap TV's. I'm not advocating that we return to a completely national economy, but I suspect we need to find some middle ground where we employ things like duties to help regulate off-shoring of labour and environmental regulations. We've taken too many handcuffs off the companies. In addition, as consumers, we've got too interested in cheap goods; not even quality cheap goods, just really cheap. We need to help too.
posted by Bovine Love at 10:24 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don’t really see what this has to do with Steve Jobs, and don’t understand why he or Apple is held to a different standard. Should I be buying electronics from the company with the nice CEO that makes their products in a fair and healthy factory? Which one would that be? I always thought Jobs was kind of an ass and disappointed when he came back, but mostly didn’t care about him that much. It was only in the last couple of years that I saw that he really did have a great vision.

I read a lot of things like this that repeat these hurt little stories as if we all believe certain things. I’ve never thought that Jobs invented all those products personally, or that the company was morally superior, who did? They just make better products than the competition.

The system is faulty. Things are too cheap, we need to pay more. We need to have rules and laws that dictate how we want to live, not leave it up to consumers to set moral policy. Mob rule isn’t a great plan for a civil society. That’s why I’m not a Libertarian.
posted by bongo_x at 10:42 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it's reasonable to regard the Foxconn employees in China as really being proxy Apple employees

I'm always left curious about where people think non-Apple computing devices come from, especially given that Foxconn makes and assembles parts for lots of companies, not just Apple.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:49 AM on January 4, 2012


Huh, what? This again? I thought we decided back in the 90s that anything other than pure, unrestricted free trade was "protectionism" and should be avoided like a leper at an orgy.

Seriously, though, he makes a good point, that Jobs could have chosen to make Apple just a little less profitable, in exchange for providing, say, better workplace safety or something like that. Wouldn't have improved the lot of the vast majority of Chinese workers, but would have made a difference for, say, the people at the Foxconn factory.

I do think some public shaming is in order. I mean, I live in the Bay area, where everything is Free Range This and Organic That. How come we care so much more about animals than people? Have we become a society of autistics or what?

Sadly, I don't think this public shaming of Apple will ever happen, because we all swallowed the "free trade is good for everybody" line of thinking like 20 years ago. Although now I think that's being re-evaluated a little bit, but only inasmuch as that hasn't worked out too well for the 10%-or-so of Americans who are very much unemployed. I don't see your average American having much sympathy for Chinese workers. Instead, I could see plenty of unemployed Americans being all like, "Well, at least they HAVE jobs."
posted by Afroblanco at 11:11 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Should I be buying electronics from the company with the nice CEO that makes their products in a fair and healthy factory? Which one would that be?

Apparently I'm going to add "it's been done so much better" to my list of gripes about this article. Fake Steve Jobs, mid 2009:
Have you ever been to China? We have. We’ve been to China. We know what goes on there. We know how they open your mail, and listen to your phone calls, and let their factories pollute like crazy and exploit workers, all in the name of progress. And we turn a blind eye to it. We let them know when we’re coming to visit, and they give us a tour and put on a little show of how great things are, and how wonderful the dorm life is, and afterward we pretend to keep an eye on them — but it’s all theater. It is. We know it. What’s more, you know it. Everyone knows it.

We all know that there’s no fucking way in the world we should have microwave ovens and refrigerators and TV sets and everything else at the prices we’re paying for them. There’s no way we get all this stuff and everything is done fair and square and everyone gets treated right. No way. And don’t be confused — what we’re talking about here is our way of life. Our standard of living. You want to “fix things in China,” well, it’s gonna cost you. Because everything you own, it’s all done on the backs of millions of poor people whose lives are so awful you can’t even begin to imagine them, people who will do anything to get a life that is a tiny bit better than the shitty one they were born into, people who get exploited and treated like shit and, in the worst of all cases, pay with their lives.

You know that, and I know that. Okay? Let’s just be honest here. Just for a fucking minute, let’s all be honest.
posted by mhoye at 11:47 AM on January 4, 2012 [13 favorites]


Quick Wikipedia 'research' says that the following companies are clients of Foxconn:



  • Acer Inc. (Taiwan)

  • Amazon.com (United States)[16]

  • Apple Inc. (United States)[18]

  • ASRock (Taiwan)

  • Asus (Taiwan)

  • Barnes & Noble (United States)

  • Cisco (United States)

  • Dell (United States)

  • EVGA Corporation (United States)

  • Hewlett-Packard (United States)[19]

  • Intel (United States)

  • IBM (United States)

  • Lenovo (China)

  • Logitech (Switzerland)

  • Microsoft (United States)

  • MSI (Taiwan)

  • Motorola (United States)

  • Netgear (United States)

  • Nintendo (Japan)

  • Nokia (Finland)[18]

  • Panasonic (Japan)

  • Philips (Netherlands)

  • Samsung (South Korea)

  • Sharp (Japan)

  • Sony Ericsson (Japan/Sweden)[20]

  • Toshiba (Japan)

  • Vizio (United States)

    So yeah, this doesn't make Apple any worse, but just thought I'd throw this into the conversation. Obviously, this is a systemic issue and not one tied to Steve Jobs.

  • posted by graphnerd at 12:42 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


    When people talk about Apple using Foxconn, I'm always left wondering where all the other computer/smartphone/electronics manufacturers get their parts made.

    Also at Foxconn, for many.
    Last week, I took apart an old Dell and it had a Foxconn branded motherboard.
    posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:43 PM on January 4, 2012


    We all know that there’s no fucking way in the world we should have microwave ovens and refrigerators and TV sets and everything else at the prices we’re paying for them. There’s no way we get all this stuff and everything is done fair and square and everyone gets treated right. No way. And don’t be confused — what we’re talking about here is our way of life.

    I don't think that I do necessarily know this. There's no physical law that necessarily prevents us from making lots of things like microwave ovens (even lots of them) at cheap prices without exploiting the labor side of the equation too much. The problem is just that the entire business world's strategy for perpetuating growth has been to undercut labor--without even a basic recognition of the simple fact that the labor market is also the primary source of the economic demand that keeps economies running. They also seem to have forgotten that markets are basically built on formal and informal regulations--at a minimum, the basic contract laws and social customs we generally characterize as good business practices--and now seem to think markets just spring forth wholly formed and Platonically perfect from the brow of Zeus.

    A "market" is just an abstract cultural idea that has a lot in common with the idea of a "game": Markets are made of the formal and informal rules and customs that define them and not much else. You can't have markets without rules anymore than you can have games without rules. And depending on who gets to make up, arbitrate and enforce the rules, markets can produce all sorts of different kinds of outcomes. And just as with games, people start to get understandably suspicious about cheating or other problems with the rules that apply in a particular market when the outcomes seem to consistently and disproportionately favor certain players over others.
    posted by saulgoodman at 12:49 PM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


    In a more serious vein, I was totally unaware that monologist is a word. This has made me deeply uneasy about what else I might not know.
    posted by localroger at 1:39 PM on January 4, 2012


    So yeah, this doesn't make Apple any worse, but just thought I'd throw this into the conversation. Obviously, this is a systemic issue and not one tied to Steve Jobs.

    I'm not sure it matters. Steve Jobs was a public figure for more reasons than his running a company that did business with Foxconn. As the public face of Apple he's easier to poke at than a non-human entity like Acer.

    When Phil Knight was the public face of Nike he got prodded over factory conditions. Just as Apple isn't the only company working with Foxconn, Knight wasn't the only person at Nike responsible for those factories; the rest of the board and other Nike execs bore responsibility. But the public face is going to get the pie thrown at it.

    It's an interesting issue - does having that human face tied to the company make it more vulnerable to these sorts of criticism? Is it a net good or bad for the company?
    posted by phearlez at 1:54 PM on January 4, 2012


    Apple takes more heat than everyone else doing the same thing because they have always encouraged the idea that they are exceptional. They are the paradigmatic case for california-ideologists who refuse to believe that young nerdy people in tech startups can do wrong, can be tarred with any of the traditional criticisms leveled at big business.
    posted by phrontist at 2:02 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Fix the quotation marks in the post, please, which are wrong two ways and counting.
    posted by joeclark at 2:07 PM on January 4, 2012


    I think one of the reasons for bringing up the angst of US middle managers mistreated by Jobs is that if he was inclined to such casual cruelty toward those he knew, interacted with on a daily basis, and thought of him as a friend and colleague, then it is unsurprising that he would be moved by the plight of the worker ants at Foxconn who might as be disposable once they have created their quota of iStuff.

    And while the latter is quite a common attitude among US execs, the former is really pretty extraordinary and suggests a depth of unpleasantness unsuspected by most of those who admire him.
    posted by localroger at 2:56 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


    It's an interesting issue - does having that human face tied to the company make it more vulnerable to these sorts of criticism? Is it a net good or bad for the company?

    That's a really good point. And (to argue my own point), I have to wonder if giving the issue a public face, especially one as notable as Steve Jobs, could actually help draw attention to the issues involved in all of this.

    Sad that a dead American billionaire is more likely to get attention than billions of suffering sub-hundredaires...
    posted by graphnerd at 3:17 PM on January 4, 2012


    I'm always left curious about where people think non-Apple computing devices come from, especially given that Foxconn makes and assembles parts for lots of companies, not just Apple.
    How many people do you hear singing the praises of Michael Dell, or Carly Fiorina? Those people aren't even there anymore, and most people don't even know who the CEOs of most other tech companies are. Meg Whitman is at HP now, and people hate her. I don't know who the CEO of Dell is. All the other PC brands now are Japanese, Korean or Taiwanese.

    The problem isn't buying the stuff, but rather the hagiography.
    We all know that there’s no fucking way in the world we should have microwave ovens and refrigerators and TV sets and everything else at the prices we’re paying for them. There’s no way we get all this stuff and everything is done fair and square and everyone gets treated right. No way. And don’t be confused — what we’re talking about here is our way of life. Our standard of living. You want to “fix things in China,” well, it’s gonna cost you. Because everything you own, it’s all done on the backs of millions of poor people whose lives are so awful you can’t even begin to imagine them, people who will do anything to get a life that is a tiny bit better than the shitty one they were born into, people who get exploited and treated like shit and, in the worst of all cases, pay with their lives.

    You know that, and I know that. Okay? Let’s just be honest here. Just for a fucking minute, let’s all be honest.
    Too bad it's complete Bullshit. Labor costs are only a very small part of the overall cost of those things. Worker salaries could be increased quite a bit without people noticing at the store. That's especially true of super-high tech electronics like cellphones/ipads/etc.

    The only people who "know" that are innumerate.
    posted by delmoi at 3:48 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Too bad it's complete Bullshit. Labor costs are only a very small part of the overall cost of those things.

    Ever ask yourself why that is?
    posted by mhoye at 4:33 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Ever ask yourself why that is?

    Does it matter? Doubling pay and benefits would only result in a minor end-user increase in cost.
    posted by delmoi at 4:39 PM on January 4, 2012


    Doubling pay and benefits would only result in a minor end-user increase in cost.

    The fact that we are building all of this stuff in places where labor is cheap and unprotected before shipping it across the ocean to get here is prima facie evidence that this is false.

    Doubling pay and providing even marginal benefits - because doubling zero is zero, clearly - at any one step in the supply chain might have a minor effect on cost, but doubling them at most or all steps in the supply chain, not to mention the concomitant, costly stuff we enjoy here like workplace health and safety laws with teeth, would mean that they'd in all likelihood be cheaper to manufacture in North America and, ohai, that's not what is happening.
    posted by mhoye at 6:41 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


    The fact that we are building all of this stuff in places where labor is cheap and unprotected before shipping it across the ocean to get here is prima facie evidence that this is false.
    Well, you would think that the fact Foxconn actually did double everyone's salary in 2010 proves that, at that point, it was certainly true, and had been before that point in time.

    You seem to be assuming that it's expensive to ship this stuff overseas. It's hard to understand how cheap global shipping could be 'prima facie' evidence that things that have already happened are impossible.
    As recently as two weeks ago, the basic salary for many workers at Foxconn’s huge factories in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen was about 900 renminbi a month, or about $132 a month.

    Last week, Foxconn said that salary would immediately rise to $176 a month. And now, the company says that after a three-month trial period, workers will be paid $294 a month.
    ---

    In other words, salaries were raised from $1,600 a year to $3,200. Apparently, the people at Foxconn decided this would cost less, in the long run, then the bad PR they were getting.

    From the article:
    More unfathomable, even as business strategy, Apple is hoarding $82 billion in cash and marketable securities, enough to give every worker in the Foxconn factory nearly $200,000.
    But, the money that Apple has made and has been been unable to spend during the past few years is $200k per employee. That's not what they've earned, that's what they've been unable to spend. Had they paid that money to factory workers, it wouldn't have a made any difference to anyone other then the balance sheets of investors. It would have made zero difference to customers.

    That's what I'm saying. If you believe that these conditions are necessarily to produce cheap electronics you are bad at math.
    posted by delmoi at 7:12 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


    mhoye:
    On a list of all the people in the supply chain whose mistreatment deserves more introspection on the part of consumers, the place we should focus our efforts is junior Apple employees and their hurt feelings?

    If nothing else that's classic n+1.

    and

    I may be wrong in that, but I'll be honest with you: I get tired of the n+1 "wikiquote-helps-me-sound-deep" style of writing awfully fast, so I'm not going back in there to check.

    and

    Apparently I'm going to add "it's been done so much better" to my list of gripes about this article.

    I'm not seeing much depth or thought in your criticism, here. It sounds like you have some kind of weird, pre-existing beef with n+1. I gather you don't know how small magazines work: there is relatively little editorial voice control, and certainly very little, if any payment. Writers are not staff writers. Sernovitz, for one, is first and foremost a novelist, and a rather well-read one, from my reading of his other work. So lashing out blindly at him really only shows your own impatience and stupidity.

    (And do you really want to suggest, per your last comment, that there's only room for one critique of Steve Jobs? Really?)

    If you have problems with n+1, fine. But please don't use that as an excuse to shit up the whole thread.
    posted by It ain't over yet at 5:51 AM on January 5, 2012


    zomg:
    it's unfair to Jobs. Where is the Agony and the Ecstasy of Sam Walton? Sounds like this guy is trying to assuage his guilt about his own participation in the consumption economy by lashing out at a controversial public figure. I've no patience for that.

    Please.
    posted by It ain't over yet at 5:56 AM on January 5, 2012


    I just saw a tweet from Woolly Mammoth Theater Company; apparently this weekend's This American Life will include a piece called "Mr Daisey and the Apple Factory."
    Mike Daisey was a total tech geek, a self-described "worshipper in the cult of Mac." Then he saw some pictures on a brand new iPhone, taken by workers inside the factory where it was made. For the first time in his life, Mike started to wonder: Who actually makes all my crap? So he traveled to China to find out.
    posted by phearlez at 11:44 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


    phearlez, I'm listening to that right now and I noted that earlier this week that episode was entitled "Where Your Crap Comes From." It's been renamed now that the episode is live online:
    Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory

    I thought about making a FPP before I saw this thread was open.
    posted by fiercecupcake at 5:02 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I haven't finished the whole episode yet, but the end of Daisey's monologue just destroyed me. It made me want to throw out all my electronics and go live in a cave. But I know I won't do that. I was listening to the podcast on a Nokia smartphone and I'm typing this on a Thinkpad. Nobody's hands are clean.
    posted by kmz at 7:45 AM on January 9, 2012


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