Apple has created up to 700,000 jobs … in Asia

This is a two-fer; I’m going to link two opinion pieces to make one point.

First, Paul Krugman, in a recent column commenting on Mitch Daniels’ assertion that American businessman Steve Jobs was a hero–job creator who should be emulated. He gets to the Apple point midway through (my emphasis):

[A]nyone who reads The New York Times knows that [Daniels’] assertion about job creation was completely false: Apple employs very few people in this country.

A big report in The Times last Sunday laid out the facts. Although Apple is now America’s biggest U.S. corporation as measured by market value, it employs only 43,000 people in the United States, a tenth as many as General Motors employed when it was the largest American firm.

Apple does, however, indirectly employ around 700,000 people in its various suppliers. Unfortunately, almost none of those people are in America.

Krugman points out that it’s not just the low wages; it’s also the local supply infrastructure. But even so, how did the whole of it, the factories and that lovely network of local parts suppliers, get there to begin with?

Answer — American industrial policy. Yes, we did it to ourselves. (By “we” I mean the do-ers, Our Betters; and by “ourselves” I mean the do-ees, you and me.)

American government always has an industrial policy. We’ve never been without one. And in the last 30 years, the right-wing Reagan government — and every U.S. government since — has grown campaign-contribution-fat by picking corporate winners and labor losers in the newspeakishly named “free market.” The rest is just disinformation, something to keep you confused until they’ve robbed you totally blind.

Here’s Robert Reich to make the connection:

Jobs Won’t Come Back to America Until the Government Pushes Greedy Corporate Executives to Invest at Home

That’s his headline, not to put too fine a point on it.

And here’s a bit of the meat (my emphasis below).

… An Apple executive says “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible.” He might have added “and showing a big enough profits to continually increase our share price.”

Most executives of American companies agree. If they can make it best and cheapest in China, or anywhere else, that’s where it will be made. Don’t blame them. … What they want in America is lower corporate taxes, less regulation, and fewer unionized workers. But none of these will bring good jobs to America. These steps may lower the costs of production here, but global companies can always find even lower costs abroad. …

But here’s the political problem. American firms have huge clout in Washington. They maintain legions of lobbyists and are pouring boatloads of money into political campaigns. After the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, there’s no limit.

Who represents the American workforce? … [C]orporate America isn’t their friend. Without bold government action on behalf of our workforce, good American jobs will continue to disappear.

The headline makes the point stronger than the piece itself, but still, the point is there.

Government always acts (or not-acts) in someone’s behalf. It always picks winners and losers, in exactly the same way you do when you decide to see Chucky Does Paris rather than Midnight in Missoula — or even when you stay home instead with a big box of deep-fried Drummer Boy Wings and your tears. Someone walks away with your dollar, and the rest just walk. Same diff.

The real question is — What’s American labor, chained as it is to the NeoLiberal-dominated Democratic party, going to do about it?

Not many choices, are there? I can think of just three — Leave the party. Kick those corporate-financed NeoLibs out of first position and take over. Whine.

If you don’t pick (1) or (2), the third picks you (not to put too fine a point on it).

GP


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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  • Tim

    Apple is being out hustled by Asian competitors.

    There’s a reason for this. Asian employees have tenure. Their best future is tied to their companies future. Every single employee is poring everything they have to insure their companies success.

    Apple? Not so much. An engineer at Apple has a nice, reasonably paid job. When Apple thrives, does he benefit much from it? Not much more than his salary. When Apple junks, the engineer just rolls into another position, if available, perhaps with less pay. He’s fungible and from his perspective jobs, and the companies he works for are fungible.

    In essence, every employee’s orientation and relation to their company is similar to Steve Jobs orientation and relation to Apple. Which is why he produced great results. But most of the people working for Apple don’t have that orientation, relation and stake in Apple.

    Desperate for a future, Asian companies (and their equally desperate employees) have thrown everything they can at the smart phone market to get some traction on apple. They found it – in phablets (phones with 5″ or larger screens). When they first came on the scene, phablets were ridiculed for their size, (and the first one by Dell didn’t survive, but the second one by Samsung, the Note, did survive, in part because the bigger surface was mitigated in part by thinner body, and also by a new note taking stylus functionality – this is the kind of thing that Jobs did). But the fact is, larger screens provide MUCH greater utility, so people are migrating to them anyway. Here in Korea, there are so many large screen devices that they no longer “look goofy”. Now, a small phone looks, well, inadequate.

    Once this opening into market traction was found by Samsung, all the Asian phone makers are scrambling into action in this market.

    And Apple?

    They increased the iphone screen from 3.5″ to 4″.

    On Monday I went to get a cell phone for my life in Korea. I took the cheapest option available to me. It came with a free 4.3 inch screen on a 1.5ghz multicore cpu device from Samsung that looks just like their best devices – the Galaxy S 3, and the Note 2 (Galaxy R style).

    Apple’s product has great quality. But their products are not going to be competitive over the long term because employees are just employees and the workers that build their products have an even worse status, and so the fire to improve things occurs only at the highest levels where also the most comfort and isolation exists. At the high level, if Apple declines or fails, they are rich that they will all be able to retire to golf, at the middle and low levels, they just go get other jobs.

    I’m not one to invest in stock markets – but over the long term Apple will go back to where they were in the late 1990s: great interesting products, but small marginal market share.

    Perhaps its a gift from Yahweh, but concentrated wealth models are not sustainable. Rome began to expand after they cut their lower classes a decent deal (the 12 tables in 490bc). Rome collapsed a thousand years later when wealth was so concentrated that 6 senators managed to own half of North Africa.

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