Apple Inc. and the Betrayal of the American Dream

Big week for Apple fanboys and girls. New iPhone. You better keep up with all the cool people and buy one. It will change your life. Well, maybe not, but you’ll be the envy of all those iPhone 4 losers. “Wow dude,” you can say to them, “that’s one short, thick, throwback phone.”

A recent book by two Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporters titled, “The Betrayal of the American Dream,” criticizes Apple for outsourcing too many of its jobs. Here’s a National Public Radio story on the authors and their book.

Even though I’m an Apple fanboy and investor, I believe the bigger the company and the greater its influence in the world, the more we should hold it accountable for being transparent, honoring workers’ rights, and protecting the environment. Apple’s marketing, products, and momentum can bedazzle at the expense of critical inquiry.

I’ve been swapping emails with my friend—Dan, Dan, the Transportation Man—about driverless cars. The last one I sent him linked to an article that suggested, initially at least, driverless cars will cost around $300k. “Just do what Apple does” he wrote back sarcastically, “and outsource it (the manufacturing of the driverless car) to China.”

In the United States, especially during election season, knee-jerk criticism of outsourcing is legion. Few of the critics take any time to consider how much more they’d have to pay for their toothbrushes, clothes, iPads, bicycles, and cars if they were all completely manufactured in the United States. Heaven for bid if we connected a few dots.

In their critique of Apple, I wonder whether the “Betrayal” authors factor in the daily benefits of its products to users around the world. I made light of the newest iPhone, but you’d have to pry my MacBook Pro from my cold dead fingers.

Also, outsourcing is an abomination only when economic nationalism prevails. It’s possible, theoretically at least, to think more globally without sacrificing love of country, and therefore, to cheer job growth irrespective of political borders. Especially given global economic interconnectedness and the fact that most of Apple’s foreign-based employees buy some U.S. imports.

The authors would chuckle at my naivete. They’d point out we continue to run a tremendous trade deficit with China because international trade is conducted on a grossly uneven playing field. China has far fewer labor and environmental regulations, pays workers far less (even when adjusted for cost of living), and places protective tariffs on our imports. The uneven nature of the international trade playing field is a pressing problem.

But I wonder what the authors would say about the charitable giving the GalPal and I will be doing the next few years as a result of recently selling some Apple shares that had quadrupled over the last four years.

For me, the jury is still out on what kind of corporate citizen Apple is. I value critical analyses, but at present, I will continue to use its products and invest in it. I am not a model to follow. Apple’s fate will be determined by the individual and collective decision-making of technology users around the world.

For cutting edgers like me, there’s just one decision left. A black or white iPhone 5?

4 thoughts on “Apple Inc. and the Betrayal of the American Dream

  1. I really don’t have a problem with the global economy either except for worker exploitation. I suspect if we get some of these cheap labor markets to unionize where they could create a more livable wage for themselves and their families with health benefits from their employers, unless there is already universal health care in their country, I think we might not see so many jobs going over sees.

    Once the benefits to “job creators” in cheaper labor markets begins to diminish in terms of lower profits from increased wages for workers, companies will begin to start coming back home or for those who haven’t left yet, stay put.

    Of course some of these companies will align with the governments they relocate to and use their military and police forces to suppress workers seeking better wages and working conditions, causing deadly unrest as what occurred recently in South Africa

  2. I think this issue is an example of how the changes technology and globalization are bringing mean that our current political structures are obsolete. The sovereign state, or even the notion of states trading relies on the idea that states house the economic actors. When these actors are transnational they use sovereignty to their advantage – they can buy off regulators, pressure politicians, and create a situation where they aren’t really accountable. That limits democracy as well. We need to think beyond he sovereign state (itself an invention from 1648 to replace the old decentralized system of Church dominance) and a whole new form of politics. That won’t be easy!

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