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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

January 24, 2012 at 9:30 AM

Jobs on jobs: They ain’t coming back

The most disturbing story I’ve read in a good while came with Sunday’s New York Times, on why America has lost its high-tech manufacturing jobs. It focuses on Apple, which employs 43,000 in the United States, a fraction of the 400,000 Americans who worked for General Motors at its zenith. As the Times reports, “Many more people work for Apple’s contractors: an additional 700,000 people engineer, build and assemble iPads, iPhones and Apple’s other products. But almost none of them work in the United States.” Most are in Asia, including at China’s notorious Foxconn.

At a gathering of Silicon Valley executives last February, President Obama asked what it would take to make iPhones in the United States. The late Steve Jobs said, “Those jobs aren’t coming back.” Why? Executives such as Mr. Jobs want the “flexibility” of Chinese workers when he demanded a last-minute glass screen on the phone:

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day. “The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the (Apple) executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

Yes, slave labor does have that advantage. Apple brings in some $400,000 per employee but little of that goes to those working in the suicide-ridden Foxconn factories, whose CEO compares workers to animals. Another choice quote from an Apple exec: “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible.” This is the very definition of the sociopath corporation.

Jared Bernstein, a former economic adviser to the White House, said, “Apple’s an example of why it’s so hard to create middle-class jobs in the U.S. now. If it’s the pinnacle of capitalism, we should be worried.”

And Don’t Miss: Why the clean-tech boom went bust || Wired

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Starbucks beer and wine?

Add a martini to that

Make it a venti

Comments | More in China economy and business, Income/living standards, Jobs/Unemployment, Tech economy

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