Every American concerned about this country’s economic future should take the time to read a lengthy piece in Sunday’s New York Times explaining why Apple refuses to build or assemble its products here in the United States.
Taxes have nothing to do with it. Regulations have nothing to do with it. Both pale in significance to things like this:
An eight-hour drive from that glass factory is a complex, known informally as Foxconn City, where the iPhone is assembled. To Apple executives, Foxconn City was further evidence that China could deliver workers — and diligence — that outpaced their American counterparts.
That’s because nothing like Foxconn City exists in the United States.
The facility has 230,000 employees, many working six days a week, often spending up to 12 hours a day at the plant. Over a quarter of Foxconn’s work force lives in company barracks and many workers earn less than $17 a day. When one Apple executive arrived during a shift change, his car was stuck in a river of employees streaming past. “The scale is unimaginable,” he said.
Foxconn employs nearly 300 guards to direct foot traffic so workers are not crushed in doorway bottlenecks. The facility’s central kitchen cooks an average of three tons of pork and 13 tons of rice a day. While factories are spotless, the air inside nearby teahouses is hazy with the smoke and stench of cigarettes.
Foxconn Technology has dozens of facilities in Asia and Eastern Europe, and in Mexico and Brazil, and it assembles an estimated 40 percent of the world’s consumer electronics for customers like Amazon, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Nintendo, Nokia, Samsung and Sony.
“They could hire 3,000 people overnight,” said Jennifer Rigoni, who was Apple’s worldwide supply demand manager until 2010, but declined to discuss specifics of her work. “What U.S. plant can find 3,000 people overnight and convince them to live in dorms?”
Unless Americans are willing to live in dorms where their lives are completely controlled by their employers, and do so for less than $17 a day, they cannot compete for the kind of assembly-line jobs that many of our fathers and grandfathers performed. Apple, which last year generated $400,000 in profit, not revenue, per employee, employs just 43,000 people here in the United States, while its outsourcing contractors overseas employ some 700,000.
Focusing on taxation and regulation as the cause of our challenges may be politically and ideologically convenient, but it’s a distraction. As long as that’s the focus of our debate, we aren’t addressing the true problems that we face.
In fact, the situation reminds me of the old story about the drunk who has lost his car keys and is searching for them under a street light.
“Well, where did you lose them?” somebody asks.
“Somewhere over there,” the drunk says, pointing out into the inky darkness.
“Then why are you looking for them over here, under the street light?”
“Becaush the light’s better.”
– Jay Bookman