Manufacturing Isn’t Coming back

At CNN Money, Apple is profiled to show why its nearly impossible to bring manufacturing back to America.

Apple has said that it directly employs thousands of its own workers in China, and about 700,000 assembly workers at manufacturing contractors like Foxconn put together Apple products. It would be almost impossible to bring those jobs to the United States.

Foxconn — China’s largest private employer and the manufacturer of an estimated 40% half of the world’s consumer electronic devices — pays its assembly workers far less than American labor laws would allow. A typical salary is 2500 RMB (U.S. $400), or about $18 a day.

But pay isn’t the biggest obstacle. Various economists have estimated how much an all-American labor force would add to the cost of an iPhone and come up withfigures ranging from $65 to $100 per device.

The real stumbling block is speed. Unlike U.S. plants, Foxconn and other Chinese manufacturing operations house employees in dormitories and can send hundreds of thousands of workers to the assembly lines at a moment’s notice. On the lines, workers are subjected to what most Americans would consider unbearably long hours and tough working conditions.

So the free market has driven manufacturing to China, where workers have far lower tolerances for horrible working conditions. The public sector, however, has also failed us.

There’s another catch, and it’s one that politicians don’t like to talk about: China has many more skilled engineers than the United States does.

Steve Jobs, Apple’s late CEO, brought the issue up during an October 2010 meeting with President Obama. He called America’s lackluster education system an obstacle for Apple, which needed 30,000 industrial engineers to support its on-site factory workers.

“You can’t find that many in America to hire,” Jobs told the president, according to his biographer, Walter Isaacson. “If you could educate these engineers, we could move more manufacturing plants here.”

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2 Responses to Manufacturing Isn’t Coming back

  1. Jarret R. says:

    Its worth pointing out that economic decisions are not inevitable, rather, they are made by human beings. If dormitory wage-slavery is the future “freedom” that global capitalism has planned for much of the world, we’re all complicit in it. Forget talk about “bringing American manufacturing back.” What we need is an honest, moral and philosophical conversation about the meaning of human dignity and human rights in a market economy, and how much human misery is an acceptable amount. Further, it would be of much benefit if the national cultural conversation shifted away from one that glorified greed and materialism, i.e. conservatism, and moved towards one that saw declines in wages, benefits, and environmental stewardship as a moral problem, rather than as some inevitable ideal.

    • Its a good conversation to have. There are signs that the labor market in China in moving in the right direction, though. Wages have risen around 20% this year alone. There was something like 15,000 strikes this year alone. Some manufacturing in China has become so expensive that they are being outsourced to Pakistan and Vietnam. The only things that will change the conditions of the global labor market are responsible regulations and individuals flexing their political power as their wages increase. I still don’t see Apple bringing these jobs back to the states, It will just make an iPhone fifty bucks more expensive.

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