Posts tagged with: Apple Inc.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, January 9, 2012

Made-in-ChinaThe latest episode of This American Life follows the story of Mike Daisey and his investigation into the origins of Apple products, especially the iPhone which is “Made in China.”

What might the iPhone say if it could speak for itself? Ira Glass provides some answers to such a question in the opening moments of this episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.” It’s illuminating that Daisey half-jokingly describes his devotion to Apple products in religious terms (this doesn’t prevent him from using the Lord’s name in cursory fashion, however).

Just like the pencil in Leonard Read’s essay, “I, Pencil,” the iPhone is “a mystery,” one “taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril.”

There are many, many lessons to learn from the story of I, iPhone. One of these lessons has to do with the dignity of the various people who work together to invent, assemble, market, sell, and distribute such wonders. This is where This American Life largely focuses its energies in this episode.

Another lesson has to do with the lessons about global trade and interdependence. In his book Work: The Meaning of Your Life—A Christian Perspective, Lester DeKoster leads us through a thought experiment, in this case having to do with “I, Chair.”

As seeds multiply themselves into harvest, so work flowers into civilization. The second harvest parallels the first: Civilization,
like the fertile fields, yields far more in return on our efforts than our particular jobs put in.

Verify that a moment by taking a casual look around the room in which you are now sitting. Just how long would it have taken you to make, piece by piece, the things you can lay eyes on?

Let’s look together.

That chair you are lounging in? Could you have made it for yourself? Well, I suppose so, if we mean just the chair!

Perhaps you did in fact go out to buy the wood, the nails, the glue, the stuffing, the springs—and put it all together. But if by making the chair we mean assembling each part from scratch, that’s quite another matter. How do we get, say, the wood? Go and fell a tree? But only after first making the tools for that, and putting together some kind of vehicle to haul the wood, and constructing a mill to do the lumber, and roads to drive on from place to place? In short, a lifetime or two to make one chair! We are physically unable, it is obvious, to provide ourselves from scratch with the household goods we can now see from wherever you and I are sitting — to say nothing of building and furnishing the whole house.

There’s much more to unpack just from these two lessons, of course.

How much of our expectations about the conditions of workers are simply culturally hegemonic forms of colonialism? Don’t Americans tend to assume that the ideal is immediately possible? What about the difficult choices that actually face workers in other countries in their concrete situations?

On these kinds of choices, consider Nicholas Kristof’s “In Praise of the Maligned Sweatshop” (Kristof is also heard from in this episode of This American Life): “We in the West mostly despise sweatshops as exploiters of the poor, while the poor themselves tend to see sweatshops as opportunities.”

As we listen to Daisey’s story, our natural instinct is revulsion. We certainly wouldn’t want to live and work that way. And even apart from concerns about cultural colonialism, Daisey documents real abuses that ought to make both consumers and producers reassess how things are done.

And so what might it mean for someone else to have the opportunity to work their way out of such situations, to have more choices than the binary options of industrial manufacturing and subsistence farming (or starving), and to have these opportunities not merely individually but corporately?

What might true compassion, which places us within the context of the other person in their concrete situations, mean in these kinds of settings?

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Monday, August 29, 2011

The Acton Institute has released a mobile app for smart phones and tablets based on the Android operating system. The free app keeps users up to date with the latest PowerBlog posts, commentaries, events and other goings on at the institute. Point your desktop/laptop computer or smart phone to the Android Market.

In the pipeline — the Acton iPhone app for Apple mobile devices. Stay tuned!

News broke yesterday of an audacious violation of Apple Computer’s intellectual property rights (IPR) in China. This expat blogger posted photos of three sham Apple Stores she discovered in the city of Kunming—the stores have been set up by some entrepreneurial chap hoping to capitalize on the company’s Chinese popularity.

The story was slightly amusing, especially in light of Apple’s recent earnings announcement. (“They totally did it again,” said one analyst. It was also revealed that Apple now sits on enough cash in hand to buy 100% of Goldman Sachs at its current market value.) It seems that the Apple brand is now so valuable that the Chinese are counterfeiting the company’s retail outlets to sell Apple’s own products at full price. As one employee of the fake store said when reached by the Wall Street Journal,

It doesn’t make much of a difference for us whether we’re authorized or not. I just care that what I sell every day are authentic Apple products, and that our customers don’t come back to me to complain about the quality of the products.

But that’s precisely why Apple’s IPR must be protected. The company is one of the most innovative ever—their graphical user interface, popularization of the computer mouse, iPod music player, and touch-screen devices have dragged the technology sector forward, to say nothing of their design contributions—and that innovation would not have been supported without protections for the company’s intellectual property.

The U.S. Constitution justifies the establishment of IPR in giving Congress the power

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

As David H. Carey explains in his Acton monograph The Social Mortgage of Intellectual Property,

If allowing some techonology to be patented benefits society in the long run more than it costs society temporarily to forego unrestricted use of that technology, then such patents are morally defensible.

The Apple Store “experience” is tightly bound up with the company’s products (remember how miserably Dell stores failed?), and part of allowing Apple temporary exclusive use of its inventions is allowing it to sell them as it sees fit.

There is also the question of trademark, which exists primarily for the protection of consumers, so that when I buy a tube of Crest toothpaste from a CVS I know that I’m not getting a Chinese imitation accidentally laced with cyanide, stocked by a shyster posing as a reputable franchisee.

Whatever employees of these fake Apple Stores may say—and according to the blogger who broke the story, none of the stores’ sales force realized at the time that they weren’t working for Apple—it’s China! Would you buy an iPhone from one of the fake stores? The Chinese government has a responsibility to its citizens to enforce Apple’s trademarks and protect its citizens from fraud.

By pure coincidence, I can illustrate the importance of protecting IPR in China: Yesterday, about the time this story was hitting the internet, my father went to the Apple Store in Dallas (an authentic one) and purchased an iPad. While he is away for a week on a theology course, Apple’s device will give him access to email and other business tools, so that he can grow in virtue and keep his business running at the same time (and once they debut the iSpankings app, he’ll be able to keep his kids in line, too). He chose an iPad over any number of other devices because his IT guy—who doesn’t like Macs, as IT guys never do—told him it would do the job best.

Except for the U.S.’s protection of IPR, that market solution wouldn’t have been possible.

In his New Geographer column on Forbes, Joel Kotkin looks at the “profound gap between the cities where people are moving to and the cities that hold all the political power” in California. Those living in the growing “Third California” — the state’s interior region — are increasingly shut out by political elites in San Francisco and other coastal cities.

Kotkin observes that the “progressives” of the coast are “fundamentally anti-growth, less concerned with promoting broad-based economic growth — despite 12.5% statewide unemployment — than in preserving the privileges of their sponsors among public sector unions and generally affluent environmentalists. This could breed a big conflict between the coastal idealists and the working class and increasingly Latino residents in the more hardscrabble interior, whose economic realities are largely ignored by the state’s government.”

He interviews economist John Husing who describes San Francisco as “a bastion of elitist thinking due to a large ‘trustifarian’ class who have turned the city into favorite spot for green and fashionably ‘progressive’ think tanks.”

Trustifarians, apparently, don’t like to get their hands dirty in factories and fields. More:

This thinking is increasingly influential as well in a rapidly changing Silicon Valley. In the past the Valley was a manufacturing powerhouse and had to worry about such things as energy prices, water availability and regulatory relief. But the increasingly dominant information companies such as Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google and their wannabes are widely unconnected to industrial production in the region. To be sure, they have created a financial bubble in the area that has made some fantastically rich, but according to researcher Tamara Carleton they have contributed very little in new net job creation, particularly for blue-collar or middle-class workers.

There’s a bit of a snob factor here. Fashionable urbanistas extol San Francisco as a role model for the nation. The City, as they call it, has adopted the lead on everything from getting rid of plastic bags and Happy Meals is now considering a ban on circumcision. When it comes to everything from gay rights to bike lanes, no place is more consciously “progressive” than San Francisco. So why should that charmed city care about what happens to farmworkers or construction laborers in not-so-pretty Fresno?

Class and occupational profile also has much to do with this gap between the Californias. Husing notes that the Bay Area has far more people with college degrees (42%) than either Southern California (30%) or the Central Valley (where the percentage is even lower). Green policies that impact blue-collar workers — restraining the growth of the LA port complex, restricting new single-family home construction or cutting off water supplies to farmers — mean little distress for the heavily white, aging and affluent Bay Area ruling circles.

But such moves could have a devastating impact on the increasingly Latino, younger and less well-educated populace of the interior. Outside of the oft-promised green jobs — which Husing calls “more propaganda than economics” — it is these less privileged residents’ employment that is most likely to be exported to other states and countries, places where broad-based economic growth is still considered a worthy thing. “By our ferocious concentration on the environment, we have created a huge issue of social justice,” Husing points out. “We are telling blue collar workers we don’t want you to have a job.”

Read “California’s Demographic Dilemma: A Class And Culture Clash” on the Forbes website. (HT: RealClearMarkets)