Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Getting to the bottom of Apple and human cost

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  • WH, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    But it also feeds into a strong American narrative that seeks to frame the current unemployment rates in the US as something done to the US by China - witness the frequent references to a "trade war" - without considering the internal decisions that have contributed to it. For instance, a very significant number of jobs lost in this latest recession have been lost in the name of government austerity. I believe it's about half a percentage point worth of unemployment. That's huge

    Paul Krugman has written a lot about the effect of balanced budget requirements at the local level. Even though the Obama Administration is running a US$1 trillion budget deficit in an attempt to revive the economy, the states are having to cut spending and lay off workers, which heavily offsets the effect. It seems perverse, but the Republicans are using the language of austerity to turn Obama's attempt to fix the problem against him.

    Obviously the question of manufacturing practices in China is important - that's why it's getting attention. But it's not okay for it to get attention at the expense of internal American problems, and it's very easy for that to happen.

    Although America seems to have it's hands full right now, I'm not sure that the New York Times has handled this badly. Apple is the one of the world's biggest companies, and it has at times benefitted from rose tinted coverage I'm sure that many US progressives (many of whom love the NYT) are concerned about the behaviour of US corporates abroad, and rightly so. I agree that we can really only wish people in the developing world happiness and prosperity. Noone wins a race to the bottom. Hopefully the next few decades bring a gradual convergence.

    Since Nov 2006 • 528 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to WH,

    Hopefully the next few decades bring a gradual convergence

    Yes, hopefully, as an optimistic worst case. Personally, I'm trying my best to work out how such a gradual convergence could be avoided, and how countries like the US, which have a long history of productive industry, could get that back sooner rather than later. It's all to easy to be apathetic in the face of history, but when it's history that hasn't yet unfolded, I'm not buying it. We're human, we have the power to change things. Well I am, anyway, I don't know about anyone else for sure, but it seems likely. I find it impossible to believe that there is no solution by which people perfectly capable of work and willing to do it, can't organize to do it, and prosper. That is modern madness, the schizophrenia of apathy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8026 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming,

    I'd just like the American media to remember that China/India/Whereeverstan did not steal those jobs - they were freely sent there by American corporate managers.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

  • merc, in reply to nzlemming,

    ...or the EPA.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2468 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to WH,

    Noone wins a race to the bottom.

    With the possible exception of gated community developers and other branches of the security-industrial complex.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 3907 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to BenWilson,

    That means that we get into the mode of thinking that it’s all about trying to maintain high levels of employment, and avoids/ignores the point that the entire purpose of industry is to create enough things, and if there are enough things, we don’t have to work so much.

    I seem to remember that in the 50s we were told that automation would mean we all had more leisure time.
    Yeah, right.

    It is a world that’s mostly carrots and very few sticks. Sticks would only be needed to prevent actual crime, and crime would be considerably less attractive than just picking up the carrots one needs.

    They will always invent new crimes to keep the poverty stricken in check.
    In Boulder, Colorado they have a medical marijuana system, this is mostly to allow the middle classes to have a good supply of dak and at the same time persecute the lower classes for drug "cimes"

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4453 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to DeepRed,

    Noone wins a race to the bottom.

    That would depend on who's bottom you were talking about.

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4453 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    I find it impossible to believe that there is no solution by which people perfectly capable of work and willing to do it, can’t organize to do it, and prosper.

    No solution? Of course not. But the system as it is (in America especially, but more generally as well) doesn't work if people aren't desperate for jobs. First you have to move to some economic form where unemployment and accompanying poverty are bugs, not features.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2087 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    First you have to move to some economic form where unemployment and accompanying poverty are bugs, not features.

    Yes, poverty is the bug. Unemployment is inevitable. In fact, it should actually be desirable, the very thing that shows that production is more than sufficient. We get more and more desperate to invent work every year. We have to manufacture demand. But when crunch time comes, it's amazing how fast manufactured demand disappears and the economy relying on it crumbles to nothing.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8026 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to BenWilson,

    We have to manufacture demand.

    Bingo! When the economy/society is based around consumption rather than sufficiency, the rest is inevitable.

    This is not to say Soviet Russia had the answers with their 5 year plan(s). The problem for them was that they tried to out do the US without the built in money pump of consumerism. Their military was their industrial complex. What they missed about the US MIC was that the industrial component has other customers besides the military. If the USSR had decided not to be a superpower and threaten to take over Europe etc., they might just have mad it work. Or not – it’s all theoretical now.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

  • Sue,

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 463 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Sue,

    I think Daisey is too busy being clever and outraged to be coherent. I still prefer Worstall's diatribe.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    But it also feeds into a strong American narrative that seeks to frame the current unemployment rates in the US as something done to the US by China – witness the frequent references to a “trade war” – without considering the internal decisions that have contributed to it.

    A similar kind of thing happened in the 1970s & 80s with Japanese cars. In large part because Detroit’s Big 3 back then were incapable of thinking small after the Oil Crises, and when Americans wanted to downsize their cars, Japan was only too happy to oblige.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 3907 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    Personally, I'm trying my best to work out how such a gradual convergence could be avoided, and how countries like the US, which have a long history of productive industry, could get that back sooner rather than later.

    Yeah. You've got hope it works out. Things haven't been looking too good for the average US worker though. In some ways Apple is a good example of what a high technology society can achieve. There must be more Teslas and Jobs out there, which is quite exciting really.

    I find it impossible to believe that there is no solution by which people perfectly capable of work and willing to do it, can't organize to do it, and prosper.

    In some ways unemployment is a strange thing, but I suppose it's one of the features of a distributed production allocation system. You've got to hope that we can find better ways to do and make the things we want. I've come to suspect that a lot of our problems come from the fact that we are so competitive - it's not how much we have that counts, its where we stand in the hierarchy that matters.

    Since Nov 2006 • 528 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to WH,

    I’ve come to suspect that a lot of our problems come from the fact that we are so competitive – it’s not how much we have that counts, its where we stand in the hierarchy that matters.

    "We're Better Than Those People" is the unofficial motto of 99% of human history.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2087 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to WH,

    Yeah. You’ve got hope it works out. Things haven’t been looking too good for the average US worker though. In some ways Apple is a good example of what a high technology society can achieve. There must be more Teslas and Jobs out there, which is quite exciting really.

    The prospects are still good for a new Jobs, less so for a new Tesla.

    One issue is the one Jobs raised with Obama: training. The Western world does not train many engineers now.

    The other is now of mass. It is hard in Western economies to match the extraordinary mobilisation of resources we see in China or Vietnam, because (as Keir pointed out) those countries are industrialising and the West has long since done that.

    Even Jobs had the benefit of being adjacent to actual manufacturing as a kid. He wouldn't now.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17967 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to WH,

    I've come to suspect that a lot of our problems come from the fact that we are so competitive - it's not how much we have that counts, its where we stand in the hierarchy that matters.

    Word. Especially since one of the easiest ways to maintain position is to keep others down.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8026 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to BenWilson,

    Word. Especially since one of the easiest ways to maintain position is to keep others down.

    Sadly true. Once again, Paul Graham's Why Nerds Are Unpopular comes to mind.

    "Another reason kids persecute nerds is to make themselves feel better. When you tread water, you lift yourself up by pushing water down. Likewise, in any social hierarchy, people unsure of their own position will try to emphasize it by maltreating those they think rank below. I've read that this is why poor whites in the United States are the group most hostile to blacks.

    Like a politician who wants to distract voters from bad times at home, you can create an enemy if there isn't a real one. By singling out and persecuting a nerd, a group of kids from higher in the hierarchy create bonds between themselves. Attacking an outsider makes them all insiders. This is why the worst cases of bullying happen with groups. Ask any nerd: you get much worse treatment from a group of kids than from any individual bully, however sadistic."

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 3907 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to nzlemming,

    I think Daisey is too busy being clever and outraged to be coherent.

    True.
    He says...

    we only know a large number of people were throwing themselves off of the roof of the workplace, again and again....
    ...if people kill themselves over and over in the same dramatic way at their workplace, it means something.

    We all know you can only kill yourself once.

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4453 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Crook as a chook...

    I haven’t been to the US for a while, but I’ve avoided eating chicken there since I read a Harper’s story (predating Schlosser’s book) on the plane over one time.

    you'll be pleased to hear that McDonald's© have stopped using the 'Pink Slime' in their hamburgers, but there still may be dimethylpolysiloxane in the McNuggets....

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 4215 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    you’ll be pleased to hear that McDonald’s© have stopped using the ‘Pink Slime’ in their hamburgers, but there still may be dimethylpolysiloxane in the McNuggets….

    Food fight @McD's = chemical warfare?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 3907 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    dimethylpolysiloxane

    Which as far as I can see has never been shown to be toxic or mutagenic by ingestion.

    OTOH, go and buy the most expensive organic fillet steak from Moore Wilson, BBQ it until nicely charred at the edges and you just made a whole load of benzopyrenes, which *are* proven carcinogens.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4218 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    BBQ it until nicely charred at the edges and you just made a whole load of benzopyrenes, which *are* proven carcinogens.

    Burnt bacon is definitely my favourite carcinogen, steak is nicer rare.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8026 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to BenWilson,

    Burnt bacon is definitely my favourite carcinogen, steak is nicer rare.

    So's bacon, While it's still, y'know, meat.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

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