The Macalope Daily: Apple invented China 3000 years ago

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You can’t get away from this simple and inconvenient truth, Apple fans: Apple is the only company that makes products in China.

Yes, while we were all destroying our livers at Macworld | iWorld, the “blame Apple for Chinese working conditions initiative” went into full effect. While we slept (for three hours, before having to get up and do/watch bleary-eyed panels fueled by caffeine, ibuprofen, and the fact that we were still drunk), the righteous indignation machine was working overtime.

For the Macalope’s money, Tom Krazit’s response to the finger-pointing is about as smart as you can find (tip o’ the antlers to The Loop):

The truth is pretty simple: the modern consumer electronics industry couldn’t exist without companies like Foxconn. And Apple can’t just take its ball and go home: there’s nowhere else in the world one can find an industrial system that could replace what China has built, and attempts at building an alternative might take decades.

The Macalope has found it rather amusing that it’s as if some people just discovered this issue and we haven’t been living with it for almost a generation. Most everyone tacitly agrees it’s not just Apple, but the plethora of articles that focus almost exclusively on Apple makes you wonder if people think all their other electronic devices are made by elves in a magical woodland kingdom where it rains sugarplums and every Wednesday is free taco night.

The Macalope’s been to that kingdom, and he can tell you they have no appreciable exports other than pot-smoking half-elves. Not that the Macalope’s judging. Who do you think makes our flash mobs so successful?

But take, for example, CNet’s David Carnoy, who starts out by quoting the New York Times piece that kicked off this discussion:

“You can set all the rules you want, but they’re meaningless if you don’t give suppliers enough profit to treat workers well. If you squeeze margins, you’re forcing them to cut safety.”

It’s charmingly naive to assume that Chinese factories will simply use higher profits to improve working conditions, isn’t it? But Carnoy and others seem to believe it’s mostly about Apple squeezing its suppliers, as opposed to the economic and political conditions in a totalitarian state.

Alas, for a lot of folks it goes back to Apple’s corporate ethos. You don’t make $46.3 billion in a quarter by being terribly nice.

Actually, you make most of it by designing really good products and having an unparalleled user experience. Are Apple’s executives also good businessmen? Yes, of course. But what Carnoy seems to be mad at is not Apple so much as capitalism.

Yes, Apple holds grudges, and I’m sure I’m not winning any fans in Cupertino, Calif., with this. I haven’t been invited to an Apple event in years…

Or, well, maybe he’s mad at both.

…and I don’t really care if I get invited in the future. They’re getting boring anyway—it’s as if they’ve lost their creative spirit.

That one’s just for you, Apple fans! Smooches!

The Macalope has said it before,and he’ll say it again: Capitalism isn’t pretty. But you can’t create a system in which the primary agent is amoral by design, and then cry foul when it behaves amorally.

It’s fine to use Apple as a lens to view this problem. It’s even fine to use them as as the major example. It’s not fine to lay it all on them. Funny, but Samsung—which also uses Foxconn to assemble its devices—sold more smartphones than anyone in the third quarter of 2011. The Macalope doesn’t seem to remember hearing any outcry about Samsung taking advantage of Chinese workers; he just remembers a lot of back-slapping for the company having beaten Apple.

Alas, the problem for Apple this time is timing. You can’t sit on $98 billion in cash and $16 billion in profits for a quarter and not expect people to think that you’re heartless and have no soul when a negative article comes out about the human capital that goes into making your products.

But, David, as much as we might treat corporations like individuals in this country, you know they don’t actually have souls, right?

There are real ways—which the Macalope fully supports—to try to improve working conditions in China and other countries. Using the situation to grind your personal axe against a company is not one of them.

[Editors’ Note: In addition to being a mythical beast, the Macalope is not an employee of Macworld. As a result, the Macalope is always free to criticize any media organization. Even ours.]

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