The Other Side of Foxconn

Since I’ve been writing (negatively) about Foxconn and Apple, and since Chinese labor became a topic in the last debate, I thought it was worth presenting the other side of Foxconn.  Here’s Brian Glucroft with a first-person account of his experiences in China, and James Fallows toured a Foxconn factory the other day and has a preliminary post on his experiences.  Brian also has an item on the “counterfeit” Apple store in China that Mitt Romney mentioned.

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82 replies
  1. 1
    Dracula says:

    If officially touring FoxCon in China is even half like an official tour of our facility, I’m sure Fallows saw a super sparkely workstation, with lots and lots of food, bevys, and breakrooms for the workers, all of whom smiled the whole time and talked about how great it was to work there.

    It’s the surprise visit that tells the story. I hope Fallows understands that.

  2. 2
    Hill Dweller says:

    @Dracula: I don’t know what type of tour he took, nor have I read the linked article, but Fallows has never struck me as dumb and/or naive.

    As an aside, his blog posts handicapping the Romney/Obama debates look clairvoyant now.

  3. 3
    shecky says:

    Evil China serves as whipping boy for both political right and left in America. The Foxconn stories have always been high in bullshit, tailored for American liberal consumption, and the right loves to hear how China is stealin’ our jobs, even when they’re jobs we’ve never really had in the first place.

  4. 4
    PeakVT says:

    One thing that always floors me is the scale of things in China. 220,000 people work at the Foxconn campus Fallows visited. 220,000. At its height, River Rouge employed only (!) around 100,000.

  5. 5
    henrythefifth says:

    @Dracula: I couldn’t agree more. You only see what they want you to see. There is a similar place between South and North Korea called the Kaesong Industrial Region. I know people who have been there and it’s modern, clean, the North Korean workers all smile and have ample access to the bathrooms while there are visitors. Wonder how much they smile when visitors aren’t there? They are paid pennies an hour to work and the North Korean government garnishes an unknown amount of their wages (probably most of them). An anecdote–a friend who visited noticed that the new, modern vending machines held food and beverages that had South Korean prices. So a bag of chips would cost about a days’ worth of wages. The people I know were not allowed to talk to the workers. That tells you all you need to know.

    This is the new way they “hide” the violations of workers rights. The workplace is clean (for electronics it has to be anyhow, this isn’t a coal mine) and they all have jeans on, so they can’t be unhappy or exploited!

  6. 6
    henrythefifth says:

    @shecky: China’s not evil, but some of its government and corporate policies towards workers sure are. Yes, no jobs ever went to China! Tell that to the Sensata workers in IL who recently trained the Chinese workers who will be replacing them (use your google machine). And that’s just one example of companies who shipped production…tires, auto parts, electronics, toys, clothing, sporting goods, computers, semiconductors, iconic American brands like GE, Whirlpool, Radio Flyer, Huffy, on and on and on. Jeez.

  7. 7
    Raven says:

    @henrythefifth: It’s not really between them, it’s 10 miles north of the Z.

  8. 8
    Butch says:

    Yes, of course, there’s a high rate of staff suicide and big turnover because it’s such a clean, sparkly, wonderful place to work.

  9. 9
    Doug Danger says:

    Your myopia regarding Apple and your apparent dislike of their products and success misses the Forest for the trees.

    Apple directly employs around 40,000 people here in the States at corporate. Factor in the retail stores, developers who make a living off of their apps, and Erican labor that Apple supports (manufacturers of test devices, construction labor, soup to nuts), and your looking at almost another quarter-million jobs.

    When are you going to start complaining about Google’s ageist workforce here in the states?

  10. 10
    jh says:

    I’ve seen the Foxconn factory in Shenzen. I didn’t take a tour but from the outside it looked like something from the set of the movie ‘Brazil’.

    And Shenzen as a whole is not a nice place.

    The Chinese people are wonderful.

    Their government? Not so much. I think ‘evil’ just about covers it.

    Think the U.S. gov’t at the height of the slave trade to get an idea where the Chicomms fall on the moral scale.

    Lots of talk about ‘necessity’. It’s just Too bad for anyone who has to be ground up in the mill of ‘progress’

  11. 11
    jwb says:

    @Dracula: Fallows did express surprise at what he saw. His tour was planned, but it sounded like he could go pretty much wherever he wanted on the campus. While he did seem to come away somewhat impressed, what struck me about the images and his little descriptions was that the place really seemed not to have enough room for all its workers, especially during breaks.

  12. 12
    PreservedKillick says:

    @Doug Danger:

    When are you going to start complaining about Google’s ageist workforce here in the states?

    Now there is a damn good question.

  13. 13
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    If you want to see exploited workers then you need look no further than the American south. There’s a reason those foreign makers located their plants there and it isn’t the climate. Workers continue to be abused and exploited in American Samoa as well.

    Maybe we ought to get our own house in order before we start giving advice to the Chinese.

  14. 14
    mistermix says:

    @Doug Danger: I have two iphone 5s on order at this minute (for two family members) so how is it that I dislike Apple? To not love intensely is not to hate.

  15. 15
    shecky says:

    @henrythefifth:

    China’s not evil, but some of its government and corporate policies towards workers sure are.

    We’re in good company.

    Yes, no jobs ever went to China! Tell that to the Sensata workers in IL who recently trained the Chinese workers who will be replacing them (use your google machine). And that’s just one example of companies who shipped production…tires, auto parts, electronics, toys, clothing, sporting goods, computers, semiconductors, iconic American brands like GE, Whirlpool, Radio Flyer, Huffy, on and on and on. Jeez.

    Boo fucking hoo. While we’re at it, Arizona and Texas never stole any good California jobs, either.

    And Americans have a God given right to manufacture shitty Huffy bikes, too.

  16. 16
    Cassidy says:

    Shorter Doug Danger: YOU MUST WRITE ABOUT WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO ME! EVERYTHING ELSE IS IRRELEVANT!

  17. 17
    ThresherK says:

    I always wondered what the “next generation” of Kremlinologists would do for a living after the Berlin Wall fell.

    It seems trying to figure out what’s really happening in China requires much of the same skillset of hobnobbing with officials and reading between the lines.

  18. 18
    Rex Everything says:

    It’s pretty obvious what Fallows is selling. I’m not buying.

  19. 19
    iLarynx says:

    Always happy to see previous hysteria tempered with reality, such as with this post. Danke. (Mehr, bitte.)

  20. 20
    henrythefifth says:

    @shecky: Don’t know what the boo hoo is about. You said jobs didn’t go to China. The facts and data show otherwise. Just pointing that out. My hanky is still dry.

  21. 21
    shecky says:

    @henrythefifth:

    Don’t know what the boo hoo is about. You said jobs didn’t go to China. The facts and data show otherwise. Just pointing that out. My hanky is still dry.

    No, I said folks love wailing about China stealing our jobs, even jobs that America never had in the first place. Such as those celebrated Foxconn products, iPhones. China can’t steal something you never had in the first place.

  22. 22
    jh says:

    @shecky:

    Arizona and Texas (along with the rest of the “right to work” hellhole that is the American South/Sunbelt) can jerry rig their tax and regulatory structures to compete unfairly with states with strong worker protections, environmental regulation and robust unions.

    This has NOT been a net plus for the American worker, or for society as a whole.

    China can do the same on a larger scale, only with the added benefit of a totalitarian, authoritarian state that outlaws labor organizing outside of the Communist Party (the Chinese communist party isn’t too keen on real competition it appears), repress dissent with brutal efficiency and can consolidate gigantic manufacturing operations in one location without anything so gauche as ‘Democracy’ getting in the way.

    I’d lke to see a company operating in a western Democracy try putting a factory with 200K+ jobs in one municipality and see how far that gets in any type of parliamentary body.

    And then there’s the currency manipulation, which unfairly keeps the cost of Chinese goods below the point where competiton is truly non-existent. (the one thing Mitt Romney said that was actually true in Tuesday’d debate)

    In short, the Chinese gov’t can suck it and you might want to think about the bigger picture.

  23. 23
    Doug Danger says:

    @mistermix: So, you’re buying two iPhones (for yourself, or for someone at work on their behalf, or what?), so that obviates your continual bashing of Apple as some sort of new-age Mr. Scrooge to the beleaguered Chinese worker, despite the fact that Apple has been pushing up wages around China to the dismay of other labor buyers?

    Fact: Apple pays Foxconn about twice the daily wage per worker as most other electronics ‘makers’.

    Fact: I’ve never seen you take up the cause for the over-40 crowd in Silicon Valley, who are often and largely relegated to companies that pay less and positions that pay less – unless they’re executives. And then they’re men. Do you know who Heidi Roizen was? Ellen Hancock? Yeah, they don’t work here anymore.

    If you want to knock Apple in every single post you make about labor, then knock Google for their “if anyone in the long chain of hiring disagrees or doesn’t like the color of your shirt, or thinks you aren’t ‘cool’ (young) enough, you aren’t hired”. Equal time for equal crime, eh?

  24. 24
    Doug Danger says:

    Also, too: I’ve never seen you link to Apple’s Supplier Responsibility Web site. The really big, detailed web site.

    Since Google bought Motorola, they’ve taken Motorola’s supplier responsibility web site from one page to…one page. Maybe because Motorola can’t stop losing money?

  25. 25
    jh says:

    So Apple pushes up wages in a totalitarian state halfway around the world. That’s nice I suppose.

    I wish American companies with the clout to do so would be so generous as to advocate for a level playing field and increased wages for workers here in America.

  26. 26
    Gromit says:

    @jh:

    I wish American companies with the clout to do so would be so generous as to advocate for a level playing field and increased wages for workers here in America.

    I suspect a level playing field would mean reducing wages AND the standard of living here, not increasing wages here.

  27. 27
    Schlemizel says:

    Years ago Honeywell became enamored with the Japanese style of management (it was all the rage for a brief time until it was found out it included managers behaving like their workers instead of acting better than them).

    One step they took was to have the mass “team meetings” where management could explain how wonderful they were and get feed back from the working scum. During the Q&A one of the factory workers complained that the chairs thy had were old & falling apart. Many had no cushioning left in the seats and sharp metal screws sticking out. SHe questioned a VP because he had just taken a tour of the factory. Before he got there the workers all got new chairs – they were taken away & the old ones returned as soon as he left!

    The VP refused to believe the woman & stopped just short of calling her a liar. Many people supported her claim & it ended with him saying he would have to look into it.

    I have no idea if they ever got decent chairs but I do know I was left wondering if the VP was just that stupid as to not expect this or a liar himself.

    IF MANAGEMENT IS GIVING YOU A TOUR SOME OR ALL OF WHAT YOU SEE IS FAKE AND ONLY WHAT MANAGEMENT WANTS YOU TO SEE

    Thats not new – anyone ever seen the movie “Stalag 17”? great movie, I highly recommend it. The scene with the Red Cross worker & the brand new blankets is this in a nut shell

  28. 28
    gelfling545 says:

    @Hill Dweller: Mr. Fallows also is well acquainted with China & its business climate. (See the list of books “From This Author” on his page.)

  29. 29
    Lurking Canadian says:

    Here’s what I don’t get. Not too long ago, we were all remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, which was a tragedy in which large numbers of young people (mostly women) died because of their awful working conditions. We celebrate that event because it led to the birth of modern worker safety standards and remember it as the type of horror that we must prevent at all costs.

    At the time of that anniversary, I don’t remember anybody on this site posting, “Yeah, well, those women wanted those jobs, which paid better and were safer than walking behind a plow horse, and it was a necessary step in industrialization, and anyway, what right do you have to drive up the price of clothes for everybody else”

    But every time the issue of Chinese manufacturing comes up (no, it’s not just Apple, and it’s not just electronics, it’s every damn thing we own), we get some variation of the above.

    We have laws that make it illegal to make stuff in North America the way they make it in China. We have laws that make it illegal to pay workers the way they pay workers in China. But for some reason, we find unthinkable the idea of having laws that make it illegal to buy stuff made the way they make stuff in China by people paid the way they pay people in China. I don’t like what that says about our society, and yes, I am as guilty as everybody else.

  30. 30
    Schlemizel says:

    @Gromit:

    I suspect American companies would gladly pay American workers 2-3 times what Chinese workers are making today in exchange for the removal of all worker health and safety regulations and a huge reduction in pollution controls.

    The savings in shipping would be huge ;)

  31. 31
    YellowJournalism says:

    Is this like the softer side of Sears?

  32. 32
    jh says:

    And what if that meant reducing the standard of living here?

    Standards of living for the working class here in the US, along with wages and retirement, have been under withering assault for the past several decades, the Reagan era being notably bad.

    So that horse has already left the barn.

    Sort of.

    Amongst the Western Democracies, where something closer to wage parity exists, competition exists but is largely centered around quality (both real and percieved), innovation, marketing etc.

    When manufacturing of value added goods is shipped off to places where profit can be derived from wage arbitrage, labor costs become the primary driver.

    In such an environment, there is no amount “reducing of the standard of living” that would allow workers in advanced democracies to compete with the labor costs we are seeing in the developing world.

    That is what makes the currency manipulation (and the actions of those who profit from it) so despicable.

    You are basically asking free people; people who have over the years fought bloody wars for the rights they have as workers, to now compete with economic serfs.

    I don’t have to tell you how that fight turns out. We are all stewing in it.

    But at least we get cheap goods.

    Amirite?

  33. 33
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    @Lurking Canadian: “But every time the issue of Chinese manufacturing comes up (no, it’s not just Apple, and it’s not just electronics, it’s every damn thing we own), we get some variation of the above.”

    Some Americans need to justify their access to cheap products made by people paid pennies per hour who live in cramped conditions.

    As long as they get their goods and it isn’t them or their kids living in those horrendous conditions, then all is well in their world.

    @Lurking Canadian: “We have laws that make it illegal to make stuff in North America the way they make it in China. We have laws that make it illegal to pay workers the way they pay workers in China.”

    Republican politicians and their financiers are hard at work to change this gross injustice.

    @Schlemizel:

    IF MANAGEMENT IS GIVING YOU A TOUR SOME OR ALL OF WHAT YOU SEE IS FAKE AND ONLY WHAT MANAGEMENT WANTS YOU TO SEE
     
    Thats not new – anyone ever seen the movie “Stalag 17”? great movie, I highly recommend it. The scene with the Red Cross worker & the brand new blankets is this in a nut shell

    Exactly. Those who look to China for cheap products and labor are more than happy to ignore history.

    Playing with the latest electronics and counting your profits are distracting.

  34. 34
    Cacti says:

    @Lurking Canadian:

    At the time of that anniversary, I don’t remember anybody on this site posting, “Yeah, well, those women wanted those jobs, which paid better and were safer than walking behind a plow horse, and it was a necessary step in industrialization, and anyway, what right do you have to drive up the price of clothes for everybody else” But every time the issue of Chinese manufacturing comes up (no, it’s not just Apple, and it’s not just electronics, it’s every damn thing we own), we get some variation of the above.

    I wonder if in 1940, mistermix would have published an article called “The Other Side of Buchenwald”.

  35. 35

    @jh:

    In short, the Chinese gov’t can suck it and you might want to think about the bigger picture.

    How dare you question the judgement of our Capitalist Rope-sellers!

    (Of course, that was Lenin and not Mao).

  36. 36
    Joel says:

    @shecky: you basically lost any sympathy for your argument with this one. You know that, right?

  37. 37
    jh says:

    @Judas Escargot, Acerbic Prophet of the Mighty Potato God:

    LOL.

    The Chicomms (a relatievly small subset of the Chinese – less than 10% of Chinese citizens are members of the Chinese Communist Party) are playing for keeps and they do not think charitably towards the west, even as we outsource our entire industrial base to them.

    I recommend Richard McGregor’s book “The Party” for anyone who wants to know what we are up against.

    http://tinyurl.com/9acayvc

    It’s cheaper than airfare and you won’t be at risk for getting Beijing Lung.

    There is a conflict a’comin. It may be an open trade war or shooting war or both. Either way, it’s on the horizon.

  38. 38
    Joeshabadoo says:

    Touring a factory is a always a joke. I do think that Foxconn, at least the factories close to the coast, are better to work at then other factories. I just don’t find that to be a good excuse.

    That blog drives me crazy because the guy acts like he’s getting a lot of insight by asking people on the street but often times he’s not. Asking someone why they have a shitty phone in China is going to get you defensive answers. They care about that stuff. People talking to a new person are also likely to say things that make them look good, like that they are going to get another job that makes more then their current one.

  39. 39
    Joeshabadoo says:

    Touring a factory is a always a joke. I do think that Foxconn, at least the factories close to the coast, are better to work at then other factories. I just don’t find that to be a good excuse.

    That blog drives me crazy because the guy acts like he’s getting a lot of insight by asking people on the street but often times he’s not. Asking someone why they have a shitty phone in China is going to get you defensive answers. They care about that stuff. People talking to a new person are also likely to say things that make them look good, like that they are going to get another job that makes more then their current one.

  40. 40
    jh says:

    The greatest irony in all of this?

    Allied victory WWII prevented Mussolini’s vision of fascism from coming to fruition.

    Now, our allegedly patriotic, nominally American business elites gleefully partner with a government that makes the NFP (after it’s slide into Corporatism) look like pikers.

  41. 41
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Butch:

    Yes, of course, there’s a high rate of staff suicide and big turnover because it’s such a clean, sparkly, wonderful place to work.

    Does this really need to be dealt with again? Foxconn’s facilities are basically medium-sized cities, and the per-100k suicide rate (the standard index) is lower than the general rate for China. I also suspect it’s lower than the suicide rate for US military veterans, if you want to engage in dodgy statistical tennis.

    Read an account of an American factory town from c. 1900 and get back to us.

  42. 42
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Lurking Canadian:

    for some reason, we find unthinkable the idea of having laws that make it illegal to buy stuff made the way they make stuff in China by people paid the way they pay people in China. I don’t like what that says about our society, and yes, I am as guilty as everybody else.

    I think there can be carrot/stick incentives for 21st century industrial / manufacturing, but history suggests that the demand for reform on safety ultimately has to come from within, and that the biggest factor is the passage of time. Industrial disasters with huge loss of life were regarded as the cost of doing business throughout the 19th century, but the political power of labour in the early 1900s changed the threshold of tolerance. Why was the Triangle Shirtwaist fire the catalyst, and not the fires and explosions and collapses that preceded it?

    That’s not to preach passivity, but to say that the narrative of industrial development has precedents. It took perhaps a century for Europe and the US to give a shit about industrial workers being killed on a regular basis; I expect that it will take a couple of decades in China, whether the CPC actively wants it or not.

  43. 43
    jh says:

    @pseudonymous in nc:

    It’s comparable a medium sized city only in the sense that you have a large number of people concentrated in a constrained physical space.

    When set against the backdrop of the actual context:

    It is a workplace. Not a city with all the legal powers and responsibilites that go with being such.

    It is a workplace with a comparitvely huge number of employees

    It is a workplace with a comparatively huge number of employees with a totalitarian dictatorship.

    You get idea.

    Rather than compare the suicide rate at this workplace with that of soldiers returning from a war zone, why not compare it to say, oh I don’t know, OTHER WORKPLACES.

    I think that would be a much more appropriate comparison.

    If you really want to make a comparison that’ll uncurl your pubes, compare the suicide rate at Foxconn’s facilities to the other worksites where people work for Apple (yes, I know Foxconn employees don’t work for Apple directly).

    What’s the suicide rate at the Apple Genius Bar?

    Or at Apple corporate headquarters?

    You could even look at Apple’s distribution centers in the West and still not find workers killing themselves at anything approaching the same rate.

  44. 44
    jh says:

    That’s not to preach passivity, but to say that the narrative of industrial development has precedents. It took perhaps a century for Europe and the US to give a shit about industrial workers being killed on a regular basis; I expect that it will take a couple of decades in China, whether the CPC actively wants it or not.

    Our form of government is far more amenable to populist driven advancments in worker protections than the PRC.

    The CCP does not tolerate a great deal of dissent, civil disobedience or disruption of business activites.

    Think the Pinkertons with government backing.

    The only saving grace is that the sheer volume of people in China work against the effectiveness of totalitarinism.

    2 Billion people would be impossible to stop if they ever decide to do anything in significant numbers.

  45. 45
    Schlemizel says:

    @jh:

    Very nicely done!

    Left unsaid but in need of reminding – the horrific conditions in American factories in 1900 were set against a backdrop of a world that didn’t really know much better. Decent people would have seen the problems (in fact they did & fought for decades to fix them) but many didn’t know better & had nothing to compare them to. A century later people do know better, they do have the examples of Triangle and many, many, (way too many) more recent horrors. Its not an acceptable excuse.

  46. 46
    burnspbesq says:

    @Lurking Canadian:

    But for some reason, we find unthinkable the idea of having laws that make it illegal to buy stuff made the way they make stuff in China by people paid the way they pay people in China

    It’s not a matter of finding it unthinkable. It’s a matter of waiving the right to do it by signing the treaty that established the WTO. To which Canada is a party, BTW.

  47. 47
    👽 Martin says:

    @PeakVT:

    One thing that always floors me is the scale of things in China. 220,000 people work at the Foxconn campus Fallows visited. 220,000. At its height, River Rouge employed only (!) around 100,000.

    That’s why doing this in the US would be quite difficult. If you built that factory in the US, the infrastructure and services that would go around it (schools, hospitals, etc.) would result in a city of half a million – and that’s if the entire city was to support just that factory.

    But the factory isn’t all there is. You need a port and an airport to move those goods in and out. You’ll get suppliers setting up around the edges creating more jobs and needing more support. In the end, just due to that factory, you’d be building a city about the size of San Francisco (800K).

    So where would we build it? And who would want to work there? Even if you cranked the pay up to $12 an hour, I wouldn’t. My wife wouldn’t. We wouldn’t want our kids working there past high school. I don’t doubt that they would fill many of the jobs, but I doubt they’d fill all of them reliably. That’s the problem with jobs below the median – people are eager to get out of them for better jobs. In China, Foxconn pays 2x the median. Those ARE the better jobs – and so the labor force is remarkably stable. The best equivalent we have in the US is the oil boom in North Dakota. Most of those jobs pay well above the median, and people are willing to live in their cars and bunkhouses for them. I don’t think you could build a city around iPhone assembly – and that city couldn’t support its own infrastructure because the relatively low wages would have to translate out to those support jobs – teachers couldn’t be earning $50K while the parents for a class of 24 are only earning a collective $600K. They’re not going to steer 8% of their salary just to pay one teacher. So the teacher is going to be earning $20K as well.

    We forget what the median wage was in this country when manufacturing was on the rise. At the end of WWII, the average US home was 800 square feet. In 1950, the median wage (in adjusted dollars) was $23K. Now it’s double that. A lot of jobs exist between $20K and $40K that before were ‘getting ahead’ jobs which are now viewed as ‘falling behind’ jobs – and most of them are in manufacturing – and most of them are getting replaced as a result. Before that, they were in agriculture, and we automated those because people didn’t want them – the better jobs were in building combines, not in stacking hay – and farm workers felt every bit as left out as manufacturing workers today – farm towns were dying and laborers were going to the cities where industry was – just like China is doing. The better jobs in the US today aren’t in assembling iPhones but in designing them, writing software, building telecom networks (even unbelievably shitty ones like we have in the US), and so on.

    Our main problem is that our business leaders tend to chase old markets. Look at where HP is today. Or where the automakers were. They knew how to do last decades things and they insisted that’s where the future was. Startups and better managed companies looked ahead, and chased after the next thing and beat them. Instead of decrying the lack of iPhone assembly jobs, we should be decrying the fact that Japan and Germany are just wrecking us at designing manufacturing robots – which are going to replace those assembly jobs over the next decade. Those countries are going to get the next labor boost because our companies weren’t focused on the next thing, and when government gets involved and says ‘lets do this!’ half the country starts screaming about socialism.

  48. 48
    Brachiator says:

    The mess keeps getting messier:

    Nintendo investigates Foxconn over underage employment at a factory in China
    __
    Foxconn found underage interns, some as young as 14, working at one of its factories in China

    Link here

    http://www.computerworld.com/s.....y_in_China

    (Problems embeddin links)

  49. 49
    Lurking Canadian says:

    @pseudonymous in nc:

    It took perhaps a century for Europe and the US to give a shit about industrial workers being killed on a regular basis;

    But that is kind of precisely my point. The evidence suggests that we don’t actually give a shit about industrial workers being killed. We seem to give a shit only when those industrial workers being killed live nearby. Why do we not equally give a shit about Chinese, Malaysian or Vietnamese workers being killed?

    We cannot force the Chinese government to change their laws. Obviously. But we could tell them, “No, you can’t sell that shit here.” When we find lead paint in a handful of toys imported from China, it’s an international incident. If somebody found lead leaching into the ground water in China, and causing brain damage in two million Chinese kids it’d be, “Eh, what can you do? Industrialization has its costs.”

    It’s not a matter of finding it unthinkable. It’s a matter of waiving the right to do it by signing the treaty that established the WTO. To which Canada is a party, BTW.

    I say “find it unthinkable” you say “pass a law forbidding it”, what’s the difference? Why did we pass that law in the first place? Or rather, I know why we passed that law. Why do non-libertarians think that law was a good idea?

    (And yes, I know Canada does it, too. Everybody does it. I am not singling anybody out.)

  50. 50
    jh says:

    Martin,

    So much of what you say is right on the money and yet, I simply can’t come to the same conclusions.

    A few points:

    So where would we build it?

    * The reason why China can create SEZ (Special Economic Zones) like Shenzen, with all that is necessary to leverage the economies of scale for production and transport, is because it is a TOTALITARIAN DICTATORSHIP.

    While it’s true that doing so required forethought and the assumption of some risk by the Chinese government, the fact remains that they are NOT operating with the same constraints as enterprises working in a functioning Democracy.

    Why do we allow our business leaders to reward/profit from this unjust arrangment?

    And who would want to work there?

    * You say we couldn’t ‘reliably fill’ jobs such as those at Foxconn with Americans. We simply won’t do the work. To this I simply have to call bullshit (in the least acrimonious way possible :-D).

    I come from a working class family. My dad is a carpenter and mason. My grandad was a butcher.

    My in-laws all worked the line at GM and Chrysler…back in the day before automation was so widespread.

    It was repetitive, hazardous and not very pleasant. Yet they showed up every day for decades.

    I am currently seeing a woman who just left after 7 years on the line. She just turned 30 this year.

    So I can tell you, with some degree of confidence, that there are Americans who can, and would do the work.

    IF we paid them enough and provided working conditions that weren’t something out of a Heironymous Bosch painting.

    we should be decrying the fact that Japan and Germany are just wrecking us at designing manufacturing robots – which are going to replace those assembly jobs over the next decade

    Your point is well taken.

    The problem is the failure to acknowledge that in the West you have SEVERAL HUNDRED MILLION (~300-450M) workers that you need to keep employed to keep everything running smoothly.

    As outsourcing, followed by automation, erode the demand for workface participation in the more developed economies, adjustments will need to be made.

    Either some new tech comes along, and drives new demand for workers in the old devloped economies or people are going to work less and thus earn less.

    There’s simply not enough volume required in the support side of value added manufacturing to keep all of the people working this side of the date-line working.

    Which brings me back to the question of why we would allow our elites to actually hasten the onset of this crisis by allowing China (and places like it) to completely tank the value of ‘
    ‘free and fair’ Western labor with near-slave labor for short term profit and cheap trinketry?

    It’s madness.

  51. 51
    jh says:

    We cannot force the Chinese government to change their laws. Obviously. But we could tell them, “No, you can’t sell that shit here.”

    Exactamundo.

    I’d make it very simple for the CCP.

    * No currency manipulation.

    * Worker rights, including the right to organize.

    * Decent workplace conditions

    * No child labor

    Comply with all of the above or no access to our markets. Period.

    This would force them to grow their OWN markets to comsume their production vs. cutting the throats of people living in democracies as a short cut.

    Remember what Henry Ford said about making sure his employees could afford what they’d made?

    Yeah, that rule needs to apply. Writ very, very large.

  52. 52
    El Cid says:

    In the Chinese context, the conditions at Foxconn aren’t bad at all, which is why it would be a great idea if by sending more and more work to places with those sorts of conditions and pay level we could help Americans get back to those levels of pay and conditions, because then it would be a lot cheaper to have work done here.

  53. 53
    J R in WV says:

    @Rex Everything:

    I’m having vision trouble, or something. Could you be totally specific about what “Fallows is selling” please? ‘Cause I didn’t notice any ads, myself. But like I said, I have trouble seeing things sometimes.

    Thanks!

  54. 54
    👽 Martin says:

    @Lurking Canadian:

    While it’s true that doing so required forethought and the assumption of some risk by the Chinese government, the fact remains that they are NOT operating with the same constraints as enterprises working in a functioning Democracy.
    Why do we allow our business leaders to reward/profit from this unjust arrangment?

    Because the Chinese are doing something we would never do here. There’s no loss to the US. Put another way, Obama said ‘those jobs are never coming back to the US’. He was wrong – those jobs never existed here in the first place, and frankly, never could have. We tolerate the Chinese doing this because only the Chinese have the means and will to do it – and denying them that would be to do them a disservice – this is lifting a LOT of Chinese families out of subsistence living. Unfortunately you really can’t leap from an 19th century economy straight to a 21st century one in one step – and the Chinese are doing a hell of a lot better job of their rapid industrial ramp than the US did. But we need to recognize the opportunity cost for them here – the Foxconn workers are better off with those jobs than without them. That won’t always be true – and may not even be true for long, but it’s an improvement for them and we shouldn’t deny them that.

    And we reward the arrangement because it’s good for us – and for our workers. Contrast to those 800,000 Foxconn workers making iPhones and iPads are hundreds of thousands of new jobs around the world – most in the US – writing software for those platforms in an economy that didn’t exist until the iPhone arrived. Companies like Facebook and Twitter are seeing a significant boost to their businesses thanks to mobile platforms. We have new content creation and delivery – new publishing platforms, new retail channels, new accessory markets. These are vastly better jobs – all of them – than the assembly jobs and they are disproportionately landing in the US. And they are mostly entrepreneurial jobs, so a lot of new businesses are forming around this market and those new companies make a LOT of new jobs. So, yeah, we created a few hundred thousand Chinese jobs *and* a few hundred thousand US jobs. And the new Chinese jobs are better than the old Chinese jobs and the new US jobs are better than the old US jobs. What’s not to like here? What’s more, China is blossoming into Apple’s largest market – so the better jobs there are turning the Chinese into consumers. And they aren’t just going to consume iPhones and iPads, but they’ll consume all kinds of US goods and services. Ford is bringing their car line to China. In time, China will look more and more like the US. That’s good for China, and good for the US – except for those that insist that the US be the undisputed global leader in all things. The exceptionalists are scared, but they shouldn’t be. We didn’t turn the UK into some 3rd world country when we replaced them at the top of the pile.

    Either some new tech comes along, and drives new demand for workers in the old devloped economies or people are going to work less and thus earn less.

    That’s a false choice, because you omit productivity as a variable. Adjusted for inflation, it is indisputable that mankind has seen greater standards of living with no corresponding increase in work hours. In fact, we’ve increased the standard of living while reducing work hours. We retire earlier than ever and have more comfortable retirements while living longer. The difference is that we’re vastly more productive than we used to be. Two centuries ago it required 75% of the planet’s workforce to feed the planet. With 3x as many people, we do it now with 20%. In the US, it’s under 5%. The 25% that used to be free to do everything else is now 95% in the US (and the early retirees are even outside of that pool). Machinery, computers, robotics, are making it easier and easier for us to maintain a standard of living on less and less work. So, given that, what’s wrong with more education before entering the workforce, or earlier retirement, or longer sick leave and vacations and maternity leave? I earn the median for my state, and if I could reduce my hours to 30/week I would in a heartbeat because I don’t need the extra income and would much prefer the free time. My productivity is easily 2x what it was when I started working. And that reduction in time could help create a new job for someone else.

    The problem is that almost everyone has fallen into a GOP supply-side thinking trap. As a nation we do not consume more than we did 5 years ago. We’ve shifted our consumption, and it’s very uneven, but overall demand is higher. But economic contractions force productivity gains to be made, and when the economy is trying to recover we discover we can do more with fewer workers, so we need to consume even MORE to get back to where we were. And it’s during contractions that social benefits have tended to flow – we mandated high school during one such contraction. We set labor laws during those contractions. We should be doing that now – it’d be a great time in the US to mandate sick leave and guaranteed maternity leave. We just need to make workers less productive for everyone’s benefit.

  55. 55
    gene108 says:

    I don’t get people sometimes.

    On the one hand people don’t like foreigners living in abject poverty.

    On the other hand they don’t like it, when those foreigners start getting better paying jobs and living better than their parents.

    It’s as if foreign governments – like Ireland, India or China – can just sprinkle magic economy dust on their nations and not need investment from foreign entities, who have money, in order to lift people out of poverty.

  56. 56
    Lurking Canadian says:

    @gene108: Here’s your post:

    On the other hand they don’t like it, when those foreigners start getting better paying jobs and living better than their parents. It’s as if foreign governments – like Ireland, India or China – can just sprinkle magic economy dust on their nations and not need investment from foreign entities, who have money, in order to lift people out of poverty.

    Here’s my prediction from up above:

    “Yeah, well, those women wanted those jobs, which paid better and were safer than walking behind a plow horse, and it was a necessary step in industrialization

    Was the reaction to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire a mistake?

  57. 57
    jh says:

    @👽 Martin:

    Good discussion man.

    Let’s continue:

    Because the Chinese are doing something we would never do here. There’s no loss to the US. Put another way, Obama said ‘those jobs are never coming back to the US’. He was wrong – those jobs never existed here in the first place,

    I wouldn’t say that.

    River Rouge was a good example of huge numbers (at the time) of people working in a totally vertically integrated manufacturing operation.

    Raw Materials went in one end, finished products came out the other. This would become a viable model for the production of automobiles for decades.

    So we’ve had jobs here in the US that while not exactly the same, were similar enough to warrant comparison.

    We tolerate the Chinese doing this because only the Chinese have the means and will to do it

    Let us not overlook that the 7% of the Chinese who are actually card carrying members of the CCP impose, via undemocratic fiat, how the other 93% of Chinese will live.

    These people are the elites of China and benefit greatly from the current arrangment.

    They are not terribly interested in allowing the populist, progressive development of their civil society to the extent that better working conditions, and higher wages erode profitability of largely state owned interests.

    They will kill their own people in a heartbeat to prevent that from happnening.

    Let me put it another way. Rather than improving the model, they are happy to bring more people (out of rural poverty admittedly) into the current, shitty model.

    A model that erodes the value of free labor everywhere else on the planet.

    Machinery, computers, robotics, are making it easier and easier for us to maintain a standard of living on less and less work. So, given that, what’s wrong with more education before entering the workforce, or earlier retirement, or longer sick leave and vacations and maternity leave?

    Nothing.

    But as you mentioned early, we have a politcal party and nearly half the electorate that is so paranoid about socialism and agasinst any shared national intereests that involved including the blahs, browns wimmen and gays, as to make rational discussion of such matters impossible.

    It’s highly likely that we are going to end up with a shorter workweek here in the west (perhapd 30-35hrs?) sometime in the 21st century.

    The challenge will be; how do wages get adjusted for decreased productivity?

    I just don’t see that MOTU paying people the same amount for less work and the necessities of free markets won’t tolerate long term deflation (e.g. prices for goods and services) needed to compensate for lower wages.

    Mixing methaphors here, but something has gotta give and I’m not sure how we are going to skin this cat.

    In the meantime, I’d be more than content to MAKE China compete on innovation, productity (thanks for reminding us), and other value added metrics rather than just cutting everybody’s throats on cost becuase they are the only ones ruthlesss enough to exploit a hostage workforce of 2 billion desperate human beings.

  58. 58
    Lurking Canadian says:

    @👽 Martin: It looks like you are replying to me, but I didn’t write any of the text you quoted.

    Your posts on this topic are always interesting, but you are talking about genuine competitive advantages. I have no objection if the Chinese can do something Americans can’t because they are willing to invest in the infrastructure or the education of 100,000 industrial engineers, or whatever. That’s competition, free trade, capitalism. All great.

    My objection is to the “competitive advantage” that says “I don’t care if my employees lose their hands in the hydraulic press, ’cause I’ve got lots more where they came from”. I do not believe that is a legitimate economic activity, in the same way that I don’t believe “My cotton just wouldn’t be profitable if I had to pay those animals to pick it” is a legitimate economic activity.

  59. 59
    Cassidy says:

    @Doug Danger: Man, sounds like you need a blog. I mean, that would be more productive than coming here and whining because what you find important isn’t being writen about. There’s a big internet out there.

  60. 60
    jh says:

    It’s as if foreign governments – like Ireland, India or China – can just sprinkle magic economy dust on their nations and not need investment from foreign entities, who have money, in order to lift people out of poverty.

    Ireland is a democracy, not unlike our own imperfect democracy here in the US. I’m rooting for them.

    India is nominally democracy but with a horrific and undemocratic caste system that undermines that democracy. Still they are on a positive trendline towards equality and shared prosperity.

    China is a communist dictatorship. Chinese citizens have very little say about how their society is organized and with the cabal of opportunistic Corporatists masquerading as communists in Beijing, they are left wide open to the predations and exploitations of global capitlism with very little means to resist.

  61. 61
    jh says:

    @Lurking Canadian:

    Thank you.

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Signed,

    A descendant of American slaves.

  62. 62
    ImJohnGalt says:

    I was in India last year, and just got back from Mainland China and Hong Kong. First time I’d ever been over there. It was a real eye-opener. At this point, although I’m sure India has some real pockets of economic firepower (Bangalore, Mumbai), there certainly seemed to be much more poverty there than in urban China. I was blown away at how brand-conscious the Chinese were, at the same time as India is having a great debate about whether or not to allow Wal-mart in. China’s already moved on to The Gap, Apple, and Carrefour.

    In talking to people in Shanghai, it was amazing how little they wanted to talk about the communist party, just wanting to keep their heads down and try to get ahead. They recognize that the party elites are the ones most benefiting, but they feel pretty helpless about it.

    I didn’t talk to any taxi drivers or anything a la Friedman, but actually being there for a few weeks was really disorienting. Ran completely against my expectations. Vietnam especially seemed like particularly dichotomous country in terms of rich/poor.

    Still, as an entrepreneur here in Canada, I couldn’t help but look around and see opportunities to start businesses there that would support their domestic economy, rather than just exploiting low labour and material costs to export more crap to the west.

    ETA: I recognize that a great deal of the Chinese population lives in the rural areas on a mere pittance, and did not have the opportunity to travel to those areas. I’m only talking about my admittedly cursory observations of Shanghai, and am in no way trying to claim any expertise about their culture or actual living conditions.

  63. 63
    👽 Martin says:

    @Lurking Canadian: Oh, whoops. Sorry about that – hit the wrong reply button. My bad.

    My objection is to the “competitive advantage” that says “I don’t care if my employees lose their hands in the hydraulic press, ‘cause I’ve got lots more where they came from”. I do not believe that is a legitimate economic activity, in the same way that I don’t believe “My cotton just wouldn’t be profitable if I had to pay those animals to pick it” is a legitimate economic activity.

    But that’s always a relative measure. Foxconn workers are less likely to be injured or killed compared to many industries in the US. They are VASTLY less likely to be killed or injured compared to almost any industry in China – and particularly compared to the subsistence living most of these workers came from. You’re asking for ideal. We never get ideal. It will get better in China, but it’ll also get better here, and the expectation from people here will shift and they’ll still be seen as behind, even though they’ve made great progress. We need to temper our criticism of genuine progress when it fails to satisfy our ideal.

  64. 64
    iLarynx says:

    @Cacti:

    I wonder if in 1940, mistermix would have published an article called “The Other Side of Buchenwald”.

    Oh for… HELLOOOOO! Godwin Alert!

    Will the next person wishing to display their ignorance on this subject, as well as their unwillingness to perform any sort of meaningful research into this subject before spewing asinine comments about it (not to mention ignorance of slavery in the US as well as WWII) PLEASE place your Hitler and slavery comments at the top of your message. This will save the rest of us from wasting time on useless drivel.

    Thank you for your assistance on this matter.

  65. 65
    jh says:

    @ImJohnGalt:

    I was in China for a month last year.

    Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzen and Macau.

    I have similar observations.

    There are HUGE opportunities for China to grow and support their own domestic markets without being so dependent on making cheap stuff for the West to consume.

    They don’t seem very interested in taking those opportunities right now, and the Chinese I worked with and spoke with are so cowed by the Communist Party that it will probabaly be a while before they get around to it.

  66. 66
    jh says:

    Foxconn workers are less likely to be injured or killed compared to many industries in the US.

    A couple of objections here.

    What worksite in which industry here in the US, had to put up nets to prevent people from committing suicide?

    And I wouldn’t believe any numbers on workplace safety coming out of China.

    Neither the government, nor the employers are going to give accurate accouts, the workers are scared shitless to speak up and they don’t allow enough transparencey or enough objective outside observers to gather any meaningful statistics.

    Shit, it’s damned hard enough just to find out the exact ownership and managmement structures of Chinese concerns, let alone getting accurate workplace safety stats.

  67. 67
    👽 Martin says:

    @jh:

    Raw Materials went in one end, finished products came out the other. This would become a viable model for the production of automobiles for decades.
    So we’ve had jobs here in the US that while not exactly the same, were similar enough to warrant comparison.

    But Rouge River existed where it did because those materials existed there. Detroit was a shipping confluence for iron and coal, and could ship out finished goods the same way.

    Shenzen is the same for electronics. We could not duplicate the assembly jobs here without similarly moving the supporting component manufacturing jobs around it.

    The productivity demands were different, but they both shaped the outcome. In the early 20th century hauling bulk commodities for the purpose of durable goods was expensive. Still is. But the entire iPhone global production can be lifted out of Shenzen on a single daily 747 (one hauling cargo that exceeds the value of the plane itself). It takes half a million workers to fill a transportation pipeline that operates on as few as 3 people. The constraints on productivity are entirely different in this industry – and they’re also fleeting. The assembly hasn’t been fully automated because current equipment doesn’t work well at that scale – but they’re getting very close. Braun replaced one of the razor assembly factories with a fully automated, robotic system. Pretty much dump components in one end and get boxed and ready for shipment razors out the other. That’s going to be iPhones relatively soon. Those jobs we say we want won’t exist by the time we get them. From the inception of this labor market (in 2007) to it’s likely destruction will probably take no more than 10 years. China may be willing to build a city around 10 years of jobs, but nobody in the US should. It would be a waste. Better to just jump to the next step now.

    The challenge will be; how do wages get adjusted for decreased productivity?

    They don’t. The problem is that wages didn’t increase with increased productivity. I’m 2x as productive now as when I started this job, but I sure as fuck aren’t earning 2x as much. But a 40 hour work week is no more sacred than a 30 hour one or a 50 hour one. It’s just what we’re used to – and someone arbitrarily picked 40 once before. And those policies forced employers to deal with that constraint. And the main thing holding the US back from offering more flexible hours is that employers pay for health insurance and have no way to prorate that benefit for workers that take a reduced week. The lack of single payer is uniquely contributing to this problem – all other benefits scale – pensions, retirement, vacation, pay, etc. But the 2nd largest part of worker compensation does not, and that keeps anyone drawing that benefit locked to a 40 hour work week (or above).

    I just don’t see that MOTU paying people the same amount for less work and the necessities of free markets won’t tolerate long term deflation (e.g. prices for goods and services) needed to compensate for lower wages.

    Of course they won’t. That’s why they keep backing guys like Romney to make sure it stays that way. But we’ll have a labor reform movement develop here when the conditions are right.

  68. 68
    Rex Everything says:

    @J R in WV:

    Could you be totally specific about what “Fallows is selling” please?

    A clean conscience. To the American consumer.

  69. 69
    👽 Martin says:

    @jh:

    What worksite in which industry here in the US, had to put up nets to prevent people from committing suicide?

    Foxconn had 17 suicides out of a workforce of one million workers in one year.
    The US Army suicide rate is currently 290 per million per year.
    The suicide rate in the US is 109 per million per year.
    12% of all deaths for 15-24 year olds are due to suicide.
    In one middle school in Minnesota with 1000 students there were 9 suicides in 2 years – that’s a rate of 4,500 per million per year.

    The nets were put up for PR. Its easy for US journalists to see a rash of suicides in China and point their finger at Apple. It’s much harder to see a rash of suicides in Minnesota and point their finger at the entire community.

    Shit, it’s damned hard enough just to find out the exact ownership and managmement structures of Chinese concerns, let alone getting accurate workplace safety stats.

    True. But Foxconn is one of the best that we know this information out of. They have the same independent US auditors there now as we use in the US. And Foxconn is a Taiwanese company that has much higher reporting responsibilities in their home country. It’s not a PRC based company. They have facilities in the US, Brazil and a number of other countries as well.

  70. 70
    jh says:

    Foxconn had 17 suicides out of a workforce of one million workers in one year.

    I may be wrong, but wasn’t that at just one factory? And wasn’t that followed by 150 people threatening to commit MASS SUICIDE in one go just this past spring?

    And even so, how alarmed would our society be at that number of say, Wal-mart employees killing themselves or threatening to do so in ritual fashion?

    And that doesnt’t even go into the riots at Foxconn.

    OR the strikes (which are often broken with violence.

    I think it’s safe to say there are problems with working conditions at Foxconn (and the many, many other places like it) and there is no similar corollary here in the west…..

    The US Army suicide rate is currently 290 per million per year.

    Until you bring in the US MILITARY for purposes of comparison.

    Why would anyone be surprised by the fact that military suicide rates are higher than civilian rates? Even Chinese civilians. We’ve been invovled in 2 shooting ward for a decade now fer chrissakes.

    Meanwhile it’s pretty well documented that Chinese search engines Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo, not to mention Google, haved blocked searches for these incidents to keep the Chinese populace at-large in the dark about conditions at Foxconn and subsequent unrest.

    I suppose it’s pretty awesome that you have a government that actively engages in overt censorshiop, with no recourse whatsoever to its citizens, and pays no consequences for its actions.

    Compare this to Arab Spring for just one exmample of why China’s polices wrt information are deplorable.

    They have the same independent US auditors there now as we use in the US. And Foxconn is a Taiwanese company that has much higher reporting responsibilities in their home country. It’s not a PRC based company

    This may be true, but they are the largest ‘private sector’ (no such thing truly exists) employer in China and as far as I can tell, those operations occur behind the same information firewall as the rest of the PRC. Even when outsiders try to enforce transparency and accountability, they are faced with obstructionism and potemkin tactics.

    My point remains, that I don’t trust information coming out of mainlaind China even if its via Taipei or Cupertino.

    And to be fair, I’m not singling out Foxconn’s ops in China.

    Foxconn’s one of many, many companies that under the auspices of the CCP, make a conscious decision that human, civil and worker rights will always lose out to profitability.

    I will say it again. We should not be subsidizing the current arrangment.

  71. 71
    jh says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F.....conditions

    On the evening of February 19, 2010, the company made an announcement at its factory in Santa Teresa, Mexico that the buses which normally take the workers home from the plant at the end of the day would not be arriving on time due to a hold-up at a military checkpoint (a common occurrence in that area of Juarez), and that they should continue to work until the buses arrived. As a result, the workers were forced to work overtime without compensation. Later, word got around that the buses had not, in fact, been held up at a checkpoint, but rather that Foxconn had deliberately delayed their arrival in order to force the workers into uncompensated overtime. Upon hearing this news, a small riot ensued, and several workers started a fire in the factory’s gymnasium.[70] An internal investigation by Foxconn reported that this was a premeditated act by a disgruntled employee,[71] but workers from the factory dispute that assertion. Workers also claim that this was not the first time Foxconn had attempted to force uncompensated overtime, and that the riot and fire were the culmination of a series of labor abuses, and not just the one incident.

    Read the whole thing.

    These people operating 1890s style in the 21st Century.

    We tolerate it at our own peril.

  72. 72
    gene108 says:

    @Lurking Canadian:

    Was the reaction to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire a mistake?

    Nope.

    But Canadians weren’t trying to dictate U.S. labor policy.

    I don’t know enough about the actual working conditions of factory workers in China to start making comparisons to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory either.

    The standard of living for a lot of Chinese has improved in the last 20 years, which is known. Therefore they must be doing something right.

    What trade offs had to occur to spur this improvement in living standards? I don’t know, so I don’t know what to condemn with regards to Chinese factory labor.

    China has a lot more problems economically than is popularly depicted in the U.S. They are no more an unstoppable juggernaut that will own us than the Japanese were in the 1980’s and the Arabs were in the 1970’s. The

    Communist government has huge investments in the economy, relative to Chinese GDP, they control the “means of production” of raw materials and can demand mines or foundries sell to businesses at below market prices, and they can demand banks make loans that might not get paid back.

    This is surviving because of rapid growth, but if it slows down these practices will come back to bite them.

  73. 73
    gene108 says:

    @Lurking Canadian:

    Was the reaction to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire a mistake?

    Nope.

    But Canadians weren’t trying to dictate U.S. labor policy.

    I don’t know enough about the actual working conditions of factory workers in China to start making comparisons to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory either.

    The standard of living for a lot of Chinese has improved in the last 20 years, which is known. Therefore they must be doing something right.

    What trade offs had to occur to spur this improvement in living standards? I don’t know, so I don’t know what to condemn with regards to Chinese factory labor.

    China has a lot more problems economically than is popularly depicted in the U.S. They are no more an unstoppable juggernaut that will own us than the Japanese were in the 1980’s and the Arabs were in the 1970’s. The

    Communist government has huge investments in the economy, relative to Chinese GDP, they control the “means of production” of raw materials and can demand mines or foundries sell to businesses at below market prices, and they can demand banks make loans that might not get paid back.

    This is surviving because of rapid growth, but if it slows down these practices will come back to bite them.

  74. 74
    gene108 says:

    @Lurking Canadian:

    Was the reaction to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire a mistake?

    Nope.

    But Canadians weren’t trying to dictate U.S. labor policy.

    I don’t know enough about the actual working conditions of factory workers in China to start making comparisons to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory either.

    The standard of living for a lot of Chinese has improved in the last 20 years, which is known. Therefore they must be doing something right.

    What trade offs had to occur to spur this improvement in living standards? I don’t know, so I don’t know what to condemn with regards to Chinese factory labor.

    China has a lot more problems economically than is popularly depicted in the U.S. They are no more an unstoppable juggernaut that will own us than the Japanese were in the 1980’s and the Arabs were in the 1970’s. The

    Communist government has huge investments in the economy, relative to Chinese GDP, they control the “means of production” of raw materials and can demand mines or foundries sell to businesses at below market prices, and they can demand banks make loans that might not get paid back.

    This is surviving because of rapid growth, but if it slows down these practices will come back to bite them.

  75. 75
    gene108 says:

    @Lurking Canadian:

    Was the reaction to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire a mistake?

    Nope.

    But Canadians weren’t trying to dictate U.S. labor policy.

    I don’t know enough about the actual working conditions of factory workers in China to start making comparisons to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory either.

    The standard of living for a lot of Chinese has improved in the last 20 years, which is known. Therefore they must be doing something right.

    What trade offs had to occur to spur this improvement in living standards? I don’t know, so I don’t know what to condemn with regards to Chinese factory labor.

    China has a lot more problems economically than is popularly depicted in the U.S. They are no more an unstoppable juggernaut that will own us than the Japanese were in the 1980’s and the Arabs were in the 1970’s. The

    Communist government has huge investments in the economy, relative to Chinese GDP, they control the “means of production” of raw materials and can demand mines or foundries sell to businesses at below market prices, and they can demand banks make loans that might not get paid back.

    This is surviving because of rapid growth, but if it slows down these practices will come back to bite them.

  76. 76
    gene108 says:

    @ImJohnGalt:

    I was in India last year, and just got back from Mainland China and Hong Kong. First time I’d ever been over there. It was a real eye-opener. At this point, although I’m sure India has some real pockets of economic firepower (Bangalore, Mumbai), there certainly seemed to be much more poverty there than in urban China.

    China’s economy is about 5 times the size of India’s, with no material difference in the size of the population (China also has 3x India’s landmass).

    India is ranked somewhere in the 130’s in terms of per capita income out of 190 countries.

    India has huge infrastructure problems and terrible politicians. It is amazing that anything actually gets done there at all.

  77. 77
    jh says:

    I’m off to do the meatspace thing.

    Great discussion guys.

    It’s this type of thing that keeps me coming back to BJ.

  78. 78
    Maude says:

    @jh:
    I read that Foxconn is moving some factories out of China to get a cheaper workforce. I think it is Turkey.
    So much for human rights.
    For the Republicans this is Free Markets.

  79. 79
    👽 Martin says:

    @jh:

    I may be wrong, but wasn’t that at just one factory? And wasn’t that followed by 150 people threatening to commit MASS SUICIDE in one go just this past spring?

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that it was just the Shenzen plant, with a quarter million workers. That runs the rate up to 68 per million – still just over half of the US general population rate.

    And the mass suicide thing is how the Chinese demonstrate. It’s not like we haven’t had similar numbers in the US doing hunger strikes, which is just as easily translated into a mass suicide movement.

    Why would anyone be surprised by the fact that military suicide rates are higher than civilian rates? Even Chinese civilians. We’ve been invovled in 2 shooting ward for a decade now fer chrissakes.

    That certainly explains why one middle school had 1/4 as many suicides as a 220,000 employee factory.

    Compare this to Arab Spring for just one exmample of why China’s polices wrt information are deplorable.

    Did I defend their information policies? Did I even suggest that the working conditions there shouldn’t improve? Your solution to Chinese suppression of free speech is to deny the Chinese people jobs – and by extension to deny American’s jobs. If we had boycotted the iPhone and other devices at their inception, there simply would not be a market there. No app economy would have developed. No job expansion in California would have taken place. No retail expansion would have taken place. It’s not that something else would have sprung up in it’s place – it simply wouldn’t have happened – and we’d be cheering another half point of unemployment for the benefit of sending China a message on free speech? You think they’d really hear that message? Really?

    BTW, this is why people vote Republican – the arguments that people on the left routinely trot out are completely nonsensical. You make progressives look like lunatics, in much the same way that Todd Akin makes Republicans look like lunatics.

  80. 80
    👽 Martin says:

    @Maude:

    I read that Foxconn is moving some factories out of China to get a cheaper workforce. I think it is Turkey.

    Gah! This shit spreads on the left like the Benghazi lie does on the right.

    The Turkish Prime Minister launched an initiative to put a tablet like the iPad into the hands of every schoolkid in the country, provided the tablets were built in Turkey. It has fuckall to do with the cost of labor – in the same way that Apple’s decision to build phones in China has fuckall to do with the cost of labor. The minimum wage in Turkey is $550/month. The average Foxconn wage in China is $410/month. It’s both jobs in the country and a benefit for education. The US should be so fortunate to have legislators, governors and mayors with that kind of initiative.

    Foxconn is also opening factories in Brazil because Brazil has a 100% tariff on electronic device imports. Minimum wage there is ~$350/month. Again it has nothing to do with the price of labor. In this case it’s all about getting around the tariff.

    The main reason why assembly is in China – and specifically why it’s in cities like Shenzen, is because that’s where the components are. The costs of an extended supply chain, with additional transportation and coordination are far more crippling to Apple – specifically because there is a global shortage of components and infrastructure to do this. Every phone that they can’t sell because the factory was out of parts costs them about 100 hours worth of assembly labor. The labor isn’t and never was the reason for the decision – they’d gladly double wages if labor was the holdup on production. The inability to build a global supply chain on the scale that Apple needed was entirely the reason – so they have a mostly local supply chain instead. Almost every part that goes in the phone was built either in the same factory as the phone itself (for example, Foxconn makes the camera modules Apple buys from Sony in the same building – half a million per day) or in a factory within the same city. Load up the truck, drive it across town – done. Not a lot of logistics needed there, not a lot of warehousing. If the parts don’t arrive, walk over and find out what the problem is.

  81. 81
    ImJohnGalt says:

    Only tangentially related to this thread, but relevant to the previous post, the Indian government launched an Android tablet while we were there last year called The Aakash for $50.00. It was front-page news on all the daily papers, and I think it was developed by a Canadian company but manufactured in India. They couldn’t keep up with demand.

    I was also struck three weeks ago while in China how easy it was for me to (within Shanghai), sign up for a VPN service and install the apps on my android and iPad to get through the Great Firewall. I’m not sure if it is hard for the native Chinese because they might not have a payment mechanism (I used Paypal), but it did make me realize that the GFW might not be as major as western news agencies make one think.

  82. 82
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @jh:

    Remember what Henry Ford said about making sure his employees could afford what they’d made?

    You’re looking at the wrong period of history.

    Ratchet back to the 1850s in England, when Titus Salt built homes for his textile workers: nice homes in a model village, with sanitation and gas lighting, away from the smokestacks of the city. But he steadfastly opposed the abolition of child labour, because that would affect his bottom line.

    I think China is somewhere around 1880s Europe in the social narrative of industrial development, and every decade in China represents about 30 years in European industrial history. There will be the internal pressure for better conditions and pay and rights — there is already a hint of it at Foxconn — and the CCP will face the biggest test of its modern existence in dealing with it, because its political power will depend upon it.

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