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Outsourcing Ourselves

August 18, 2010

Where are the new American jobs? Ask Steve Jobs.

If you think “jobs, jobs, jobs” is Job Number 1 for President Obama, Treasury Secretary Geithner, and for all of the economic talking heads on TV, I’ve got an Apple iPhone4 for you, right here, ready for your pleasure, and made in America.

Just kidding. Foxconn, a subsidiary of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, the company that actually manufactures Apple’s iPhone and many other popular tech gadgets, plans to hire 400,000 new workers, boosting its work force in China to over 1.2 million people, after its revenue shot up by 50 percent in the first half of 2010. This will give Foxconn nearly three times as many workers as three of its major U.S. customers: Apple with its 34,000 employees, Microsoft with its 89,000 workers, and Hewlett-Packard with its 300,000 employees.

You want to know where jobs are? Ask Steve Jobs, whose innovative and incredibly popular technological-breakthrough products are manufactured anywhere but in the United States. When announcing Apple’s third quarter, Jobs said, “It was a phenomenal quarter that exceeded our expectations all around, including the most successful product launch in Apple’s history with iPhone 4. IPad is off to a terrific start, more people are buying Macs than ever before, and we have amazing new products still to come this year.”

Apple sold 3.47 millions Macs, 3.27 million iPads, 8.4 million iPhones, and 9.41 million iPods, all in three months. $15.7 billion in sales and $3.25 billion in profits in one quarter makes Apple the world’s second largest company by market cap and Jobs one rich sonofabitch. So forgive Jobs, in his excitement, if he forgot to mention that the factory contracting to build his products just had its twelfth suicide this year on August 4th after a 22-year-old woman jumped from her factory dormitory in eastern Jiangsu province.

If you’re angry that the economy sucks in the U.S. and jobs are hard to find, there’s a lot of blame to go around. You can blame the unions who drove so much manufacturing to the south, to Mexico, and to China. You can blame government policies that allowed China to get equal status to the U.S. while keeping duties on Chinese products the same while undermining every industry Chinese companies competed with. It’s easy to be the low-cost provider when you have no legal costs, no human resources, little insurance, and you pay your workers $1 a month. Blame Wal Mart, blame the American consumer suckered into buying cheap Chinese crap and not worrying where it comes from. We Americans like our cheap fast food (doesn’t matter how many cows and chickens are inhumanely slaughtered,) our dollar stores, our illegal-immigrant supplied hotel staffs, and our newest hottest electronic whiz-bang goodies, especially if they don’t cost too much. We like our $200 portable computers the size of our hands that we can waste our time with, finding out instantly what our friends are doing in their bedrooms or hotels.

We can only hope that workers manufacturing our electronic toys start getting angry like they did in the U.S when they were abused and underpaid for decades in U.S. factories. Foxconn says they’re trying to deal with their angry workers. They have raised wages (to what, who knows?), hired counselors, and “installed safety nets on buildings to catch would-be jumpers” (“iPhone-maker rallies workers after China suicides,” Associated Press, August 18, 2010). They sponsored a rally in their mammoth industrial park in Shenzhen with its 300,000 factory workers, in which 20,000 workers dressed in costumes and held flags bearing messages such as “Treasure your life, love your family.”

Who do we have to blame for this? Is it a silent conspiracy between the stock market (whose talking heads praise Jobs and Buffet and Gates as their American idols) and the federal government which takes care of its unionized workers who can’t be outsourced and get automatic pay raises and health care and pensions for life? How about our useless political parties bankrolled by selfish lobbyists and hijacked by their extremist loyalists? Democrats are in bed with unions and want to raise taxes and regulate more companies. Republicans don’t care much about government and just want to lower taxes and kill regulations as they vouch for the phony “free market,” dominated by other countries we compete with.

Who cares anymore about Americans? Who cares for the rich, the middle class, and the poor; what about the needs of every American, not just a few? And should we be happy that we are borrowing more from the country that is growing its middle class as ours is shrinking? We got fat and lazy and self-satisfied while the far-east countries got hungry and took our jobs. “We’ve just ended more than a decade of debt-fueled growth,” writes Tom Friedman (“Really Unusually Uncertain,” The New York Times, August 18, 2010) “during which we borrowed money from China to give ourselves a tax cut and more entitlements but did nothing to curtail spending or make long-term investments in new growth engines. Now our government owes more than ever and has more future obligations than ever—like expanded Medicare prescription drug benefits, expanded health care, an expanded war in Afghanistan and expanded Social Security payments (because the baby boomers are about to retire)—and less real growth to pay for it all.”

As Tom realizes, even amidst his flat-earth optimism, “technology is destroying older, less skilled jobs that paid a decent wage at a faster pace than ever while spinning off more new skilled jobs that pay a decent wage but require more education than ever.” What he fails to mention is that they’re only so many CEOs and innovators and high-tech engineers to go around in the United States. What we need to get so many of our college graduates and those who can’t make it through college working, whether urban, suburban, or rural, is some more good old-fashioned American manufacturing for those hot new innovative American products.

Who is going to make the weapons and planes and surveillance systems if and when we are forced to go to war with China?

China?

Green Day, a made-in-America band, has an American rock-and-roll opera playing in Broadway, called “American Idiot,” which is about an “anti-hero, a powerless ‘everyman’ desensitized by a “steady diet of soda pop and Ritalin” It could also be about us Americans who got sold a bill of goods from Wall Street and Greenspan and Fannie Mae and Bush and Paulsen and Obama and Geithner about what economic success is and how to keep it.

We have to ask now, who has the guts to put smart people together to figure out how to get American inventions made at reasonable prices by American laborers without resorting to government hand-holding or forced-regulations or union-propping or the who-cares-where-anything-is-made-as-long-as-the-stock-goes-up mentality?

I guess I’m asking too much. I guess all we have to look forward to are the newest factories in China and other “third-world” countries, driving low-paid workers harder and harder, operating too-fast, pressure-cooker assembly lines, and requiring excessive overtime, so that they can charge less than everyone else in the world to manufacture the newest coolest things we want so that guys like Steve Jobs and Mark Hurd and Steve Ballmer and politicians with life-time benefits and Wall Street traders who make money, up or down, keep most of the remaining American dollars for themselves.

It’s the American way.

For the rest of us…the small company owners, those working the phones for very little, the outside salesmen, the airplane customer service employees fed up with their companies, those who work on the fast food counters, the retail warriors who work crazy hours, the unemployed, the graduates finding no work left, and those who have given up…

We can blog on the web for nothing…we the conned, we the loyal, we the patriotic, we the American idiots.

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