Dennis Loo

Sometimes asking for the impossible is the only realistic path

Dennis Loo

Dennis Loo
Location
Los Angeles, California,
Birthday
December 31
Title
Professor of Sociology
Company
Cal Poly Pomona
Bio
Author of Globalization and the Demolition of Society; Co-Editor/Author of Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney, World Can't Wait Steering Committee Member, co-author of "Crimes Are Crimes, No Matter Who Does Them" statement, dog and fruit tree lover. Published poet. Winner of the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award, Project Censored Award and the Nation Magazine's Most Valuable Campaign Award. Punahou and Harvard Honor Graduate. Ph.D. in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz. An archive of close to 500 postings of mine can be found at my blogspot blog, Dennis Loo, link below. I publish regularly at dennisloo.com, worldcantwait.net (link below) and also at OpEd News and sometimes at Counterpunch.

JANUARY 29, 2012 9:28AM

Dirty, Pretty Things Part 2

Rate: 4 Flag

Part I can be found here.

The New York Times’ articles on Apple in China (I and II) have struck a chord and there is talk of an Apple boycott circulating among American journalists. Since Apple’s success depends a great deal on its being seen as cool, the explosions and suicides caused by its “drive the costs down as much as possible” that lead directly to their suppliers trying to cut corners on workers’ safety and welfare, present them with a PR nightmare.

So enter Larry Dignan at CBS rising to Apple’s defense in a January 27, 2012 article entitled “Roughing up Apple: Time to whistle time out.” In it, Dignan says that Apple is being unfairly singled out when the picture fits for not only all of hi-tech but also clothes and nearly any other manufactured product bought in the US today. So far, so good, on that he’s right. But then he goes on to say:

[A]ll of these takes on the abused supply chain are all viewed through the Western lens. To that person working in the Foxconn plant he’s providing for his family and future generations. To him, the pay is probably pretty good. Maybe the second and third generations wind up running Foxconn. Ditto for the guy in the textile worker in Africa and every other person in an emerging market.

 

The bottom line here is we enable a supply chain that has a lot of warts. We want to examine those warts, but not really. This flap about worker safety isn’t about Apple, the tech industry or any other vertical. It’s about us.

I don’t know. Western lens: does it look different from the Chinese lens when parents learn that their children have committed suicide at their Foxconn dorm by jumping to their deaths? Do Chinese people feel differently than Americans when they’re forced to work 16 hour shifts and some of them stand for so long that they can’t walk because their legs have swelled up so much? Do Chinese lens regard with casual indifference the fate of their family members who are burned over 90% of their bodies and their faces a mass of red and black and unrecognizable after explosions due to poorly ventilated factories that allow the aluminum dust to collect in combustible quantities? Is that why Lai Xiaodong's mother fled sobbing from his hospital room when she saw him after the accident? Do they think differently about being forced to sign agreements not to sue for permanent lung damage due to toxic chemicals being used to clean the shiny iPad screens rather than regular rubbing alcohol because n-hexane dries three times faster? In other words, in the statement that has always driven me crazy when Americans say it: “Those Asians don’t regard life the way we Westerners do.”

According to Dignan, this man who is so broadminded that he can appreciate that his “Western” regard for life is not the same as the degraded one that non-Westerners must operate from, maybe the second or third generation of the deplorably exploited assembly-line worker goes on to run Foxconn. Even if this were true, what about all of the other 1.2 million workers that Foxconn employs? Are they ALL going to be running Foxconn one day? Does that mean that there will be 1.2 million Foxconn companies for them all to run?

You see, this is the problem with the logic of apologists for capitalism like Mr. Dignan. They can’t do simple math. A few individuals who experience upward mobility does not mean that everyone escapes the fate of being a savagely exploited worker. You don’t have billionaire capitalists like Steve Jobs without most of the rest of the people being exploited workers.

Which brings me to my next point: Apple got started because Steve Jobs’ friend Steve Wozniak single-handedly built the first user friendly personal computer/Mac. Wozniak had the outlandish idea that he’d give the idea away, get this, for free to the world. Steve Jobs, that genius, that technical wizard, that man who changed the world, persuaded him to instead co-found Apple with him. Wait. I thought that inventors and the drive for innovation is what must be rewarded with money in order for inventions to happen? And you’re telling me that Steve Wozniak, the actual inventor of the first Mac, wasn’t motivated by material incentives? Get out of here!

The race to the bottom that characterizes the U.S. economy and neoliberalism more generally throughout the world today is not here because, despite the erudite Mr. Dignan’s piercing insights, the U.S. consumer suddenly started demanding that everything be cheaper and that if this meant that Main Street should languish and die and that Wall Street should laugh all the way to their banks bulging with cash, that the manufacturing sector should be exported lock stock and barrel abroad, and that a substantial part of the working class and now the middle class should be rendered disposable, then so be it. Why, the joys of shopping for bargains at Walmart and getting crushed on Black Fridays surely exceed those tired old things like a decent job, a house, and a thriving Main Street! What would have made the U.S. consumer suddenly decide that - to, in essence, commit social and economic Hari-Kiri? How come they weren’t doing this during the middle part of the 20th century when the gap between the rich and the rest of us was actually contracting?

The reason, Virginia, that his blaming all of us (and therefore none of us) doesn’t make any sense is because that’s not why deindustrialization, privatization, and deregulation have been happening over the last thirty plus years.

The rise of neoliberalism is due to a movement that began among elites and that became possible for them to implement when the socialist camp came apart and capitalism no longer had to try to appeal to people. Capitalism without any rivals could now present to the world the Hobson’s choice – take it or starve. To paraphrase Henry Ford, you can have any color of unemployment and degrading living standards you want, as long as I, and the capitalist class, are still in charge. These dramatic changes aren't because of the American consumer. It’s because of the American (and German and Russian and English and Japanese and Chinese… ) capitalist and the capitalist system worldwide. 

In the wake of the Left’s decline, the capitalist camp now ruled the world roost as unchallenged champion. No longer restricted by countervailing forces such as socialist states or vibrant unions, capitalism could now slough off the welfare state’s unwanted strictures and dictate terms the way a victorious army sets the terms of the peace.

Contemporaneous technological developments—especially computerization, more advanced telecommunications, and automation—also made production’s internationalization more feasible and inexpensive. As a result of the Left’s retreat and the emergence of these technical innovations, virtually the entire world’s labor force, consumer markets, and resources were now flung wide open to capitalist expansion and exploitation. If corporations such as Walmart and Nike could pay Third World and former socialist bloc workers a fraction of what they paid US workers and still sell their finished products for the same price, what right-thinking executive with demanding shareholders and Wall Street to satisfy could resist sending their factories abroad and outsourcing relentlessly? Even if some compassionate US executives wanted to preserve American jobs and the communities that grew up around those jobs, to buck this trend meant that they were both compassionate executives and career suicides. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, p. 49)

This was first posted at DennisLoo.com.

To be continued

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Excellent article, Dennis. Rated!
I'm with you in spirit here Dennis, but I don't think you do your position any good with gross exaggerations of fact. The statement that most caught my eye was : ""........... that the manufacturing sector should be exported lock stock and barrel abroad, ...........""

This caught my attention because just a few days ago, I read an article in a business magazine bemoaning the fact that almost 10% of American manufacturers now had overseas production facilities OR had formed associations with overseas producers of goods. Unless my math is wrong having 90% of American production still in the US, employing US workers, hardly constitutes a "lock stock and barrel" movement of those American-based facilities to foreign soil.

I note also that, while much capital is being made of the suicides of workers in China, no one has compared it to the suicide rates of a similar number of average workers here in the west. How much difference do you suppose there might be? Just askin', y'know?

As said above, I agree with the intent of your message. I do wish you didn't leave yourself so open to criticism for saying and/or implying things that are not really very accurate or are terribly one-sided though.
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Sky:

The language in that particular passage is meant to be slightly exaggerated. It's in the same spirit as the rest of that sentence. It's not literally true, for example, that Main Street has died (not entirely), nor is it literally true that bankers are laughing their way to the bank bulging with cash.
I am sure this was not easy - I appreciate this "other" point of view and I know I would remember some of this for a long time.

I am glad some of these are coming to India but like am also concerned about 'at what cost?'

@ Sky, this is what I read, online offcourse so do not know if this is credible and you would be in a better position to clarify:

"How Many Jobs Have We Lost?

More than 3 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared since 1998, and the Economic Policy Institute estimates 59 percent—or 1.78 million—of these jobs have been lost due to the explosion in the U.S. manufacturing trade deficit over the period.
Goldman Sachs estimates 400,000–600,000 professional services and information sector jobs moved overseas in the past few years, accounting for about half of the total net job loss in the sector over the period. A Deloitte Research survey found one-third of all major financial institutions are already sending work offshore, with 75 percent reporting they would do so within the next 24 months. A U.C. Berkeley study found 25,000 to 30,000 new outsourcing-related jobs advertised in India by U.S. firms in just one month in 2003.
One service sector hard hit by job losses is information technology, especially software. The pro-outsourcing consulting firm Global Insight estimates we lost 104,000 information technology jobs to offshore outsourcing between 2000 and 2003, more than a quarter of the 372,000 jobs lost in the sector overall during the period. "

At the AFL CIO website
Steve Wozniak designed the Apple I and Apple II. He didn't want to give it away. Jobs persuaded him to join him in what became their garage cottage industry making the motherboard of the Apple I, which Jobs then distributed to local electronic stores. Wozniak left Apple before the Macintosh was in development, and had nothing to do with it.

There is no excuse or labor abuses, but you should consider the alternatives for all but a lucky few in China and third world countries is horrific poverty and misery. I recently watched a documentary which showed what it's like for women in the Philippines - they are sold into prostitution where they are forced to work in "bars" that are really brothels. Or maybe in China, you can work on a small farm, grueling manual labor from dawn till dusk. Hardly the pastoral idyll westerners fantasize about.
Peter:

What is your source for your statement that Wozniak didn't want to give the Apple away for free? I cite my source in the recent NYT article (see my link in that passage), but if you've got something else that is contrary to that I'd like to see it.

The issue of the conditions in the Third World cannot be viewed outside the context of the fact of imperialist domination (and in its earlier name and stage as colonial domination). The poverty that exists in places such as China was and is directly related to the suppression of its development by foreign powers in collusion with local Chinese who were willing to sell out their own people. This is what happened to Haiti and so on as well. The US would have remained a secondary economic power if it had not erected tariff barriers when it was trying to develop (and without the slave trade and before that the genocide of Native Americans). This was true of all the other great powers such as England etc. The notion that free trade should be imposed on developing economies is therefore the advice dispensed and enforced by those very countries who only emerged out of the shadows of their colonial overlords by preventing "free trade" from devastating and distorting their own economies. Economies cannot develop in a balanced way if they are being controlled from abroad.

Sky - would you agree that the foundations of the US economy are no longer manufacturing? Would you further agree or acknowledge that while the percent of offshore production is not the majority of most manufacturing yet but that it delivers a huge share of their overall profits? The companies that are the most profitable in the US today are also those whose operations are heavily carried out abroad.
Dennis,
Yes. Beyond question the US is no longer founded on manufacturing. Yet, in a twisted, convoluted kind of way it is.

With currency floating it has no "real" value - just that temporary value assigned to it by those who bid on/buy it. What stops it from being treated like coloured paper is that it is accepted in trade for "real" goods, among them being shares in manufacturing companies. Those companies' value, being founded on the labour of their workers, actually is the major "value" of an otherwise worthless bit of paper.

It seems that Wall St (as a symbol for financial corporations) is trying to "un-hook" currency from even that tenuous connection with reality. This, I think, is why Wall St. can appear to prosper without any increase in employment. They've managed to often cut out the value of labour in the games they play.

I am beginning to look with interest on the large number of co-0ps and the underground markets (sometimes called "black" or "grey") that are developing very well indeed. I understand that fully 10% of the US economy is now in these areas. I've even heard that some of the larger co-ops are issuing their own currency!! And the US lags other countries by a long stretch - some countries have as much as 60% of their economy underground.

As a long time advocate of setting up an economic system of our own and just ignoring the Wall St. crowd, this delights me no end....!
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I think the whole world economy is based on a long winding spiral down to the ground Dennis. And yes, I agree to the point you made here about the so called 'value' of an Asia worker as opposed to an American one..

We all are to blame. We started this race running in laps chanting more, more is good..I want the best MONEY can buy. And we went out on a spending spree buying with the aid of little plastic cards in our sweaty little hands to all those strip malls and big boxes buying just like the TV and news media wanted us to. When the fake money on those plastic cards was not enough we started mining the value of our homes like gold mines, taking out more money so we could continue to buy.

But we wanted bargains. We wanted to 'save' some of our money by buying at a discount. We wanted to spend more and save money at the same time, like that was such a great plan... And as we went bargain shopping, we wanted cheaper and cheaper things.

Free trade agreements came into play. Free trade agreements are little more than a guarantee that now the big corporations can come into your country, rape and pillage any natural resources, and lower all standards down to zero. Environmental issues?? Never mind. One reason so many things are made in Asia and china specifically is so many lax laws controlling waste water and labor exposure to hazardous chemicals, as you detail with the cleaning of iPod screens...

We all participated in this massive circle jerk.

Us. We. You. Me.

And the spiral continues out of control. I expect there is plenty of hot water being tossed around in the Davos Summit. I am sure we will find out the details soon enough. They can't keep that pump going over at the ECB forever. I think that is the next boiling issue on the cooker..but then, with Fukushima nuclear ongoing, there may be a dark bitter time bringing more night sweats late.

I am so enjoying this series Dennis. Read part 1 but did not have time to comment on it.
Thank you for this discourse.