cross-posted at politicsofselfishness.com
The evidence continues to mount that the GOP’s insistent demands for still further reductions in federal, state and local spending have exacerbated and prolonged the current recession. In response, advocates for austerity measures have now begin to argue that demands for increased government programs to lift the economy and to reign in abusive business practices are nothing less than an assault upon free enterprise itself.
Former New Hampshire U.S. Senator John Sununu is a case in point. In an opinion column in today’s Boston Globe ( “Apple, not manufacturing, is America’s future,” January 30, 2011), Sununu showed that he is oblivious to the daily economic struggle of a majority of Americans who must grapple with high unemployment, declining wages, mortgage foreclosures, lack of access to affordable medical insurance, loss of retirement savings and diminished prospects for themselves, their children and their grandchildren.
In his column, Sununu argued that we should not lament the loss of manufacturing. In order to support the proposition that corporations like Apple represent the future for America, Sununu had to ignore all of the evidence to the contrary. Previously for example, Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher reported in the New York Times (“How the U.S. Lost out on iPhone Work,” January 21, 2012) that nearly all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other assorted products sold by Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas, primarily in China by third-party vendors with whom Apple contracts for services and products.
One facility alone, Foxconn, employed 230,000 workers, who often worked six days a week, in shifts that lasted 12 hours per day. More than a quarter of Foxconn’s work force was reported to live in company barracks; many workers earned less than $17 a day; and the intolerable working conditions within its facilities have led to suicides and explosions from aluminum dust that killed and injured scores of workers. By contrast, Apple employs only 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 overseas.
As a result of its exploitation of these workers, the New York Times article noted that Apple made a profit of $400,000 per each of it’s actual employees, a sum greater than that made by Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil and Google. In response to that data, one current Apple executive stated, We sell iPhones in over a hundred countries, We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible.”
Sununu’s enthusiasm for Apple’s business model is expansive: “In just ten years, the market value of Apple has grown from $7 billion to over $400 billion. The return for mutual funds and pension funds owning the stock have been outstanding, and thousands of employees have earned financial security.” That enthusiasm, however, is not tempered by any recognition that, for millions of middle class Americans who do not directly own Apple stocks, the stock market has been an unmitigated disaster.
CNN News reported that, on September 29, 2008, Dow Jones lost nearly 778 points, in the biggest single-day point loss ever, after the GOP House rejected the government's $700 billion bank bailout plan. The day's loss totaled approximately $1.2 trillion in market value, the first post-$1 trillion day ever recorded, according to the Dow Jones Wilshire 5000, the broadest measure of the stock market. As a result, many middle income investors lost their life savings and have never recovered.
Apple’s predatory business practices and the out-sourcing of U.S. manufacturing must be viewed in the context of the American economy as a whole. Numerous studies report that more than 47 million Americans, including 9 million children, do not have health insurance. A study by Harvard University Medical School in 2009 attributed that the lack of medical insurance to about 45,000 deaths per year in the U.S.
Researchers for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2010 reported that 17.2 million households - or 14.5 % of all households in the United States - were "food insecure" and that in one-third of those households "normal eating patterns were disrupted." In 3.9 million of those households, children went hungry.
As the real unemployment rate climbed to approximately 20 million Americans in 2011, another 2.6 million Americans, according to the Census Bureau, descended into poverty. Almost simultaneously, the World Bank observed that the United States had a higher level of income inequality than Canada, South Korean or any country in Europe with the exception of Turkey.
In October of last year, the Internal Revenue Service and the Congressional Budget Office released findings which showed that the top 1% of the American population continued to receive a disproportionate share of the country's wealth. In 2009, the 1.4 million who belong to the top 1% made an average of $1 million dollars in 2009. Further, since 1979, the share of U.S. Income enjoyed by the top 1% has increased from 9.18% to 17.9% as of 2009, or more than the entire bottom half of the U.S. population.
Almost simultaneously, Forbes magazine reported that, as of November, 2011, the four hundred richest Americans enjoyed a combined worth of $1.53 trillion, which figure had increased from $1.37 trillion over the previous year. Their combined wealth was thus approximately equivalent to the GDP of Canada.
Sununu does correctly note a shortfall of trained U.S. works, including scientists and engineers. He, however, refuses to recognize that the same austerity measures that he and other GOP leaders have advocated have caused the lay-offs of thousands of public school teachers around the United States and forced state governments to cut back significantly their investments in pubic higher education.
Today’s Republican Party has become an apologist for an economic status-quo that is stacked against ordinary Americans The net effect of the extraordinary concentration of wealth and power has been that the decisions and predilections of fewer and fewer individuals now determine the outcomes in the American economy while the overwhelming majority of Americans have little ability to influence macro-economic trends or economic and political policies.
In the alternate economic universe that so many GOP members inhabit, the enormous wealth now enjoyed by a mere 1% of the population should be an object of public celebration rather than the focus of civic opprobrium or class envy. As Erasmus once observed, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”