A popular game and teaching tool in various forms and guises – “What’s Missing from this Picture?” – seems highly applicable to a Wall Street Journal report that Apple Inc. “has accelerated plans to shift some of its production outside China.” The goal: “ship 40% to 45% of iPhones from India,” with manufacturing of “products such as AirPods, smartwatches and laptops” heading to Vietnam.
It seems Apple is perturbed – and judging by CEO Tim Cook’s studied reticence, embarrassed – by goings-on at factories of Chinese supplier Foxconn.
The Journal helpfully embedded video of authorities beating workers protesting weeks of COVID-driven imprisonment in their facility, closed-off break areas, and dining halls, and carryout meals they schlepped to dormitories a half-hour walk away. Workers jumped fences to escape.
The article also cataloged the shortcomings of Vietnam – too small population-wise to match China’s manufacturing sites with hundreds of thousands of workers – and India – patchwork regulations that “saddle (Apple) with obligations.”
And, apparently, neither offers China’s “literate and diligent workforce, political stability” and “huge local market for Apple’s products.” Per an ex-Foxconn executive, “They’re not doing high-end phones in India and Vietnam. No other places can do them.”
“No other places,” eh? Catching on to “what’s missing in this picture?” Maybe a country with traditions of large-scale manufacturing and global leadership in “high-end phone” development? High levels of literacy, and laborers clocking some of the world’s longest workweeks? Not to mention the historically “hugest” market for Apple products?
Like… the U.S. of A?
Cook stumbled through an explanation of why American workers are missing from Apple’s supply diversification picture in a 2015 60 Minutes interview: “China put an enormous focus on manufacturing. In … vocational kind of skills. The U.S., over time, began to stop having as many vocational kind of skills … You can take every tool and die maker in the United States and probably put them in a room that we’re currently sitting in. In China, you would have to have multiple football fields.”
Hmm. Could it be that this “focus on manufacturing” and decline in “vocational kind of skills” are opposite sides of the same coin: China’s gaming of World Trade Organization rules and capitalizing on Big Business greed to hollow out America’s industrial core? While elites demand young people surrender those skills to become a generation of zombie coders and woke women’s studies majors drowning in unpayable college debt?
C’mon. The same Journal piece reveals what’s really missing from the U.S. picture for multinationals: “Many of those abandoning (Foxconn’s) factory were young people who … decided wages equivalent to $5 or less an hour weren’t enough to compensate for tedious production work.”
Aye, there’s the nub: Corporate America feasting on near-slave wages while millions of adult workers morph into doped-up drones staring at screens – probably Apple’s.
But wait! Here’s a very different image of Mssr. Cook last week: joining Joe Biden to boast Apple will be the “largest customer” of “chips proudly stamped ‘made in America’” as global giant (and imaginatively named) Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) announced expanded production plans for Arizona.
So what’s – or more precisely, who’s –missing from this picture?
One Donald J. Trump.
Cook and Sleepy Joe basked in the glow of a commitment to on-shored tech capacity that two years back, even the New York Times labeled a “win for Trump.” His administration pressured TSMC, fearing “the fragility of a tech supply chain” vulnerable to Chinese influence and even invasion. Not that it hurt that TSMC’s investment will be “supplemented by direct U.S. incentive funds” from a $280-billion slop to chipmakers Congress passed this year.
It wasn’t the first time The Donald’s actions had prodded the Cupertino crowd to do right by American workers. Apple in 2018 announced $30 billion in capital expenditures, including “ongoing spending on parts and services from U.S. suppliers.” The impetus: provisions in the 2017 Trump tax reform – regularly trashed by Biden, Nancy (“bonuses are crumbs”) Pelosi, and other Democrats – that rewarded Apple for repatriating, and coughing up a portion of, hundreds of billions of dollars in cash stashed abroad.
China’s current turmoil screams for a new round of Trump-style incentives encouraging the Apples of the world (literally) to “re-shore” supply chains, with tax breaks like the corporate tax holiday suggested previously in this space preferable to shoveling out cash. Though perhaps moderate investments in “practical workforce education” to deliver the skilled workers Mr. Cook supposedly seeks are a superior use of resources than Sleepy Joe’s welfare program for grad students.
Better yet: the smartphone-originator, coming off record earnings, holds a “fortress balance sheet with $48.304 billion in cash and marketable securities” largely built in its home market. Certainly, even without incentives, Apple’s Scrooge McDucks could afford to plow some of that hoard into rebuilding the industrial base of its fairly stable (by world standards) home market, where Imperial Storm Trooper-lookalikes don’t swarm streets to pummel protesting workers (yet). And thereby, lure a historically diligent First-World workforce out of its basement man caves.
Mr. Cook, can you get on it? Or must America dispatch The Orange Man again?
Bob Maistros is a messaging and communications strategist, crisis specialist, and former political speechwriter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.