“Companies once felt an obligation to support American workers, even when it wasn’t the best financial choice,” said Betsey Stevenson, the chief economist at the Labor Department until last September. “That’s disappeared. Profits and efficiency have trumped generosity.”
Apple Computer, currently the highest-valued company in the country, at its peak employs 1/10 the number of Americans as General Motors did in the 1950s. Apple is an easy target because it’s big, but the problem isn’t unique to Apple. Technology companies as a whole employ fewer people than the heavyweights of ages past like General Motors and General Electric. It’s the nature of the work.
This is all from an article in tomorrow’s New York Times. Apple moved production to China because the United States couldn’t deliver workers who would or could work the grueling schedules required by the way Apple designs its products today. The Chinese government subsidizes the factories that build consumer goods for export. Making telephones in the United States would add $65 to the price of every phone Apple sells, but Apple says they couldn’t do it if they wanted to. Other companies move overseas because their shareholders demand Apple-like profit margins.
The article has no answers, only a faint hope that something unexpected might happen, like what happened in the 1980s.
In his immortal Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that the secret to the United States’ success was its altruism. I’ve spent my adult life watching our altruism erode away, and now this is what we have left.