Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In Defense of Apple, and China

There has been much media buzz about Apple's supply-chain partner in China, Foxconn, mistreating its workers in ways that appall us. I contend that we are not seeing the whole picture.

Those workers, bad as their condition was, competed to get employed at a Foxconn factory. Their condition must be better off than the condition of their peers in the rest of China.

Let's step back for a moment and ponder some basic questions -- What do humans need? In what order? Who decides? I would prioritize human needs roughly like this:

First-aid (including Oxygen), Food, Water, ...  Companionship ... Right to vote ... Literacy ... Free speech ... Free software ... Universal healthcare ... right to personal property .

The ellipses represent gaps in my thinking, where many other things could go. I haven't put things like Love, or Freedom on the list, because they are too intangible.

Different people, and different cultures, would state their priorities differently.
We must give Cultural Relativism its due.

The Chinese government censors what its citizens see, hear, say, read, or write. The Chinese people have given that power over to their government.

The Chinese communist party, as an organization, has lifted more people out of poverty than any other organization in history. They are doing triage on the poor, uneducated masses.
They have just deferred some rights until the right moment. Once, people in China couldn't own personal property. That right was granted at the appropriate state of progress.

Something in my Western-educated mind rebels against this way of thinking.
"Love, Freedom, must come first!"
"I would rather die than live a slave!"
"Why would I give over my rights to an unelected government of mostly old men?"
"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Those sentiments have their place. One must take a slightly more mellow and pragmatic perspective. We could learn something from China. They are the Freakin' Deathstar -- able to co-ordinate the efforts and energies of over a billion people. Their anti-poverty strategy is alien to us, but effective. We must understand and respect that.

Life in developing countries is hard, but getting better.
That should come as no surprise. What should also be un-surprising, is the story from Foxconn.
Improving the lot of a billion people is a slow process. There are bound to be transitional states.
Still, improving the lot of the poor by making them partners in commerce, is preferable to giving handouts.

In the meanwhile, I would pay $65 more for a sleek new "Made in USA" edition iPhone with an elegant Red-White-and-Blue shell, loaded with an Americana media anthology, customized for American tastes. Would you?
If not, then don't worry too much about where the products and services you buy, come from. 
We want the East to suddenly be the West, but it takes time.