Today Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, announced plans to set up a $1 billion “advanced manufacturing” fund, making it sound as though it’s going to create manufacturing jobs in the U.S. (See the above-linked article.) It’s actually nothing more than a clever public relations ploy – a gimmick designed to polish Apple’s tarnished image.
Ever since Trump’s message about bringing back manufacturing jobs began to resonate with voters, free trade advocates like Cook have begun waging a campaign on two fronts designed to blunt any efforts aimed at reversing globalization. On the one hand, there has suddenly emerged a lot of talk about how most manufacturing jobs have actually been lost to automation and not trade policy which is, of course, a lie. If the plant you worked in has just closed, you merely need to ask yourself where that product is now being made. Is it being made by robots in a new factory, or is it now being made in a sweat shop in China or Mexico? The answer is obvious.
The other tactic is to make themselves appear to be gung-ho for American manufacturing, lest they risk alienating the growing majority of Americans who now see free trade as a drag on the American economy. As part of this effort, they’ve advanced the notion of “advanced manufacturing” – something that will somehow create jobs by developing factories so automated that human workers aren’t required. Sounds like double-talk? Of course it is. But they believe you’re too dumb to see through it.
Apple is a perfect case in point. Their products are considered the epitome of “high tech.” Such a “high tech” company must be on the cutting edge of “advanced manufacturing,” right? Nothing could be further from the truth. The manufacture of Apple’s electronic gizmos is about as low-tech as you can get. Contracted out to companies like China’s Foxconn, Apple’s products are pieced together by hand, utilizing thousands of workers in sweat shop conditions to insert tiny components into circuit boards. Truth be told, the manufacture of cars in Detroit assembly plants which utilize robots for hundreds of assembly tasks is far more advanced than anything that Apple does. The manufacturing jobs in those assembly plants are well-paid, high-skilled jobs. Interfacing with all of that automation is no job for dummies.
Apple could move their manufacturing back to the U.S. today, but they resist for two reasons. One is the investment that would be required to build proper manufacturing facilities that comply with environmental and labor laws. More importantly, however, they resist because they need to maintain their manufacturing presence in China in order to have access to the Chinese market. China’s leaders are smart enough to insist that products sold in China be made in China.
Cook wants you to think of Apple as a good corporate citizen of the United States, interested in creating jobs for Americans. Give me a break. They want to sell you an iPhone. They want you to pay as much as possible (regardless of whether or not you can actually afford it) for something that’s made as cheaply as it can be, and they want you to pay for it with money earned anywhere except at Apple.
Gimmicks like these won’t bring manufacturing jobs back. Only tariffs (or “border taxes” or whatever you want to call them) will force companies like Apple to manufacture in the U.S. and actually create real jobs for American workers.