Monday, March 1, 2010

The Cult of Apple

Despite the fact that I don't own an I-Phone, I-Pod, I-Pad, or even eye drops, I have a fascination with Apple's marketing. With the always emaciated Steve Jobs, dressed in black, looking more like a monk in the church of Johnny Cash, than a fairly ruthless CEO, as front man, Apple pushes a cult like ad campaign, with Apple's product line positioned as holy objects rather than somewhat useful bits of technology. Apple's latest Zen marketing is an announcement that they've discovered child labor in their Chinese factories and that Apple no longer will have any of their products built by children. Ah, let me see if I understand Apple's core business decision; for years Apple has taken advantage of cheap labor in a country that has a well documented history of allowing children to slave away in factories, making products for western consumers. Apple's wilful ignorance of a business model, so common, that it would be naive to think that any product coming from the People's Republic doesn't have some child labor in the product supply chain allows the always pacific Mr. Jobs to claim morality from former immorality. That is if child labor is to be viewed as wrong.
I'd turn this post into an attack on Apple but, like most Americans, I have a number of Chinese made products in my home, and as such, I'm as guilty of child exploitation as anyone else, though certainly not on the level of western CEO's, including Steve Jobs. I'd much rather ask the obvious question: Why do so many Americans, including many who self describe themselves as liberals, invoke Tom Friedman and his "world is flat" philosophy and smugly point out that American workers need to start competing in a flat world, and if they aren't willing to do so, it's their own fault if their jobs disappear. What does that mean? Should the United states and the EU, repeal child labor laws? Should we start shooting union organizers? Should we abandon environmental and work safety laws? I have a relative who describes herself as being far to the left who at the same time refers to Tom Friedman as being brilliant. If she is right, and if Tom Friedman is so brilliant, than it's time the west embraces slavery, child exploitation, and massive environmental degradation. I can't imagine any other way in which the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, and the EU can compete in a truly flat world. Dare I suggest that Tom Friedman might be wrong? Maybe the world isn't flat, and maybe the side that feels comfortable with 10 year old children working in factories, slave labor, and repressive regimes will win because western, democratic societies want cheap I-Pods. Downloads, anyone?

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