09 June 2010

I Expect You to Die, Mr. Bond

I, along with billions of other humans I'd wager, was blissfully unaware of Foxconn until the number of suicides reached a level that even jingoist American press took notice. Along the way, these articles provided background about Foxconn, its clients, and the products it makes. Boy howdy.

After reading a couple of these articles, my irony meter began to go off scale. I assembled a posting or two in my skull musing that Foxconn was just an old fashioned outfit, but didn't find the time or motivation to put fingers to keyboard and do a cerebral dump. Missed a scoop, since today I found this.

The scoop is that Foxconn builds high tech gadgets and widgets in 19th century capitalist fashion: lots of hands, not so much capital, machines, that is. My New England mill town ancestors (well, not mine; I wasn't to the manor born) would instantly recognize Foxconn. In response to the suicides, Fearless Leader has decreed that suicide payments end forthwith. He had already stopped paying for on the job dying. Yes, people fall down dead on the shop floor. Darwin would be so proud of Fearless Leader.

It would appear that my early conclusion was correct. Foxconn is not a Chinese enterprise, but Taiwanese; rhetoric about Taiwan being a rebel province be damned. Bejing, unable to put it's people to useful work, is more than happy to slave them out to foreign capitalists. If ever there is danger Will Robinson, this is it. What's even more disgusting is the contemporaneous reports that Apple, at least, intends to raise the price of Foxconn product. Now, I don't know the bill of materials for an iPhone, but I'd wager that labor cost is at most a couple of bucks. Foxconn "workers" get about $1/day; there is no way that there is as much as a day's worth of labor in an iPhone.

If you've not gone to read the article I'll tell you the punchline, Fearless Leader has decided to move his factories to Vietnam (another capitalist's wet dream regime) and other such places to secure cheaper labor. Fearless Leader also intends to switch to ROBOTS to do assembly.

Historically, as I've preached before, capital was employed in small population countries, England as example, to make surplus output, which was then traded with other countries, generally to acquire goods not easily available domestically. China, as well as India, has taken the opposite, and eventually fatal, course. Rather than exporting surplus output, it enslaves its population in order to export everything. Since it gets only specie in return, not goods, nothing good is accomplished.

I saw Paul Theroux on Book TV a few months back, flogging his latest tome, and he said what I'd been aware of for decades, having been brought up on Paul Ehrlich (look him up): if you want a better life, stop having so many damn kids. The Chinese government, under Mao anyway, recognized this fact and tried. The Chinese families (I'll guess the male chauvinist pigs, mostly) didn't like that idea, much as our homeboy Christian (and those few Hassidim) zealots like to breed like rats. Now, Chinese population growth is once again prodigious. What to do with all those mouths to feed? The Chinese response hasn't been as intelligent as one might expect from a civilzation the developed a few thousand years before Western peoples were living in caves. Pimping out your population to foreign capitalists doesn't increase the production of basic goods domestically.

Nor is it clear that doing so leads to a Pareto optimal (look that up, too) allocation globally. To translate economist speak: if the cost of some product is artificially low, making excess quantities of said product is a Bad Thing. Without slave labor, the iPhone might cost $1,000. And that would be a Good Thing; less stress on networks, less time wasted making and using pointless Apps, etc. I know, I know; social engineering is Evil. But social engineering happens no matter what; with Apple and Foxconn making the decisions, only a few benefit from the misery of the many. Get It?

What we have here is object lesson in the subtitle of this endeavor: It's the Distribution, Stupid!!!

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