Apple, Sweatshops, and the Media's Latest Attempt to Demonize Productivity
Last month, the Public Broadcasting Service ran a story on the poor working conditions reported in Foxconn factories within China. Foxconn is, of course, most famous for being Apple's main contract manufacturer in the world. Since Apple as a company has grown due to its popular and innovative electronic products such as the iPod and iPad, the push has been made to shed light on how the creations of the late Steve Jobs are physically built. When PBS ran the story, the working conditions within Foxconn factories were painted as dire, as some employees experienced "excessive overtime, exceeding 60 hours a week, and problems with overtime compensation, several health and safety risks and crucial communication gaps." These charges were spurred on by accounts of Foxconn employees committing suicide in May of 2010, and a report last January on the show This American Life where correspondent Mike Daisey spoke to brutal conditions. Statements in Daisey's broadcast later had to be retracted due to inconsistencies.
So much for journalistic integrity in state-supported media.
As an attempt to save face, just a few days ago Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz visited an actual Foxconn factory in China to show actual working conditions. The report can be viewed here.
As the reader can clearly see, the reports of horrid working conditions are greatly exaggerated. Rather than an environment teeming with filth and ragtag, half-starved workers, Foxconn factories are clean and staffed with young employees dressed in Western fashion. The environment hardly resembles the inhumane textile factories portrayed in American history textbooks.
But supposing Foxconn factories were reminiscent of the sweatshops of the 19th century, however, it must be asked: who forces people to accept such labor-intensive and repetitive positions? As Schmitz's report shows, workers line up by the hundreds every day to have a chance at employment. They are often migrants who travel across the country in the hopes of earning a bit of money to send back home.
Despite one of the great myths espoused in public schools, government has ever served only as a detriment to the working class by dictating proper workplace conditions. Economic intervention is always a violent measure into what would otherwise be a peaceful process of contractual and remunerative labor relations. Factories offering subsistence wages do so to offer those willing a choice: accept what is offered or seek a better deal elsewhere. Judging by the abundance of willing labor Foxconn has at its door, it would seem that these migrant workers are willing to take menial labor over the backbreaking work of an agrarian economy. The fact that they are willing to travel for this opportunity tells us that the return on their labor is much more than farming, which is still prevalent in much of the once-communist country.
Yet this anti-business crusade is nothing new. For over a century, socialists, unions, and their collective ilk have demonized capitalism and volunteerism as a means to promote their own agenda of state empowerment.
The media play footsie with these groups, as they have little interest in promoting the achievements of private business. It doesn't fit their narrative of the world as a class struggle between the conspiring business elites and patriarchal government (that isn't to say that partnership between big business and the state, otherwise known as fascism, still dominates Western economies in such industries as banking). Rarely, the evening news is filled with stories of the benevolence of business leaders who offer a chance for the poor to make a living. Wretched working conditions, low wages, and a general lack of compassion are the stuff of commonplace reporting. Such instances, real or fabricated, make for better ratings and help achieve the true objective: that is, justifying the growth and regulatory grasp of the state.
It's a safe bet to assume that those who champion the cause of ending worker exploitation have likely never held such a job or lived in crushing poverty. Had they personally experienced what they claim to despise, they would realize that their efforts end up cutting off one of the few options those in the third world have to improve their marginal productivity of labor. Economist Ludwig von Mises said it best in his economic magnum opus Human Action:
It is a distortion of facts to say that the factories carried off the housewives from the nurseries and the kitchen and the children from their play. These women had nothing to cook with and to feed their children. These children were destitute and starving. Their only refuge was the factory. It saved them, in the strict sense of the term, from death by starvation.
Opponents of so-called sweatshops are opponents of mankind. Not only do sweatshops produce relatively inexpensive goods, which frees up overall disposable income to be spent elsewhere, but they provide opportunity to those would otherwise have few options for work. The road out of poverty is paved not by thieving politicians and coercive unions, but by capital investment and the building up of a country's productive capacity. Prosperity will never be the product of government edicts. The money-changers, sociopaths, and scum that hold public office are mere leeches of wealth. History has shown that when limits are placed on employment under the guise of "humane" engineering, more degrading occupations are sought, such as prostitution.
"Sweatshop" factories are one of the few means to set in motion the cycle of rising living standards. Only the economic illiterates fail to recognize this.