An American Made Apple iPhone?

The New York Times today published a startling article discussing the manufacturing of the Apple iPhone and the economic impact of the company’s production decisions over the past several years. The crux of the piece centers on Apple’s global supply chain and the dominance of Asia when it comes to electronic manufacturing. The article also questions whether it would be possible to make the iPhone in the United States and how the shift of manufacturing by U.S. companies has impacted the American economy and the middle class. As an American, the article is utterly terrifying.

Some excerpts from How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work:

For over two years, the Apple had been working on a project – code-named Purple 2 – that presented the same questions at every turn: how do you completely reimagine the cellphone? And how do you design it at the highest quality – with an unscratchable screen, for instance – while also ensuring that millions can be manufactured quickly and inexpensively enough to earn a significant profit?

The answers, almost every time, were found outside the United States. Though components differ between versions, all iPhones contain hundreds of parts, an estimated 90 percent of which are manufactured abroad. Advanced semiconductors have come from Germany and Taiwan, memory from Korea and Japan, display panels and circuitry from Korea and Taiwan, chipsets from Europe and rare metals from Africa and Asia. And all of it is put together in China.

In its early days, Apple usually didn’t look beyond its own backyard for manufacturing solutions. A few years after Apple began building the Macintosh in 1983, for instance, Mr. Jobs bragged that it was “a machine that is made in America.” In 1990, while Mr. Jobs was running NeXT, which was eventually bought by Apple, the executive told a reporter that“I’m as proud of the factory as I am of the computer.” As late as 2002, top Apple executives occasionally drove two hours northeast of their headquarters to visit the company’s iMacplant in Elk Grove, Calif.

But in the last two decades, something more fundamental has changed, economists say. Midwage jobs started disappearing. Particularly among Americans without college degrees, today’s new jobs are disproportionately in service occupations – at restaurants or call centers, or as hospital attendants or temporary workers – that offer fewer opportunities for reaching the middle class.

“We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”

I hear a lot of Americans say that we don’t need manufacturing anymore, but the truth of the matter is: jobs at Wal-Mart rarely turn into anything better than low wage retail jobs. And they certainly don’t hold much promise of economic advancement. As the Times points out, it’s all about job multipliers.

Read the full article here.

One more thing while I am on my soap box. Reporting and news like this is the reason why The New York Times is worth supporting through digital subscriptions, or better yet, through traditional subscriptions. Just my two cents.

Comments on “An American Made Apple iPhone?

    Greg on January 21, 2012 9:44 PM:

    In the first paragraph I think you meant to say ‘shift’ of manufacturing. Then again, shit works too.

    Michael Williams on January 21, 2012 9:57 PM:

    Ha, thanks Greg for the heads up.

    enTrenched on January 21, 2012 10:28 PM:

    The article confirms something that has been churning deep down inside for awhile, but I didn’t want to admit:

    I love Apple’s products but I am starting to hate Apple.

    The white collar fantasy is over. We cannot all be bankers and lawyers. Make or die.

    Chris on January 21, 2012 10:49 PM:

    Related listening, Mike Daisey’s “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory”. It’s heartbreaking.

    Gary on January 21, 2012 11:41 PM:

    I have seen Mike Daisey’s “Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs”, and if you get a chance it’s well worth seeing. But I fear that, in the name of “revitalizing American manufacturing”, we are more likely to see a Foxconn-like factory in the US than a factory that provides its workers a living wage and humane conditions, as such things are too expensive for shareholders to expect.

    Gary on January 21, 2012 11:43 PM:

    Also, Apple gets a lot of shit for the terrible conditions its products are made under, but it’s pretty much a technology-industry-wide problem. your Android phone or Dell laptop were not made by happy little elves.

    Curt on January 22, 2012 1:50 AM:

    We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”

    I have heard this line many many times in defense of why companies ship jobs overseas. It always smells like bs. Basically companies expect prefect employees to walk into the door so they dont have to train you. That way there is no investment in the person and they can be fired tomorrow.

    The comment section on the below article are worth a read too.

    I actually work for a high tech manufacturing company. I feel like last of my kind, my employer pays for my training, offers a backup pension (if for some strange reason my 401k crashes), and pays well. I offer this a proof that it can be done in the USA.

    David Himel on January 22, 2012 2:18 AM:

    what sort of machine produces a culture that stops employing people based on a price range of production between 4.85 and 22 dollars for a machine that sells for 1500 the percentage difference is .3 percent of the total cost vs 1.5 percent…there you go…America is screwed for a 1.2 percent margin increase in profitability… whats a little wall street fraud or executive compensation really add up to here

    Sir Fopling Flutter on January 22, 2012 4:31 AM:

    It’s really a global product. In addition to the wording you quoted, consider also: it was designed by a Brit, and the high strength glass that is essential to the design comes from Corning in upstate NY.

    Jacob on January 22, 2012 5:55 AM:

    Contrary to popular belief, America still has the highest manufacturing output of any nation (though China is close). The difference is, American manufacturing jobs require highly skilled workers.

    Worth listening to:

    Giles on January 22, 2012 7:13 AM:

    “We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”

    Did someone at Apple really say that? What skills are needed to operate the production lines that spew out these and 99.9% of the other electronic goods the West consumes? It’s about the cost of labour, pure and simple.

    BlemNose on January 22, 2012 7:46 AM:

    It’s always a toss up between “needs” and how they’re achieved. It’s sad for sure, but haven’t we known this for a long time? Whenever we’ve acquired a new “essential” tool, be it from one of many manufacturers, not just Apple, we’ve known in the back of our minds that either overseas raw materials, components or labour have played a major role in the production. Or are we kidding ourselves? It’s now become both very sad and dangerous for several, previously strong manufacturing economies, not just the United States. Europe’s situation is not much better. It seems we’ve all, short sightedly, neglected our core independent industries in exchange for seeming technological advancement. Though in order to achieve this we’ve also handed over our industrial autonomy to those countries we’ve outsourced to. We have become dependent upon our foreign suppliers to such an extent that we’re scared to admit, and reluctant to correct due to the short-term increased costs involved in a whole-scale return to local domestic manufacturing of both technical and non-technological goods. What to do? If we found ourselves in a genuine depression or a state of war, as was experienced in the Great Depression or the two World Wars, surely we would dig deep, and out of necessity achieve a return to near self sufficiency in manufacturing?
    Who knows? In recent times people of various walks of life and political affiliation are becoming aware of this situation more and more. This can only be positive. There has to be an awareness and dialogue in every strata of contemporary society. Otherwise we have very little chance at creative resolution of this situation both now and for future generations.

    enzo the baker on January 22, 2012 8:10 AM:

    started reading the article and this is what struck me:

    “A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day. “

    ds on January 22, 2012 10:36 AM:

    For every moderately self absorbed article about a $150 apron or smythson notepad, you write about something important to the survival of the United States like this. Much like your endorsement for the NYT, there is a reason why I keep coming back and reading what you have to say.

    When an apple executive is quoted as saying what he said (true or not) I don’t think it bodes well for our future.

    Purple 2 on January 22, 2012 11:35 AM:

    Thank the failing public school system, that churns out college bound students that are only prepared to graduate with a political science degree, or some other degree with ambiguous, basic skills that should have been cultivated in high school. These people either wind up protesting at Occupy Wall Street or end up as lawyers. The lawyers create more and more regulation and enable unions in some sense of social justice. We create a culture of entitlement without merit, and self righteous pursuits of “justice.” We’ve become the polar extreme of what is described in the Asian factories. We won’t find balance, like in Germany, until we change our education system and values.

    Brian on January 22, 2012 12:11 PM:

    My takeaway from the article wasn’t the profit margin per item — because, as the article points out, Apple’s profits-per-employee are around $400k — but moreso the flexibility of supply chains and foreign workers. It demonstrated many times that for Apple to do what it wants, it needs every worker to have 6-day work weeks at 12-hour shifts; it needs factories that are essentially company towns that can change production on a dime; and it needs heavy government investment so that its contractors are building new wings of factories before Apple has even decided to give them the work they’re bidding on.

    Those are things that just aren’t going to happen in this country. We’re not scaling back wage and hour requirements, and for good reason. We’ve done the company town thing, and are past it. Further, in the current economic climate, our subsidies for simple manufacturing and assembly aren’t going to match those that China is willing to supply. So really, it’s more complicated than a wage and profit margin issue.

    Ben on January 22, 2012 2:49 PM:

    To play devil’s advocate, why does there seem to be the assumption that Apple is in any way obligated to produce this in the US, and to what benefit?

    It’s a cruel reality that employees in the US and Europe are currently more costly and have higher expectations, both in terms of wages and benefits. One route’s to penalise companies who don’t produce in the US, but that’s likely to just force them to relocate to somewhere more hospitable, and then you’ll see none of the benefits. Apple was briefly the largest company in the world and undoubtedly brings a lot of money into the US.

    The chips in every iPhone are designed by ARM in the UK. In an interview the chief exec was asked why they didn’t produce them themselves. The answer was that it wasn’t in their interest to and not cost effective. They focus on the R&D and reap the rewards from licensing (which is a hell of a lot).

    Have people in the West only recently begun to wonder how it is that they’ve had such a high standard of living compared to those in developing countries? Globalisation is levelling the worldwide playing field. The upside is that those in developing countries that have an emerging middle class, such as China, will also start expecting higher wages and living standards, so their ability to undercut will be less pronounced. You’re already seeing this in the UK whereby outsourcing to India is proving to be a false economy and some industries are returning. The downside of course is this doesn’t address rising inequality within Western countries, and as is pointed out the jobs are relatively low-skilled, low-wage service sector. I don’t have an answer but I’d guess training and education would be the only route. Highly skilled niche apprenticeships aside (as in Austria), harking back to a rose-tinted golden age when real men made real things is probably just sticking your head in the sand.

    Apologies for the sanctimonious tone.

    Ray Hull on January 22, 2012 3:18 PM:

    That’s business: I heard a terrifying lecture this week by a drug manufacturing (genetic-recombinant) expert who listed chapter and verse the gigantic FDA loopholes in Chinese manufacture of raw drug components (how we got the deadly adulterated heparin and dog food here several years ago). About 70% of our drug components come from UNREGULATED China. BTW: Cooking oil (recycled) contamination is raging through the far east now.

    Toby Wollin on January 22, 2012 3:35 PM:

    OK – let’s get to the nitty gritty here. “We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.” That is BS, and whiny BS at that. As Mike Daisey reports in his piece on visiting FoxConn and speaking to actual workers, it’s obvious that the ‘people with the skills we need’ obviously includes 13 year olds who can put items thinner than a human hair into a case. and work on their feet for 12 hours a day and not complain when they are forced to work with cancer-causing chemicals like n-Hexane. And Apple (and HP, and all the other electronics folks) cannot claim that they don’t know that 13 year olds are being worked on the line and that the chemicals are there. They do but they won’t admit it. Number two – and even more important is this: China has something we don’t have and which many industry groups have fought against for 50 years: Industrial Policy and an educational policy that is attached to it. So, when Chinese central planners decided ten years ago that they needed 100,000 engineers by 2012, the orders went out to the schools to make sure that every school met its quota of getting the engineers, or the computer programmers or the machinists or whatever skill set they wanted. We don’t have that and frankly anyone who has suggested that has been shouted down as being ‘unAmerican’ and any technically savvy kid has seen how many technical jobs have been outsourced overseas, so investing in that sort of education is not that great a deal. Third: The Chinese decided many years ago that in order to pull the country out of the state they were in, they had to get foreign industries to come to China, to train their people, produce the goods and move the populace up from what was basically an agricultural society. They were willing to do anything, up to and including paying for the training, paying to build the plants, etc. to get the companies to go to China. The only problem with this is that there is an awful lot of intellectual property theft that has gone along with this (we won’t discuss the whole ‘hacking into western computers’ thing). And companies have gone over there – one of the latest examples is Evergreen Solar, out of Massachusetts, which was paid millions of dollars to set up shop, based on patents that were developed under government grants at MIT. The company late in 2010 announced they were shutting up shop, throwing hundreds of people out of jobs and moving the technology to China because the Chinese had built them a brand new plant. Our tax dollars paid for that technology to be developed and now it’s in the hands of the Chinese. Personally, I think that is wrong. But let’s be plain here – companies no longer see themselves has having a beneficial role in this country or toward US workers and it’s obviously OK with them to make 13 year old Chinese kids work what is basically for -0- labor dollars and be exposed to hazardous working conditions to make a product that the rest of the world will buy. I

    Duke on January 22, 2012 4:00 PM:

    “We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”
    There are plenty of people in the US who can load a piece of hardware into an assembly machine and press “GO”. This is a ridiculous statement. It is more likely that the American worker demands are too much for Apple, Samsung, Dell, etc, like ergonomic workstations that insure the operator isn’t crippled after doing the same repetitive motion for 12 hours.

    Pete on January 22, 2012 4:49 PM:

    Well at least apple is willing to use american manufacturing when it’s worth their while.

    The A5 processor is currently made in Texas by Samsung

    Chris on January 22, 2012 5:22 PM:

    As a small business owner, this is one of my biggest concerns, finding skilled labor. I grow trees and shrubs in an organic farm atmosphere where my crews use tractors, loaders and other machinery. No one regularly is sweating to death or lifting more than 50lbs, but using their brains to make decisions, using the correct tools to complete a task & operating equipment, not even being on their feet for 30 minutes. I can not find Americans that know how to operate equipment or tools let alone make a decision. Young Americans are seemingly looking down to the “labor” jobs whether they may be easier or even more rewarding than “service” jobs. I always hear there are no jobs out there, I have several job openings every spring and can NOT find local employees, even for $15-$18 an hour! Granted we do work 50-60 hours. I almost feel our youth has become lazy (I am 31 years old with a college degree) and look down at occupations where you’d have to actually work. Is this the MTV effect where every one is a high rolling rock star?

    Jan on January 23, 2012 12:54 AM:

    For an alternate perspective on this (echoed in some of the comments above) see this week’s Economist:

    Very little of the value added in one of these devices comes from a factory worker actually putting the thing together. In a global economy, of course it makes sense for multinationals to use the cheapest labor.

    Randolph III on January 23, 2012 4:23 AM:

    In many ways, it does make more sense for a complex and internationally sourced product like the iPhone to be made in China; however, it bothers me when a company like Sanuk, which sells beach bum footwear and a sustainable lifestyle, makes its VERY simple product in China and still charges a premium.

    Chris on January 23, 2012 10:07 AM:

    In my personal opinion the key comment to take out of this post is, “I hear a lot of Americans say that we don’t need manufacturing anymore, but the truth of the matter is: jobs at Wal-Mart rarely turn into anything better than low wage retail jobs. And they certainly don’t hold much promise of economic advancement”. Let’s face it most of the jobs being created in this country are low paying retail and food service jobs which do nothing but continue to push our economy in a downward spiral. Let’s bring back manufacturing where an American can make a decent a living while being productive. It will be a step in the right direction.

    Chris on January 23, 2012 10:09 AM:

    Agreed, Randolph.

    I think we would all love for our country to rejuvenate its working traditions. Realistically, the human expense of rejuvenating in technology manufacturing sectors is beyond our own wants. Other countries make sacrifices we are not willing to make, nor should we make for that matter. The speed and commoditization of gadgets has made this difficult.

    Flipping the focus back to simple products charged for a premium is really where the opportunity is. Those products still require skilled labor, just not at the cost of life and death. Multiply those opportunities and the we could see our way back to a middle class with job security and a sense of self.

    Matthew on January 23, 2012 10:15 AM:

    This is proof that the occupy Wall Street movement, and others related in their frustrations with the status quo, should be protesting against companies like Apple. Furthermore, those of us with any semblance of concern for the US’s future should not be standing in line to purchase new Apple products. The only way to effect change is to boycott the company until they change manufacturing practices.

    Ben Bowers on January 23, 2012 10:25 AM:

    A lot of great points have been made in this discussion. I think Michael points out a critical aspect that he’s expressed countless times on his site that many like Chris and Purple 2 touched on, which is the growing American notion that we don’t need manufacturing anymore.

    Costs, profit margins, flexibility and skills are all part of this equation — but as many people have correctly said, they could probably all be tackled if there was a strong will to do it. A will on the part of companies, but also a will on the part of our culture.

    Many of the other brands and products featured on this site regularly illustrate this fact.

    We have devalued the process of quality manufacturing and the skills required to do it in the states. We generally don’t view those who choose to participate in the process as being successful, prosperous, or fortunate.

    The American dream isn’t to grow up and go to trade school, where one can then become part of an integral process for producing goods in a manufacturing job. Instead, enTrenched nailed it earlier, calling it “The white collar fantasy”. Bankers, lawyers, doctors, entertainers, sports stars, or internet entrepreneurs. These are the jobs we’ve put on a pedestal.

    There needs to be a realignement of our collective values around the contributions made from those who choose to work on a production floor if we’re ever going to plug this economic leak.

    Supporting products and brands who decide to work here, and reducing the income gap accordingly is a major part of it. But we also need to reevaluate our perception of kids who opt to not head to college to instead learn a trade. Designers, writers, directors, bloggers, etc. are all “rewarded” for contributing in their own way. Why should someone who spends his or her day assembling circuit boards be viewed differently?

    Gary on January 23, 2012 10:43 AM:

    What people aren’t seeing is that this story and the one a few entries back where people were screaming with outrage about a $150 apron are THE SAME THING.

    Who put together that expensive apron? I’m picturing a bearded hipster on a vintage sewing machine listening to Arcade Fire, after an eight or nine hour day going off to the pub to drink microbrewed beer and then maybe to a tapas place. Home to Colbert and then bed. In other words, a fun lifestyle producing products they are proud of, and making a good salary that affords rent in Massachusetts or wherever.

    And then the resulting product comes out and it costs five times as much as people expect to pay, and people HOWL with fury that whoever this HW Carter & Sons are they have the audacity to charge so much for a fucking apron! Oh, the anger! Oh the rage!

    And here we have Foxconn, their employees live in bunk beds in dorms, a nine hour day is considered a vacation, and they’ve never seen any entertainment beyond test patterns on the LED TVs they are putting together by the millions that will later be used to display Colbert to the bearded hipster a few thousand miles away who makes expensive aprons for a living.

    We either realize that this is the same story or we’re fucked.

    Ben on January 23, 2012 11:12 AM:

    “We either realize that this is the same story or we’re fucked.”

    Exactly. People need to stop blaming large corporations and take some responsibility for their actions as consumers. The corporations are merely supplying what the market wants. I fear the reality is that Western consumers like their gadgets, and they like them cheap.

    “Bankers, lawyers, doctors, entertainers, sports stars, or internet entrepreneurs. These are the jobs we’ve put on a pedestal.”

    There’s nothing wrong with jobs focussed on the knowledge economy. The inference that these are any less worthy is at best misguided and at worst regressive.

    Do we really care?? on January 23, 2012 11:31 AM:

    We, Americans are wrapped up in too much meaningless bullshit! Just to think of how many services and things that we use or consume on a daily basis is room for pause. I LOVE MY IPHONE & ALL THE OTHER STUPID SHIT THAT I HOARD & BUY! We’re all hippocrites. Let’s fix our school system & our country, now….

    Don on January 23, 2012 11:33 AM:

    “but also a will on the part of our culture.”

    I think you’ve nailed it Ben Bowers. There needs to be a shift in the American conscious away from the cheaper is better/always need the new product mentality that seems to be promoted at every turn. The person with little to no disposable income needs to be convinced that a few well crafted (built to last) items are actually a better value than cheaper fall apart goods that need to be replaced frequently. That’s when and where the real change will occur.

    I think the problem in effectuating that kind of change is really like pissing into a river. Given that the NYT recently dubbed our host here as the undisputed capo of the menswear blogosphere with somewhere in the neighborhood of half a million monthy page views and someone once described the menswear blogosphere as a sartorial circle jerk the amount people wanting to see such a change is a little on the small side and it seems to me as a casual observer a bit to self absorbed to go out and do anything real about it. That’s not to say that it is not a worthy goal and that perhaps the survival of our nation as we know it depends on it.

    I think that in the future, we are going to be forced into a more localized economy so this may be the inevitable course anyway.

    Anyway, thanks Mr. Williams for occasionally bringing this topic to the fore. Eventually, i’m sure, it will gain some traction.

    Gary on January 23, 2012 12:07 PM:

    This site and the entire heritage-americana-workwear-what have you-movement fetishizes the cool old steampunk factories of a century ago with the exposed brick and the cast iron and the denim and the wooden carts and the whole bit.

    Don’t you get it? THOSE PLACES WERE FOXCONN. Those cool handlebar-mustached factory men with their battered Redwing boots WORKED THEMSELVES TO DEATH for their capitalist masters for very low pay. Well, until some of them formed unions and went on strike and got things like the forty hour week and reasonable salaries and safety conditions, all of which cost money, and thus the capitalist masters relocated to places like China where they don’t HAVE those things and if you don’t like it you can throw yourself off the roof of the building. And the factories around here fell into ruin.

    And now a century later we think “Wow, that cool old mill had great architecture” and it makes a fantastic loft, and we put battered old tables and desks in it that were ripped out of OTHER dead factories, and we re-make the clothes of that time as exactly as possible in the same way that a South Pacific cargo cult will make coconut headphones and bamboo airports in the hopes the silver planes will come back.

    God help us.

    Michele C. on January 23, 2012 12:55 PM:

    #nytimes proudly subscribed since 1989

    #iphone I think unfortunately the disposability aspect of our consumer culture plays an unfortunate role in the shifting of the manufacturing jobs overseas. When producing for price rather than quality it’s an unfortunate race to the bottom, and we will always lose to the developing world. Hey Michael, call me when you’re ready to discuss pop-up factories “made in the u.s.a.”

    Brian on January 23, 2012 3:45 PM:

    Wow Gary — calm down there. The choice you’re presenting — paying $150 for an apron vs. buying one produced in the same manner as the iphone — is clearly a false dichotomy. There are plenty of other options out there, and these issues couldn’t be further from each other.

    Gary on January 23, 2012 4:02 PM:

    Brian – obviously there is a middle ground – but I’m just pointing out that who does what work for how much is a fundamental question of so many seemingly unrelated stories, here and in the news in general.

    erik on January 23, 2012 4:25 PM:

    Why is “working class” always replaced with “middle class” in USA?

    unitedstyle on January 23, 2012 6:05 PM:

    I agree with Gary that Foxconn is the Chinese equivalent of a US factory 100 or so years ago. I have a feeling that in 100 years a similar thing will have happened to Chinese as they loose manufacturing jobs to other developing nations.

    The growth in American manufacturing seems to be more on the small scale, craftsmen in workshops, than a resurgence in huge factories.

    Charles on January 23, 2012 6:54 PM:

    Circling back to OWS movement and income inequity, imagine how much made in the USA stuff we could be buying if the economic gains since 1970 had been distributed at the same ratio that existed then? I read somewhere that would be a extra $10k a year to the average worker.

    jiheison on January 23, 2012 7:23 PM:


    “This site and the entire heritage-americana-workwear-what have you-movement fetishizes the cool old steampunk factories of a century ago with the exposed brick and the cast iron and the denim and the wooden carts and the whole bit. ”

    I think that is an overstatement. A healthy portion of the goods and services featured on this site are small businesses and cottage industries.

    chris on January 23, 2012 8:16 PM:

    The interesting aspect of all this, is that we get to see a slice of China that mirrors America of decades past. These factory based towns/cities are just as likely to become a ghost town in 20-30 years as their American equivalents. Eventually, these workers will push for standards that are well beyond what business is willing to support, and so, these businesses will likely move to the next labor force that is willing to work below those before them. It’s a cycle, and the only way to break it is to create and innovate. Chasing factory jobs is counter productive to solving America’s employment issues. Certainly, some manufacturing can and will bolster our economy, but when our labor force is put up against other labor forces willing to work longer hours for less money, then we are at a disadvantage. We need to create and carve out new economies like we have done every decade for the past hundred years.

    david himel on January 23, 2012 9:41 PM:

    geeze hate to sound like a socialist..but there was a time before labour laws, environmental regulations and human rights where America and Canada looked and operated just like China…1890 Robber Barons, The Haymarket Affair…wiki it….Apple is a company selling in America and Canada and Europe and like all these companies in my opinion they have a moral obligation to produce ethical products. If the margin difference between ethical and unethical is 10 bucks this does not bode well for the future of the human race. It is time for this shit to just plain stop. Sorry I think its sick

    John Briggs on January 23, 2012 11:19 PM:

    A couple of points. First, if the U.S. is so ill suited for manufacturing, why do we still have more than 11 million people in the manufacturing sector? Second, if Apple needs to be in China because it needs all the inputs for the iPhone and iPad to be close at hand, why are 95% of the parts that are in an iPhone and iPad manufactured in nations other than China? iPhones and iPads are not “manufactured in China”, they are assembled in China with parts manufactured elsewhere. That is why Foxconn can move a large share of its iPad production to Brazil; iPads can be assembled almost anywhere. iPhones and iPads could be assembled in this country by electronics assemblers making over $13.00 an hour. Of course to keep the price of the iPad the same, Apple would need to cut its margin from 55% to 38%. If you are interested in this question, please visit my blog at and find the article “Comparing Apples to Apples.” Tim Worstall of wrote a piece on that post that is also interesting to read; you can find it at…. If Apple wants to assemble iPads in China and Brazil so it can make more money, so be it. But they should be honest about their reason for locating their facilities in those countries.

    Cross on January 24, 2012 2:20 AM:

    Great post Michael. Surprised, though I know I shouldn’t be, how fast it disappeared and how far away the United States is from re-achieving any sort of lead on manufacturing. Watch any Sunday politico show, or listen to the rhetoric coming from our lofted elected officials in Washington, you’d think America is so close to grabbing the elite manufacturing trophy once again. Also, couldn’t agree more with your quip on the NYTimes. Everyday folk should know this, needs to know this…maybe that’s half the problem–most people aren’t even aware of the problem America finds itself in.

    For every ten posts on clothes I can’t begin to afford (though I greatly enjoy reading them), I respect the honest, straight-forward opinion on current news stories that effect the typical man’s life.

    Again, great work Michael.

    chuck on January 24, 2012 5:21 AM:

    Good point Chris. China is already losing manufacturing jobs to cheaper countries as there wages increase. Some US manufacturers are returning home because of the rising costs. I couldn’t find it, but McKinsey created a study stating that re-shoring will become a prevailing trend in the upcoming future.

    Billy on January 24, 2012 9:35 AM:

    American made iPhone: $38,500. But it comes in a really cool hand-crafted vintage looking oak box lined with selvedge denim.

    sean on January 24, 2012 10:22 AM:

    I have hopes that more and more articles like this are written. I have been manufacturing apparel in the US for the last 6 years. Although I refuse to manufacture overseas, I have to use imported fabric as mills in the US are few and far between.

    The whole “work wear” trend in menswear, much of which finds a home on ACL, has always been bittersweet for me. On one hand I find it silly that people want to wear a “costume of labor” when they don’t really do any labor intensive work, or worse, that their “US work wear inspired outfit” is made in China.

    But on the other hand I think the popularity of this trend has just as much to do with what it is “supposed” to stand for, as with how it looks. I think there is a general understanding that “shit is broke” when it comes to manufacturing in the US, and I see the work wear trend, in part, and as long as it doesn’t “jump the shark”, having played a role in helping to shed some light on a topic that can use all the light it can get.

    acr on January 24, 2012 1:39 PM:

    Good thread! Its great everyone here is talking about this subject. There needs to be a balance of overseas manufacturing on our end. Our government needs to give more incentive for companies to stay within our borders. I highly recommend reading, Make It In America. This book digs pretty deep on the impact on our country from a manufacturing point of view. It has greatly changed the way I shop and view certain companies.

    Mike V. on January 24, 2012 3:24 PM:

    “American made iPhone: $38,500. But it comes in a really cool hand-crafted vintage looking oak box lined with selvedge denim.” Funniest line I read today.
    That being said, I like where Gary’s coming from.
    Post Gilded Age – when we finally built an industrial base that allowed for workplaces that were not soul-crushing and offered a chance at a real life – we made a race to the bottom in the US. It took a few decades, but by golly we did it.
    “Hey, that guy fitting that part into that thing doesn’t deserve that kind of money, why, that’s almost how much I make!”. “I want my stuff and I want it cheap.”
    This is what we have created.
    I don’t necessarily have an issue with global companies making stuff all over the world, but they should also be held accountable for making sure that workers are treated fairly.

    Brett on January 25, 2012 11:05 AM:

    America still makes hot chicks.

    jj on January 25, 2012 1:48 PM:

    “I’m picturing a bearded hipster on a vintage sewing machine listening to Arcade Fire” :)

    ajds on January 25, 2012 2:07 PM:

    Intel is a multinational corporation that designs and builds the most complicated products in the history of ever in America.

    They have opperations in othe countries for labor and market reasons.

    jordan w on January 26, 2012 2:19 AM:

    Don’t have one. Never will. As a high school teacher, all that slimy piece of plastic has done is made my job 125% more difficult, as they and there ipod, itouch brethren are like crack to the kids. I take em away daily and they add a lotta bullshit to trying to teach. Wish S.Jobs had asked me first.

    Batt on January 26, 2012 4:30 PM:

    Support the New York Times? They are part of the problem. (yes you, Thomas Friedman)
    Proudly canceled my subscription two years ago!

    Peter on January 27, 2012 11:20 AM:

    The TImes’s iPad and iPhone articles are heartbreaking. I can only imagine the working conditions of the Chinese workers who are driven to suicide attempts. Of course their government aids and abets the system in the name of progress and productivity. And the lot of the Chinese peasant must be truly horrendous when the more attractive alternative is 72-hour weeks breathing flammable aluminum dust.

    Sadly, unlike clothing, I don’t have a humanely produced alternative when it comes to electronics that I need to do my job or stay connected.

    gor on January 27, 2012 12:10 PM:

    this will do nothing to curb the trend of acquisition. money is money, and that’s why things are outsourced. pretty logical, if not from an ethical or moral standpoint, but it makes absolute $en$e. for all the pundits speaking about “made in the USA” and waving the flag (make sure that it not made in China first, patriots), put your money where your mouth is. If you just write about the evils of Apple but do so from a Macbook Pro (work use), then read it on an Ipad 2 (personal use) and have an Iphone 4S and listen to music on an Ipod, give me a break…

    Gary on January 27, 2012 1:47 PM:

    gor – please direct me to an american-made computer, phone, etc. that I can buy.

    gor on January 27, 2012 6:33 PM:

    @Gary- while true that there is no american made computer, phone etc, is not the intent of the article to criticize how Apple has degraded itself for the sake of the dollar? Perhaps it is up to this (or any) generation of morally upright and patriotically minded citizens to create a brand spanking new All American dream of and for technology- that is, if they can do it…which, if the measure of contemporary education is any indication, seems a most unlikely scenario. In the meantime, the Ipad3 should be released any day now, no?

    Gary on January 27, 2012 11:52 PM:

    gor – the view must be great from that high horse of yours.

    Everything – and I mean everything, apple phone, android phone, brand name shoes, your chicken sandwich – everything we buy, wear, eat, use, or play with is soaked in blood and made by people in pain who are not compensated nearly enough.

    the executives and financiers like it that way. living in the first world means we like it that way. And we are all complicit. Even you.

    The only exceptions are SOME boutique, bespoke clothing and goods highlighted right here on this site that costs what seems to us like an astronomical amount of money. But when even these boutiques reach a certain size of operations, and start caring about things like margins and productivity, well..

    Frenchfries on January 28, 2012 11:16 PM:

    Face it America you are post empire. You can embrace this and move forward like so many empires before or you can spout jingoistic nonsense and flex your military muscles. I’m guessing it will be the later.

    jiheison on January 30, 2012 1:17 PM:


    “The only exceptions are SOME boutique, bespoke clothing and goods highlighted right here on this site that costs what seems to us like an astronomical amount of money. But when even these boutiques reach a certain size of operations, and start caring about things like margins and productivity, well..”

    This incorrect statement belies your entire thesis. There are some non-boutique goods that are do not charge astronomical prices and/or exploit their workers. They are fewer, but they are highlighted on this site from time to time, and they prove that if you buy goods that are “soaked in blood and made by people in pain who are not compensated nearly enough”, it is because you choose to, not because you have to.

    really?thisisnewstoyou? on January 30, 2012 8:23 PM:

    This has been going on in America for at least 25 years. How is it that you didn’t already know about this? The most surprising thing here is your ignorance about where the goods that we buy are manufactured, and the fact that poor/under educated Americans have no half-decent jobs available to them.

    Gary on January 31, 2012 12:58 PM:

    jiheison Alright, “everything” is kind of hyperbolic. But you really have to dig to find items that aren’t, basically built or picked by slave labor, whether it is migrant farm workers for your organic spinach or your laptop built by Chinese preteens.

    And the prices when you find these items frequently make your jaw drop. And then we complain about how expensive they are.

    The only solution is to leave the system. To consume LESS, to buy used/vintage when you must buy something, to learn to make and repair your own stuff. And people, a few people, here and there, are starting to do that. But it’s pissing in the ocean compared to the millions buying trainloads of blood-soaked shit at Walmart and Costco every day.

    chris on February 3, 2012 5:56 AM:

    “American workers dont have the skills anymore..”huh?

    OK,then.Fair enough.
    But that Apple exec shouldnt be surprised when one day HE comes into work and they tell him that he’s been replaced by a chinese Apple exec in
    Shanghai and he has 5 min. to clear out his desk.
    It can work BOTH ways Apple boy!

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