Wednesday 4 March 2015

Apple’s Broken Promises.

Five years after the Foxconn suicides, Apple is again under the spotlight.
“Shi Zhaokun was 15 when he left his village [Hou Jia Pu, 1,000 km from Shanghai]… At the end of that month, he died.”
The quote is from the BBC’s Panorama documentary “Apple’s Broken Promises” (also), by Richard Bilton, broadcast locally by ABC’s Four Corners last Monday. The documentary reports on the working conditions of Chinese and Indonesian workers involved in the production of Apple products and in the extraction of tin used as raw materials.


Young Shi’s father, Shi Zengqiang, was informed by his son’s employer he had worked 280 hours in 4 weeks in the iPhone production lines.

Undercover reporters sent by the Panorama team to work at one of the Apple contractors, Pegatron, secretly filmed exhausted workers falling asleep at work. Their footage tells a worse story:
Undercover reporter telling a Pegatron supervisor: “Working hours are too long, too long. From 8 in the morning to 1 or 2 at night - that's too much for anyone.”
Pegatron supervisor to his team: “If you fall asleep and you lean against machines that are connected with electricity and there is a live wire and you will be gone.”
“It was the sheer volume of work that overwhelmed our reporters. One had to work 18 days in a row, despite repeated requests for a day off. He was working more than 70 hours a week and that's dangerous.”

What are the economics behind this?

Bilton (quoting figures from IHS, “product analysis company”:
“The workers in Pegatron earn the Shanghai minimum wage about a pound an hour. We were told they work long and illegal hours because it's the only way to make a living.
“Now, the cost of an iPhone in the U.S. is $650. Analysts say Apple makes $248 in profit on every phone. But factories like this only spend about $5 putting them together.”
If those estimates are correct, each iPhone costs Apple $402: potentially, the margin of profit per iPhone could reach 162% (update: typo 62%).


And the situation of the Indonesian tin miners could be worse.


The Four Corners team assembled background information, including Apple’s responses, their own in-house research, and other media reports.


This is probably the most neutral description of idealism I know of:
“Idealism can also be understood as the practice of understanding abstractions through other abstractions; where an abstraction is something that does not necessarily have basis nor relation to reality, but only exists in relation to other abstractions.” (here)
It’s not difficult to understand that unmeasurable, unquantifiable, immaterial, invisible, untouchable, ghostly concepts like “utility”, “human capital”, or that the “abstractions and simplifications embodied in [mainstream economic] models” (paraphrasing a moderately well-known blogger) fall into this category: a bit what Joan Robinson (channelling Wicksell) called “metaphysical”.

It has a clear “methodological” advantage over the Marxist approach: it leaves out unsightly scenes of fathers sobbing for the loss of their teenage sons, the sights of misery, exhaustion, disease, destruction, and death. It sweeps reality under the carpet, in other words.

But then, some among the philosophically sophisticated opponents of mainstream economics want not merely deny reality, but "vaporise" it. The very pinnacle of wisdom.



05-03-2015. Whether it was by design or otherwise, I can't tell, but Prof. Robert Paul Wolff's "parable of the butcher and the analytical philosopher" seems to fit idealist philosophy to a tee. This is the parable's moral:
"When butchering a side of beef, it is best to know something about what lies beneath its surface.
"Observation:  This is also not a bad idea when doing Philosophy."

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