Sunday, April 01, 2012

Yet another polishing of the Apple so it and its trinkets gleam ever so brightly ... and not a hint of guilt to be seen anywhere ...

(Above: a sign saying Suicide is forbidden, suicide is harmful to health, with the man pointing saying We have tried our best, and the man thinking saying I think it is a problem of feng shui, found here. Strange, the pond thought it was only western guilt that led to jokes about Apple).

It's not often that the pond and Chris Berg agree, but for once the pond is at Bergian oneness, as the Bergian view of the world unfolds in Westerners consumed by tech toys wallow in misplace guilt.

Concern for Chinese factory workers is patronising and simplistic.
Nothing demonstrates how self-absorbed Western moral sensibilities are than the recent controversy over working conditions at the Chinese manufacturer Foxconn.

Indeed. The pond isn't at all concerned over working conditions at Chinese manufacturers. They've got billions of people to chew through, so what's the fuss all about? Why worry about a few suicides when other lemmings are struggling to get into the factory, before jumping off the cliff?

But why stop there? Who cares if Asian factories use child labour? After all, they're just doing what the English did in Victorian times. And with a little luck, you could - in the manner of American whites - push the old line that the slave trade was no bad thing because blacks ended up living the high life in the United States rather than being stuck in Africa, destined perhaps to grow up as Kenyan Muslims.

Come to think of it, why should anyone give a flying fuck about all the monkeys shackled to keyboards typing rants on a daily basis for the Institute of Public Affairs?

The first rule of such keyboard heroes is to take a tale and flip it.

So the story of This American Life getting its facts wrong in relation to Apple in China is turned into some kind of moral crusade against western guilt, which in turn is a guilt fed by puritanical disgust at consumers who devour Apple products because the brand is like a "squeaky-clean combination of Greenpeace and Scientology".

As a household into the third generation of iPad suckerdom, let's forget this piece of cant as an issue straight away. It's too easy and simple-minded to blame an interest in working conditions anywhere - or everywhere - on puritans who loathe high tech toys ...

Let's just cut to the chase, which in the end is a typical Bergian IPA defence of the joys of capitalism, and how apparently there's simply no such thing as exploitation in the world, and to talk of exploitation is automatically and ergo simplistic and condescending:

Global capitalism doesn't work like that. When Australians seek employment, we hope to get something out of it. Foreigners are no different. Foreigners are morally autonomous human beings like us, with preferences and plans and intelligence. They know if they are being exploited. They know better than us their employment alternatives.

Yep, it's an absolutely free market, and Australians employing nannies - paid for by kindly Tony Abbott - would be ever so helpful in ending third world poverty and human misery. Why the charity and the usefulness almost brings a tear of joy to the eye of the pond, and so caring and yet so unselfish having a slave around the house 24/7.

You only have to pause for a nanosecond while reading this on your iPad to realise it's glib nonsense, and to wish that Chris Berg at some point might take on the job of being a nanny. There are plenty of openings in the middle East, in Saudi Arabia or Dubai, though it might require a temporary sex change, since the whole point is to exploit in the most miserable way women as cheap labour, denied rights and a decent wage or even the chance to phone home occasionally (as a friend of the pond discovered while discussing working conditions in a Dubai hotel with a cleaning woman).

Or perhaps he might like to take work in Singapore, where they're still arguing about whether a maid or a nanny might be able to take off one day a week (Maids' day off fuels Singapore foreigners debate). And the locals think the result of a day off will see the sky falling in on their lifestyle. Now there's an absence of western guilt ...

The lily gilding and fancy verbal coating that Berg delivers in his paean of praise for Apple is wondrous:

One of the revelations of the This American Life retraction was that the long hours worked by some Foxconn employees was often entirely their choice. Just as Australian workers sometimes want to work overtime, so too do Chinese workers. Certainly, not everything is rosy in Foxconn plants. But then, not everything is rosy in the developing world. Our neurotic eagerness to blame ourselves does nothing to fix that. Worse, it could easily harm the people we wish to help.

Indeed. Note the little out clause "certainly not everything is rosy". Which is all you need before going on to do your damned best to paint everything as rosy, and dismissing any concern regarding things that remain within the control of western industry as mere idle neurosis.

You know, the 'forget the eight hour day, let's get on with the fourteen hour day, and they'll think they're ever so lucky' mantra is the rosy way forward.

It seems it's all a matter of choice, just as the kids of Pakistan or Bangladesh or wherever chose to work to make Nike the very best sneakers or footballs doing the rounds (Nike admits to mistakes over child labor) because it was a choice. Their choice, their right to chose to be exploited.

And it just so happened it was Nike's choice to turn a blind eye and do nothing about it, though they could have done something about their suppliers, and the workers, and the exploitation ... and eventually did.

Now here's the thing about the gibberish about wallowing in guilt. After all the fuss about the suicides at the Foxconn plant and the heat going on to Apple, the company decided that it would find it in its heart to end unpaid overtime practices, and help fund a twenty per cent raise in pay to Shenzhen workers, with a resultant increase in the labor costs per unit from 2.3% to 3%. (Apple cuts 0.7 percent of iPad profit to give factory workers big raise).

That's right, all Berg's bluster and rhetoric is about a measly 0.7% dent in labor costs.

Now before you start bleeding about the resulting profit loss suffered by Apple and its shareholders, it might be worth remembering that this adjustment has had diddly squat impact on Apple's very healthy profit share per unit, which back in the day when the first iPads rolled off the line, saw Apple collar a $208 profit on an entry-level model priced at $499, and a profit of $446 per unit on an $829 unit. (Apple makes at lease 200 per iPad sold report).

By golly, that's not wallowing in guilt, that's wallowing in moola ...

So all we're talking about here is the balance between profitability, corporate greed, and exploitation of labour, child labour, unpaid overtime, onerous and burdensome working conditions, with bonus suicides ... and the way a company can specify to its suppliers ethical practices in relationship to employment conditions.

And the easy way out? Isn't it lucky This American Life got a few things wrong, so the big picture can be slid to one side ...

Well there's no prizes for guessing that Berg comes down on the side of corporate greed and exploitation, but it's the starry-eyed way that he does it that leads to snorts and gales of laughter as he worries about western guilt:

...the Foxconn story has had enormous resonance because it fits neatly into a moral tale of Western guilt. You, with your white earbuds and leather-covered iPad, are the direct beneficiary of a nightmarish, Victorian-era sweatshop. Foxconn's 1.2 million workers suffer so Australians can play Angry Birds. It's an alluring tale, perfect for sermons and email forwards. But think what this tale excludes. That is: sympathy for those who have failed to acquire a job at Foxconn. Sympathy for those who lack the skills to get a desirable factory job at all. Sympathy for those who produce goods not destined for First World boutique retail outlets.

Yes the way to discuss western guilt is to double down on the guilt. You see, your guilt is entirely misplaced, and you need to be guilty about - or at least sympathetic to - all those who can't be exploited, and so fall off the exploitation bandwagon. Your guilt is simply not enough guilt. You need to be guilty about everybody, or perhaps if that's too burdensome how about no guilt about anybody and or anything at all.

Yep, it's yet another variation on an age-old routine parents once used to get kids to eat their vegetables. Think about the starving people in Asia.

And from this contemplation of guilt, Berg weaves a most Bergian warning, way more perverse and dire than a few uneaten vegetables:

So these consumer activism campaigns have a perverse result. We more pity the Chinese workers who have found the jobs that will lift them out of poverty than those who have been unable to do so.

Don't ya just love it. There is of course little evidence that working in a factory in China in exploitative conditions will necessarily lift a worker out of poverty. It depends on the factory and the wages paid, and whether you've decided jumping out a window is better than working for a miserable stipend.

But if you follow the logic through, in the end it seems there's simply no point in taking any kind of moral view of anything. Then you're just a puritan wallowing in perverse guilt.

Forget the workers in China, forget the piece workers hacking out clothing at a pathetic rate in the western suburbs of Sydney, forget the rights of workers generally because what good does it do? Anybody will take a job on any conditions, and that's just the way it is, because there are billions living in poverty.

Whatever you do, don't call it exploitation, don't let your moral skirts show. Because if you carry a trinket around you're a hypocrite and a moral humbug, unlike a Bergian, who cares not a fig, a whit or a jot for such humbuggery.

And the next thing you know you can have women shipped into brothels in Sydney without any regard to their pay or their working conditions, presumably because the women, while knowing that they are being exploited, are in a better position than us to explore their employment alternatives.

This is of course the sort of gibberish that's always artfully led to explain how the 1% are doing their very best to help out the 99%, and how in a Mitt Romney fashion, soon enough the 99% will be right up there with the rest of the 1%, and never mind the mathematical absurdity.

Meanwhile, the thought that Apple might spare 0.7% of its profits to spread amongst its workers produces a frenzied moral despair in Chris Berg.

Truly, when it comes to knowing how to help people we might harm, he's the go to person for righteous insights.

I do hope the IPA pay a handsome stipend to keep people happy writing this tosh. Berg looks well enough fed.

At the same time, is it perverse guilt to hope that The Age and the ABC don't pay the IPA staff for the right to publish it? And in the case of The Age to plunk it down in the middle of its main digital news page without labelling it as comment? (to demand that it be labelled prejudiced, slanted, biased, offensive and demeaning opinion is perhaps to hope for too much).

Second thoughts, who cares. Let the world adopt a Bergian viewpoint, and hope it all works out for the best because free markets and perfect capitalism will provide, without prodding or poking or the odd moral stand. And if you believe that, next time you're in Sydney, have I got an ethical harbour bridge to sell you.

Of course, the profits will only be used for the best and most fruitful purposes ...

The pond has an army of child soldiers standing by, and what's more they love to work unpaid overtime, and truly ruly, they don't think they're being exploited at all, not even when they sometimes jump out a factory window or have the shit shot out of them.

Now whatever you do, don't let your western guilt get in the way of this once in a lifetime deal ...

(Below: how to treat an opinion piece? Plunk it in the middle of a flock of news stories, and whatever you do, don't label it opinion).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments older than two days are moderated and there will be a delay in publishing them.