All The Way From China


A few days ago, I bought a cute little recharging dock for my iPhone. It cost $29.00; the shipping came to $4.00. Here’s an image of it-

A few hours after completing the transaction, I received an email from Apple telling me that my dock was on its way, along with a tracking number. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the number and discovered that the unit had been placed on a flight out of a little town near Hong Kong, and that I would have it in a few days.

This got me thinking about the global economy. You’d think that it would be worthwhile for Apple to locate a factory in, say, Tennessee, and make such relatively low-tech doodads there. After all, they clearly don’t require a lot of labor to produce. At the very least, you’d think it would be worthwhile to stockpile a few thousand of these things in a warehouse at some central location – maybe Topeka, KS – and ship them to U.S. customers out of there. But no, it turns out that it’s cheaper to make these things in China and ship them to lone customers such as myself literally halfway around the world.

Wasn’t it Groucho who said that “If capital is international, so must be labor”? Or was it that other Marx brother?

5 thoughts on “All The Way From China

  1. I’ve heard that the US still is one of the major manufacturers in the world despite the claims that all of the manufacturing jobs have moved off shore. The problem is really that modern manufacturing requires very little labor, and that problem will be true worldwide sooner or later. And my question has always been what will we do with all the people? They are likely to still be born, still need income, still need to participate in the economy in some fashion.

    Education is a frequent “solution” you’ll hear, but I suspect that isn’t going to fill the people/job gap even if you could somehow manage to turn everyone into whatever kind of engineers are now “needed”. It’s an interesting problem, one usually tackled only in science fiction tales where future societies no longer need to work at all.

    Captain Kirk was frequently running into a futuristic civilization so advanced that people existed only as heads in a jar or something amusing like that, where only their minds continued to exist. That’s great for you philosophers who like to do a lot of thinking and would be happy in a jar or loaded onto a USB thumb drive when the singularity final arrives, but what about the rest of us??

    That’s where I begin to wonder if free market capitalism will finally start to come apart at the seams and Groucho’s discredited predictions might prove to be true after all. (or was it Harpo…?) Our current global culture isn’t prepared to support the future and its evolution is bound to be painful.

  2. John- I once scribbled a self-indulgent blog post on this very issue, entitled “Larry’s World”. You can find it here-

    The idea is that we’ll eventually need to have a class of professional consumers that aren’t expected to produce anything. The government will just issue them debit cards, and – contrary to how “welfare” works today – their full-time job will be simply to buy as much as the producer class can sustainably make. The producers – who will also be consumers, of course – will be motivated by being paid somewhat more than the non-producing consumers, depending perhaps on how much the consumers like their products (much like today), but everyone will be living high on the hog. It’s not as if money has any “real” value today, apart from how it can drive the economy. So let’s just be honest about that, and let most people get down to the serious business of (sustainable) consumption.

    By the way, in my theory of knowledge class, I teach a unit on skepticism in which we consider the apparent possibility that, for all we know, WE are be brains in vats (a scenario about which some philosophers, with nothing better to do, have worried). Hilary Putnam, a notable philosopher, has an interesting argument that such an apparent possibility is, in fact, based on a sort of linguistic illusion. The statement, “I am a brain in a vat” is, in a certain way, self-refuting, at least if we buy a now-common theory of how words obtain their meanings (or their reference). But that’s a subject for a different post.

  3. Not only capitalism, but also western-style democracy is also taking a beating these days. if the citizens are so uninvolved or ignorant, should they still get a vote??

  4. As I’m sure you’re aware, Jim, Plato preferred philosopher kings…

    But, in any case, I’m not sure that involvement should be a condition for voting; after all, involvement of a certain sort gave us the current Congress…

    Ignorance can be remedied, except when it is willful (as it seems to be with so many “involved” voters these days).

  5. yes, I realize that once we start down the road of qualifying voters, the democracy is no longer a democratic. Ben Franklin supposedly said something about democracy being two foxes and a chicken discussing what’s for lunch. Maybe we need an old fashioned, intelligent, benevolent despot to guide us through these times? Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure we’re going to get a despot, not necessarily a benevolent or intelligent one.

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