From Motors to Motherboards: Domestic Production is the Route to Success


After watching the Bucknell production of Mike Daisey’s The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs I had a couple of takeaways. First, I was overall pleased with the performance. I thought that Alex Lyras did a great job convincing the audience that this was a personal story that he himself had experienced and was sharing with an audience (similar to Daisey himself). However, despite being slightly contradictory to my praise for Lyras’ performance, the part of Bucknell’s production that I really valued was the unreal/untrue section of the performance. While Bucknell and Lyras did not try to display Mike Daisey’s performance as realistic and factual like Daisey himself did, they also did not represent it as fully artistic. Instead the performers took an extremely factual view about Apple’s manufacturing plant conditions. Added into Lyras’ performance is more background about Apple as a company, and during the questionable parts of Mike Daisey’s story Lyras freezes and multiple performers dressed as scientists come onto the stage and elaborate on whether or not the claims Daisey made or were true or false. The “scientists” provided evidence towards their argument on each point, often in the form of quotes and multimedia. I really enjoyed this method of displaying Daisey’s story because it allowed for the emotion and entertainment from Daisey’s original story to be combined with factuality and accuracy.

In my opinion the crucial change that needs to be made in order to resolve these working condition problems is that technology producers need to move labor back to the homefront where proper working conditions and safety are legally ensured. I am not speaking about just Apple either, as seen in the Mike Daisey play many technology companies are using just Foxconn specifically for their manufacturing purposes. This point was something that really stood out to me the first time I listened to Daisey’s performance. In other industries, manufacturers have begun shifting production back into the United States with great results. The primary example that comes to mind is the auto industry where companies like Toyota and Tesla are paving an American auto manufacturing resurgence.

As we discussed in class domestic production is not a cost issue for Apple. Apple products could be produced in the U.S. for only slightly more. There is a void for a technology company based around the values of proper working conditions and domestic manufacturing. But, my final question, is what would be better for the people of China: to have these current jobs at companies like Foxconn that are accused of being inhumane and unsafe, or having these jobs taken away and moved back to the United States?

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9 responses to “From Motors to Motherboards: Domestic Production is the Route to Success

  1. When I began reading your post my first thought was, “Moving production back to the states would incur a huge loss for Apple.” But at the end you address this very point. My question is how do we know it would only slightly more expensive? Also, Apple doesn’t manufacture it’s own products so maybe there aren’t the sufficient facilities in the US to make all of these products.

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  2. I think your call for the domestication of production is a legitimate one. It could supply a huge number of jobs to our own citizens to begin to close our wealth gap, and could also improve our carbon footprint from reducing the environmental effects of transportation. Since the cost difference would only be marginal, it urges the question: why haven’t we always done this, or at least why haven’t we already transitioned to doing this? I think this is exposes a purposeful exploitation of the Chinese culture. As Americans, our industriousness, sense of duty, and meticulousness pales in comparison to the Chinese. The monologue describes a “Chinese hour” as 60 minutes, as opposed to an American hour, which is realistically more like 54 minutes, and this exemplifies the difference in our work ethics. I think that Apple and companies that outsource large-scale manufacturing are acutely aware of this cultural difference, and exploit the industriousness of the Chinese in order to have the ability to demand more efficient output. I think the Chinese system of government has to do with it as well. One quote in the monologue claims that the government said something to the effect of “Do whatever do you want to our people, just give us a modern China,” and I think this is unfortunately representative of the Chinese system. It is incredibly restrictive of individual rights and liberties that are the cornerstone of American civilization. I think this is why there haven’t been real uprisings for better labor conditions at FoxConn but that there would be protests and riots if Americans experienced the same conditions, because the Chinese might not actually feel or understand that they are being violated because of cultural precedent. Do you think that knowledge of these cultural differences is what drives continued outsourcing, by Apple or by other companies? Why else might it be?

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    • Knowledge of the cultural differences plays a big role in Apple’s choice to outsource labor, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the bottom line: PROFIT. Apple knows it will generate revenue, so if they can minimize expenses (by going to China), they can maximize profit. While bringing Apple manufacturing back to the U.S. would supply jobs, I do not think it would greatly benefit Apple, which is why Apple will stay in China.

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      • Agreed, bringing back manufacturing to the US would certainly benefit some ancillary stakeholders in a small way. However, the shareholder (a key stakeholder), would lose money. And for that reason I doubt that move would happen. Taking care of all stakeholders is key, but there also needs to a prioritization and value judgement incorporated into those decisions.

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      • Taylor I think that one of the points Maddie is trying to make is that this cultural difference between China and America is actually a profit line in itself. The Chinese working culture and working conditions are what allows these manufacturing plants to run at such high efficiencies. To address Maddie’s question, yes, I do think that knowledge of these cultural differences plays a huge role. It is a factor that is often overlooked because it isn’t easy to quantify its effects on profit, but the effects are definitely present!

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      • I would rather see a through cost-benefit analysis of manufacturing here versus there before ruling it out so quickly.

        There is also inertia to consider. One reason Apple et al use contract manufacturing is that they don’t know how to make shit anymore.

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  3. I enjoyed reading your post because I like the idea of bringing everything back to the United States. Obviously this would take a lot of work and would not make certain companies happy, but it would help thousands of people avoid terrible working conditions. However, you also have to address the fact that by moving factories back to America you are eliminating jobs for all of these workers. Lots of people in China are helped out by Apple and other companies who outsource their products and this could actually do more harm than good. Like we have discussed Foxconn is apparently one of the better factories to work at. So, if all of these workers lost their jobs they are going to end up going to factories with even worse conditions. If there was a way to bring things back to America while also ensuring the unemployed wouldn’t be subjected to even worse conditions, that would be ideal. Obviously this issue is very difficult and there are a lot of different factors.

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  4. As one of the producers/writers of the interrupted version, although Daisey wrote 95% of the play, thanks!

    I am trying to recall if we meant the Greek chorus to seem like scientists or not. THe white coats was a choice of the director, prof. Bob Gainer. Was it meant to convey science? Anesthetic cleanliness? The dust-free conditions where electronics are made? Neutrality? Long-love art’s room for interpretation!

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