Apple Represents U.S. Manufacturing in Presidential Debates

| Analysis

Apple entered U.S. presidential politics on Tuesday when the company was used as a stand-in for American manufacturing during the debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. The incident took place when the debate's moderator, Candy Crowler, asked the two candidates how Apple, "a great American company," could be convinced to bring its manufacturing back to the U.S.

Apple in Politics

The question came towards the end of the debate (see transript), when Ms. Crowley asked, "Mr. President, we have a really short time for a quick discussion here. iPad, the Macs, the iPhones, they are all manufactured in China, and one of the major reasons is labor is so much cheaper [in China]. How do you convince a great American company to bring that manufacturing back here?"

We should note that the question was for both candidates. President Obama was named in the question because it was his turn to take the first response.

What we find interesting about this is less about the politics of the answers, but for the sake of completeness, we'll include them:

Governor Romney talked about making the U.S. more friendly to corporations by lowering corporate. He also talked about China as a currency manipulator, suggesting that ending this practice would level the playing field. Thirdly, he argued that China steals U.S. intellectual property, and that this, too, keeps the playing field uneven.

To that end, he mentioned that there's a counterfeit Apple Store selling counterfeit goods. That's a subject that tech news sites and blogs have covered extensively—there were some 22 fake Apple Stores and unauthorized resellers found in one city, Kunming, back in 2011—but it's not the kind of thing we're used to seeing talked about in presidential politics.

President Obama's answer started with the statement that there are some jobs that simply aren't going to come back to the U.S. because they are low wage, low skill jobs. He argued that his priority is to focus on high wage jobs and advanced manufacturing. He also made the case for investing in science and research, and training engineers, "that will create the next Apple."

Again, for the purposes of this article, we're less interested in the politics of those answers than we are in the fact that Apple, Macs, iPhones, and iPads were used in the debates to symbolically represent...everything.

It wasn't that long ago when it might have been Dell, a company that has also moved manufacturing from the U.S. to China. A generation ago, it would have been a textile firm, or perhaps steel mills, that would have symbolized American manufacturing.

Today, though, Apple is the world's most valuable corporation, and the company has clearly transitioned from being a kooky PC company that clearly doesn't get it to, "a great American company."

We should, note, too, that neither candidate nor the moderator was invoking Apple in an effort to glom onto the company's popularity and success, nor to take potshots at Apple's outsourcing for cheap political gains.

Perhaps it was how matter-of-fact Apple was treated that made the brief discussion seem so remarkable to this veteran Apple-centric journalist. Times have changed, and Apple's billions clearly matter in politics today.

From the billions in profits made overseas that are being held offshore, to the billions in taxes Apple pays, to the hundreds of billions in the company's market cap, to the reality that Apple's iPhone upgrade cycle can have a perceivable effect on U.S. GDP, Apple is a big deal to not only its customers and fans, but in politics, as well.

AllthingsD's Arik Hasseldahl had an interesting take on how he would have liked to see Ms. Crowley's question answered.

Image made with help from Shutterstock.

Comments

mhikl

I know it isn’t really about the debate but the subject but what the hey.
“currency manipulator” is a farce. So is undercutting and manipulations of all sorts. The fact is that GB did it the US when they had the power to do so; the US did the same in the world when it was its turn and now China is using the same economic fudging to get its foot in the door.
What comes around goes around.

But there has to be an answer. At the rate things are going, fewer and fewer are even going to be able to spring for an Android. Now that is poverty poor.

mrmwebmax

+

President Obama obviously remembered a conversation he had with the late Steve Jobs on this topic. This article from Salon makes mention of that conversation, and offers a well-balanced view of manufacturing that both candidates seem to grasp…while also making the case that it’s just not happening in the US ever again:

http://open.salon.com/blog/steve_klingaman/2012/01/25/lets_not_kid_ourselves_about_manufacturing_jobs

Ion_Quest

I loved the comment that every foreign Science/Math/Engineering diploma should earn an attached Green Card.  If we did that with foreign Lawyers, then everyone in the US could afford to sue his neighbor.  What happened to supply and demand?

Paul Goodwin

It’s truly amazing (as you said) how normal it sounds now that Apple IS the big American company used to represent all of manufacturing. Especially when we were wondering in the middle 90s if they would even make it through the next business quarter. Pretty remarkable.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

The price of labor isn’t a majority reason. Did anyone read Steve Jobs’ book? Anyone? Chinese manufacturing is about two things: (1) Supply chain logistics. If you need a special screw, you can bring a factory online right across the street from vacant land in short order, and you can repurpose or decommission that factory in short order when you no longer need that special screw. (2) Chinese factory laborers work hard and do a very good job. For each one who complains about the long hours, there are 20 in line to happily take the job, and there would still be 19 at a lower wage.

Jobs very bluntly told BO (a) that the jobs weren’t coming back (and why) and (b) that BO wasn’t going to be reelected if he didn’t face some realities about how the economy works. BO didn’t listen. There is a lot I did not and do not like about Steve Jobs. His most admirable, if not potentially redeeming quality, is that he was brutally honest about what he thought and how he felt.

Jamie

Actually, it’s telling about our situation in America in another way as well: Apple was only relevant in the debate *because* of their billions. Their products have been great for the most part the throughout their existence, up until now, nobody cared.

Apple are an exception in that they seldom used the bottom line as their yardstick for product development, they took risks pretty regularly (and those of us that have been around awhile know they have been notorious for some of their potentially customer-alienating moves), and yet they are being held up as an example for a way of thinking that is in diametric opposition to the methodology they used to actually create those billions. Talk about being asleep at the wheel and missing the point!

I honestly don’t believe that if Apple had started in today’s acutely risk-averse and service-averse business / corporate climate they’d have even made that initial dent.

Bryan Chaffin

Good points, Jamie.

Tom Hurley

Ms Crowley’s question is not accurate. The Apple products she’s referring to are NOT manufactured in China. The processors are made in Austin Texas. The cover glass is made by Corning in the USA. The memory is made in Korea. The cameras come from Japan. Germany makes some of the parts. The thing done in China is assembly. Look at the back of your iPhone; it says “Assembled in China,” not Made in China.

iJack

“Governor Romney talked about making the U.S. more friendly to corporations by lowering corporate.”

This sentence is incomplete.  “Corporate” is an adjective needing to be followed by a noun; presumably in this context, it is “taxes.”

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I would go with “lowering corporate shelves with binders of women.”

mhikl

This has all been fun but this is funner. Maybe in the next debate.
http://www.google.com/search?source=ig&rlz;=&q=ice+age+coming+2012&oq=ice+age+coming&gs_l=igoogle.1.0.35i39l2j0l4j0i10i30j0i30l3.143.4915.0.6372.19.16.1.1.1.0.278.1926.10j2j4.16.0…0.0…1ac.1.gbXbHVFh3Jc

ctopher

I to felt a little cognitive dissonance when I heard that question. But it makes sense because Apple is now a household brand. I’m glad you linked Arik Hasseldahl’s AllThingsD article. It’s the long version of Tom Hurley’s comment above. What all this says is, to make it in the USA Job market, you have to have 21st century skills.

China has great workers but they don’t want to be doing what they are doing now forever. They want to work their way up to the USA standard of living and they will get there in a generation or two. Then they will ask why their hot products are made in Africa (perhaps) and not employing willing Chinese labor…

ctopher

i TOO would like to edit my comments after I hit “Submit Comment” smile

Ion_Quest

“What all this says is, to make it in the USA Job market, you have to have 21st century skills.”

Are we talking Engineering/Math/Science/Programming degrees?  Washington—Bribes-R-US—has gladly imported those skills for years and destroyed any incentive for smart US students to pursue them.  Microsoft threatened to move more jobs to Canada if it couldn’t import more cheap programmers!

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