When a politician asked a stupid question or gave a stupid answer, we could easily excuse their behavior for being intellectually-challenged or politically motivated. But it is difficult to ignore when an otherwise respected journalist asked a less-than-well-informed question during a national forum.
During last week's presidential debate, CNN’s Candy Crowley asked a seemingly legitimate question which was that why couldn’t iPhones and iPads be manufactured in the United States? This was essentially the same question that Obama himself reportedly had asked the late Apple CEO during a private dinner with a group of tech executives.
The underlying concern is that for the last thirty years, America has been outsourcing manufacturing jobs to Asia (first Singapore, then Malaysia and Thailand, and now China). So what can we do to bring the jobs back as if bringing them back is the key to secure our middle class prosperity.
First of all, we can't bring back what is not ours. America was never a major manufacturer for personal electronics. Following the footsteps of plastic toys, the first wave of electronics outsourcing started in 1983 when Seagate (formerly Shugart Technology) moved their hard drive assembly lines from Scotts Valley to Singapore.
At the time, the domestic manufacturing facility was really meant to be a temporary measure. The plan was never to expand production in California since we could never find enough dexterous high school graduates willing to work minimum wages.
In addition, it is not true that the iPhones and iPads are manufacturing in China. They are only final-assembled in China. The components are actually manufactured globally, much of which even in the United States.
While the popular press are obsessed with the ongoing legal battle between Apple and Samsung, they never report that they are also intimate partners. One of the key components, the ARM processors, are in fact manufactured in Texas (by Samsung).
Furthermore, the total assembly cost for an iDevice is less than five dollars. The Chinese workers who are willing to do the repetitive manual labor for less than ten dollars a day are poor peasants from remote provinces. They work five hour shift, two shifts a day, with hour-long lunches and nap time in between and they live in cramp quarters because they are basically temporary migrant workers.
They are from poor families with no hope for a better life. They travel long distance to work a few years while they are young for the purpose of saving enough money so they can have the startup capitals necessary to become small business owners when they return. Working for Foxconn/Apple is a dream job for them, an extreme makeover American style.
This is not the kind of jobs we want for the American middle class.
But most importantly, the journalist is missing the point which is that by outsourcing the least value-added portion of our manufacturing ecocycle to China, we are in fact creating lots of high paid jobs at home for Americans.
For example, it is reported that there are nearly 200,000 software developers working on apps. If these are free apps, then they are supported by advertising which means more jobs. Then there is the telecom and the accessory industry, all of which is worth much more than the five dollars that we gave away to the Chinese.
The responses from the candidates are equally misguided. While Romney answered by going into a diatribe about China being a currency manipulator and an intellectual property thief, Obama took the podium and proceeded to lecture about the importance of a college education.
College is important but college is over-rated (speaking as a former university professor). Recently, at +Man'ority Report, we started a Saturday morning video podcast series and the last two episodes were on Open Source Hardware. Our feature guest was +Dwayne Jones, an old friend and a key team member of my first startup.
Dwayne is a small business owner, selling and servicing physical access control equipment (magnetic cards, etc.) and recently he has invented a NFC-based card reader that is backward compatible with conventional key entry system. The most amazing part of his one man journey is that he learned everything on his own by taking initiative and leveraging what's available through Internet.
He didn't go to college and he did all that while supporting a family!
The above picture is another invention by a fellow entrepreneur using resources from the Open Source Hardware community.
Here they built a fully functional keyboard using 40 beer cans, each of which is connected to an Arduino-powered touch controller which are then attached to a $35 Raspberry Pi single-board computer for communication. Imagining having this in every bar across America where patrons could use it to input their email address to get free drinks. It's definitely one of the more unique ways to make use of empty beer cans.
Americans are not whiners nor victims. Americans are opportunists. We seize every opportunity to improve our lives and the lives of our family. And there is no lack of opportunities in spite of what politicians of both parties might try to persuade us otherwise.
Have a wonderful Sunday, everyone.