In Case you Missed it - Netroots Nation iPhone Panel Takeaways

Posted by LDonia on 06/11/2012

iPhone panelists“Talking about Apple is a good gateway drug to talk to you about manufacturing, because you don’t buy a ton of steel,” the Alliance for American Manufacturing’s Scott Paul joked with a packed conference room at a Netroots Nation conference this past Saturday morning.

The panel that Paul moderated, “Why Can’t Apple make your iPhone in America,” attracted many Apple product users and enthusiasts. Joined by Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI), Campaign for America’s Future’s Dave Johnson, and Emptywheel’s Marcy Wheeler, Paul led a discussion of the ways Apple’s business practices could change so that, eventually, your iPad or iPhone might be made-in-USA.

For those who missed it, here are some takeaways from the discussion:

  • Why are Apple’s products made in China? There’s a bit of blame to go around :
    • China
      • restricts exports of rare earths
      • forbids independent trade unions
      • rarely enforces environmental regulations
      • artificially undervalues its currency
      • provides land, energy, and tax subsidies
    • Apple
      • deploys taxpayer research overseas
      • parks corporate profits offshore
      • operates a low wage supply chain
    • US Government
      • offers few incentives for manufacturers
      • permits taxpayer financed research to be deployed overseas
      • neglects science, technology, engineering, mathematics and vocational education, skews tax code towards outsourcing
    • Consumers
      • Buy Apple products
      • Offer divergent views on “Made in America”
      • Feel stuck – no tablets or smartphones are made in USA
  • Congressman Cicilline affirmed for the group that the United States is currently in a moment where, “if we do some things right,” we can gain manufacturing jobs. He also detailed the House Democrats’ “Make it in America” initiative which includes legislation to end manipulation by trading partners, end tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas, invest in infrastructure, and provide "Make it in America" block grants.
  • The trade imbalance is weakening the United States as a country, it’s strengthening China. CAF's Johnson suggested that we demand China start trading fairly. He asked the group to imagine what the American economy would look like if China actually started buying more American goods. That potentially thriving American economy, he said, would boost the purchase of Chinese goods in return. That they aren’t doing this, he pointed out, shows they’re playing a nationalistic, not free-market, game.
  • Wheeler noted that China has about 700 million cell phone users, to the United States’ 330 million. For Apple to sell products in China, it must produce the products there, not import. She also reminded us about the national security issues it raises for so much manufacturing to go to China.
  • Paul said that shipping costs are increasing, wages (in China) are rising, and the Chinese currency is modestly rising, all factors that contribute to an equation shift. Additionally, there will be rare earth mines in the United States.
  • Final important note as mentioned by Scott Paul – the retail cost of an iPhone would only raise $2-3 if manufacturing were moved to a western country.

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