Though we are in tough economic times we Americans live very well. Even the poorest among us live like royalty compared to the poor in many other parts of the world. And we do well, especially in Lent, to recall that our standard of living is partially possible because others work for pennies to produce our many consumer products.
A Worm in the Apple? In today’s Washington Post there was an article that draws me to consider anew my need to remember the poor. The article gives a look behind the scenes of how our relatively inexpensive electronic products are made. The article is entitled “Mike Daisey Discovers the Worm in Apple.” Daisey is a storyteller and has a show at a local theater entitled “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” In it, he recalls a trip he made last year to China where, he was given tours of the factories where Apple Hardware is assembled. Here let me quote some excerpts from the article written by Jane Horwitz:
Daisey traveled last spring to Shenzhen, China, where Apple’s and other companies’ hardware is made by subcontractors such as Foxconn. He posed as a businessman to gain access to many factories and used an interpreter to talk with workers.
Daisey was appalled by the working conditions — factory floors packed with 25,000 and more workers, some children, doing 12- and 18-hour shifts or longer, living in cramped quarters and shadowed by factory security people.
“I expected it to be bad. I expected it to be harsh. I was not actually prepared for how dehumanizing it was. I wasn’t actually prepared for the scale of it. .That was what shocked me,” Daisey says
Learning how his beloved iPhone, iPad and other gadgets were made broke his heart, he says. “I miss the pleasure of browsing technology in a world where the consequences didn’t cost people’s lives. I miss a sort of unfettered world where the big questions were what [a device’s] specifications were ….. a sort of techno-libertarian landscape that I didn’t even fully know that I inhabited…..”
Daisey portrays Apple co-founder Jobs not as a villain, but as a tough visionary who has yet to be enlightened about the China issue.
The full article is here: Worm in the Apple
A few thoughts on this
- Our modern economy is almost a miracle: Relatively inexpensive goods, plentiful variety, year round produce, quick delivery, and few shortages. I said it is almost a miracle. For the truth is our abundant and relatively inexpensive products are often made possible for us because many in the world work for pennies to produce them. As Daisey notes they often have terrible working conditions and long hours as well. It seems almost impossible to me that I can buy a decent shirt for under $20, especially when I consider the cost of the materials, shipping and overhead. It has to be the cheap labor that makes it possible. The same is true for our marvelous electronics. They are often astonishingly inexpensive considering what we get. Here too, considering all the parts, research and development costs, shipping, overhead and all. Again, it has to be the labor costs that are low. Daisey’s portrait here confirms that.
- I realize that economies are complicated things. I am not an economist and cannot easily envision a different way. It is possible that in trying to fix this problem of inequity, we may make things worse for the poor. It often seems the most dangerous thing the poor can hear is: Hi, we’re from the government and we’re here to help you.
- But noting that there IS a problem may be the first stage of justice. We human beings like to stay sleepy. We don’t like to ask too many questions like, “Where did this product come from and how can it possibly be so cheap?” Questions like these are uncomfortable, because deep down, most of us know the answer isn’t pretty. So we don’t ask, we don’t even wonder. But honestly we should ask, we should wonder, and we should face the truth, that a lot of our comfort and prosperity, a lot of our cheap products, are made possible because others, who supply us, live with far less and are paid little.
- The Pope on sleepiness – Regarding our sleepiness, our wish to remain drowsy and dreamily unaware of injustice, the Pope has a remarkable mediation in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Vol II. He is meditating here on the summons that Jesus gave the disciples in the Garden to “stay awake and watch, lest they give way to temptation” (Mk 14). The Pope writes: Across the centuries it is the drowsiness of the disciples that opens up possibilities for the power of the evil one. Such drowsiness deadens the soul, so that it remains undisturbed by the power of the evil one at work in the world, and by all the injustice and suffering ravaging the earth. In its state of numbness, the soul prefers not to see all this; it is easily persuaded that things cannot be so bad, so as to continue in the self-satisfaction of its own comfortable existence. Yet this deadening of souls, this lack of vigilance….is what gives the evil one power in the world. On beholding the drowsy disciples, so disinclined to rouse themselves, the Lord says, “My soul is very sorrowful , even to death.”
- It is easy to feel overwhelmed in the face of so complex an issue, an issue involving a world-wide economy with 100,000 moving parts, not mention many governments, some of them corrupt, and a complicated interplay between money, materials and manpower. What is the best solution? Is it a boycott? Is it protests? Daisey suggests in the article that maybe we ought to stop upgrading our stuff for a while to send a message. But would that really help the poor, or would it possibly cause them greater harm? Here a scripture comes to mind: The poor are caught in schemes that others have made (Ps 10:2).
- Personal Reform? This is not an economic blog, and not a political one. Hence I do not propose immediate solutions along those lines, if they even exist. What I do propose is a more personal reform. I propose that we ask questions of ourselves and others, that we ponder justice. That we develop a greater love and solidarity for the poor, many of whom are integral to our “miracle” economy (troubled though it currently is). Perhaps we can consider being personally more generous to the needy and the poor when we are given opportunities to do so. Gratitude to the God is essential for all we have, but part of this gratitude should also include deep prayer to God for the world’s poor, many of whom supply our economy by their blood, sweat and tears. And as our love of the poor deepens, our desire of justice for them also grows.
- Personal practice – The next time I pick up that tomato at the store, perhaps I can consider that some one far less affluent that I may have picked or processed it. The next time I gleefully open the box with the brand new computer, filled with excitement as on Christmas morning, I ought to remember the Chinese peasant who may have had a hand in assembling it and who could never dream of owning one that nice for himself.
- Ask God for a deeper love for the poor, the many unknown souls who are the hidden foundation and the hidden cost in our inexpensive products. Demanding draconian solutions may not be what is best, but love and gratitude for the poor will surely lay a foundation for greater justice and a desire to find creative solutions.
- One Day God came to Cain and asked, Where is your brother? As if also to say, How is your brother? Account for me as to his welfare. Cain shrugged, Am I my brother’s keeper? (cf Gen 4:9). Well you know the answer. We ARE the keeper, we ought to have care for the welfare of others. In Lent we ought to pray for a deepening care for the welfare of others.
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