Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

What’s Good for Apple is Not Good for the Country


Apple Inc. is the largest technology company in the world, in terms of both revenue and profit. Yet, the California-based company has just 47,000 workers on its payroll in the United States.

Apple recently released a report in which it claimed responsibility for “indirectly” creating an additional 257,000 American jobs in industries that are part of its supply chain, a claim that was “disreputable,” in the words of MIT labor economist David Autor – as if Apple’s suppliers did not have any other customers. Or, as Wharton labor economist Peter Cappelli noted, as if the consumers spending their money on an iPad would not have purchased another product in its absence (see a New York Times article on debates over the report here, including comments from Autor and Cappelli).

While Apple’s claim to have created jobs for UPS and FedEx employees is questionable, however, there is some truth to the argument that Apple is responsible for the employment – and working conditions – at its key suppliers, particularly manufacturers for which Apple is the main customer. This may be the case for some Corning employees in the US (supplying glass for iPhones) and is very likely the case for, tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of employees at Foxconn in China, which presumably has entire lines or buildings dedicated to Apple.

A recent report by political economist and accountant Karel Williams and his research team at the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change at the University of Manchester looked at the Apple Business Model and its employment effects. They cite a study which found that Chinese workers add $6.50 in value to each iPhone 3, just 3.6% of the phone’s shipping price.

In a counterfactual exercise based on the average wage for electronics workers in the US ($21 per hour) and assuming 8 hours labor per phone, the CRESC team shows that Apple could assemble the phone in the US and still make a gross margin of $293 per phone, which is down from its current gross margin of $452, but still an impressive 46.5% margin.

Assembling the phone in the US would have added benefits for the US economy in terms of direct job creation and multiplier effects – in contrast to the current business model, which decreases US employment and increases the US trade deficit. But healthy profits are not enough, so Apple continues to make superprofits to the detriment of the US economy. What is good for Apple is not good for the US.

But what about Chinese workers? The CRESC team analyzes the financial aspects of the Apple supply chain and argues that, unlike in the Japanese and Korean cases, Chinese suppliers under the Apple model do not have good prospects of moving up the supply chain. Japanese and Korean producers originally had competitive advantage in the international market because their domestic supply chains had a low ratio of labor’s share of value-added. In the context of national supply chains, even suppliers were able to continually upgrade to higher-value added locations in the supply chain.

The story for China is different because it remains at the end of a global supply chain dominated by US firms like Apple, which are able to successfully subordinate their Chinese suppliers through contracts that leave little profit for the latter. As a result, funds for reinvestment are limited and corporate strategy may thus remain defensive.

There is a question, which the CRESC team does not consider, of whether the Chinese suppliers will be able to develop their own R&D capabilities from their own manufacturing operations. For now, most electronics R&D remains firmly embedded in the US, Japan and Korea. But there does remain an open question of whether R&D and manufacturing can remain geographically separate, with the former retaining vibrancy and the latter subordinated to the second- or third-tier via contract. Nonetheless, the CRESC report does crystallize some important questions and provide some provocative answers.

Finally, it must be noted that it is somewhat misleading to call this the Apple business model. The business model of maximizing profit and minimizing domestic employment though global subcontracting was pioneered by many corporations in the 1970s and even earlier, among them Nike, which has always been a brand without its own manufacturing capabilities.

But this model has become a normative business logic among manufacturers since then, and it does, as the CRESC team points out, present fundamental employment problems for home countries of corporations, like Apple, Nike and many others, who take it to its extreme. What was good for GM may have been good for the US, but that was another time, when vertical integration was a normative logic of business.

In contemporary globalized capitalism, maximizing profit is often equated with minimizing (domestic) employment. Is it time yet to get over our collective obsession with sanctifying profit?

Matt Vidal is Lecturer in Work and Organisations at King’s College London, Department of Management. You can follow Matt on Twitter @ChukkerV.

Matt Vidal is Senior Lecturer in Work and Organizations at King’s College London, Department of Management. He is editor-in-chief of Work in Progress, a public sociology blog of American Sociological Association, where this article first ran. You can follow Matt on Twitter @ChukkerV.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future