iPad killing American jobs?

My iPad is hours away.  Here’s globalization at work.  Designed in America, with components manufactured in Japan, China, and/or Taiwan, plus a few more I’m unaware of (Apple sources many providers for the same components), and assembled in Shenzhen, China – full of content and software written in the United States and Europe – few things embody modern globalization like the iPad.  Mine left that factory in Shenzhen on April 11, then to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Alaska, Tennessee, Dallas, Fort Worth, and now its on a truck heading my way – all in 7 days, including a weekend.

30 years ago a package shipped from the heart of China would take several weeks to arrive in suburban Dallas-Fort Worth – not to mention the fact that we wouldn’t even conceive of wanting a high tech item from the heart of China.   We would only ever think of such items coming from American manufacturers.

Five years ago e-books were a novelty.  I bought a copy of Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt from Amazon e-books several years ago.  As it turns out, a PC is not a great device for “long form” reading.  It’s easy to get distracted because sitting at a keyboard is not a passive activity.  The PC does not “disappear” – a key feature of traditional books according to Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos.  I certainly found this to be true and I never finished reading the book on the PC, though I loved it.  I followed e-ink news as soon as the black & white easy reading display was demonstrated, though the Sony Reader didn’t draw me in.  The day Amazon announced the Kindle I ordered one (overnight) and have used a Kindle almost every day since.  My wife now has one too and we share books (we also have much lighter luggage when we travel to Houston to visit my family every month or so).

I love my Kindle.  It is the reading mode of choice in our home.  We each download tons of samples and share books (both Kindles are on the same account).  I also do occasional reading of my books via the app on the iPhone or PC.  I must admit that in a book store I check to see if the book is available for the Kindle first.  Price is a secondary, though nice, consideration.  I used to only buy Kindle books if they were cheaper than the physical book, but now I would pay the same price.  I do seek physical books for certain types of text, such as diagram heavy books or books where the physical size or shape is an important feature.  For my son, physical books are very important.

Both the manufacture of the iPad (and likely the Kindle) as well as the e-book revolution really get under the skin of Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.: http://bit.ly/hj9uP4 and http://bit.ly/f6Wkck.  Jackson sees American jobs lost in both manufacturing and publishing (at least the physical paper side)  and believes this ruins the American economy.

I’m guessing he’s never read Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat or Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class.  Both of the works lift up the creative and innovation sides of the American economy – areas we continue to excel in compared with the rest of the world.  The time when Americans could sit back and stop learning and stop innovating themselves is over.  It’s harsh to say, but no business and no industry has a right to success or even survival (looking at you, General Motors).  Printing books in mass, as opposed to on-demand, may go the way of medieval scribes or horse buggy manufacturers.  Holding on the industries who were successful in the past holds back the rest of the economy (Joseph Schumpeter’s creative destruction).

And jobs lost to foreign manufacturers?  If the iPad were built in the U.S. it would cost considerably more.  Fewer sold.  Fewer people employed in Cupertino, California or your local Apple Store (or Best Buy, or Wal-mart, etc…).  Price savings on one item allow other items to be bought.  If an iPad cost $300 more, but was made in the U.S. then I would have $300 less money or spend on other items and services.  Buying e-books means more authors get exposure and again, I have more money with which the purchase their books.

This is why I believe in retraining programs and teaching innovating and critical thinking.  The benefits of globalization can be shared if approached logically. Unfortunately, No Child Left Behind actually causes schools to deemphasize these things in favor of rote memorization of facts, but that’s another story.  We need to focus on meeting the labor demands of the market we have rather than trying to shape the market in a less productive direction.

One Response to “iPad killing American jobs?”

  1. Katya Says:

    Agreed. Progress relies on the “letting go” of older technologies and industries in favor of new ones. I’ve never bought into the whole “save our outdated industry” thing. It’s short-sighted and detrimental to the economy in the long run.