Discussing
Jobs, Steve Jobs and the State of the Union

Jordan J. Ballor

C.E. Moore
January 25, 2012

First things first, EXCELLENTLY written piece. I'd comes across the article about the conversation between Jobs and Obama and that was EXACTLY what I thought about as Obama espoused his ideas about protectionism and exceptionalism in the same breath. I think another thing that underlies this rhetoric is a feeling of fear. America has always considered itself #1 in the world, especially the global economy. The idea of not holding prime position in the economic competition doesn't sit well. It is a very 'Ricky Bobby' approach to economics: "If you're not first, you're last." Not being #1 creates an issue of identity for the country that has only known choice positioning and thus preferential bargaining power. That is now eroding as other countries outpace us in certain sectors--software, hardware, automobiles, textiles, etc.--and I wonder if America can enjoy a 4th or 5th place finish as much as a first. I do not imagine America will become a third world country if we are not #1 in economic input and output, but this seems to be the underlying message of much of what we're hearing. That being said, I DO believe America has some of the hardest workers in the world. But, I think it is arrogant to assume that a person working 12-hour days in China is somehow not as hard of a worker--especially when their products continue to make it cheaper and easier for Americans to live. C.E'Jon Moore The Christian Manifesto www.TheChristianManifesto.com

Wmrharris
January 25, 2012

So exactly what is the nature of this supposed manufacturing advantage in China? The New York Times provides us with the details:

<blockquote>A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.</blockquote>

<blockquote>“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.” </blockquote>

Any authentic response, that is one that extends beyond the pieties of free enterprise of a certain austrian bent, must confront these questions.

Now, Ballor is right that these changes are structural. That is abundantly detailed in the recent issue of <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/01/making-it-in-america/8844/">The Atlantic</a> and Adam Davidson's article "Making it in America."

Finally, the notion that corporate obligation only extends to the shareholders simply closes the eyes to the social reality that is everywhere testified to. A corporate prosperity that ignores its community is at best a rent-seeking from the social investment of others, at worst it's little more than a sort of strip-mining of intellectual property.

Billwald
January 25, 2012

The employees in Chinese sweat shops work harder than Americans. The Republican solution seems to be to reduce American workers to sweat shop conditions and then the world will be "fair."

American workers pay taxes so that American Capitalists can move factories to China and deduct the costs of the move. The only solution is an import duty on consumer goods and sub assemblies.

Jordan Ballor
January 26, 2012

@wmrharris

You are right about some of the advantages. But I do think we need to be careful about importing, in a kind of neo-colonialist fashion, our expectations about work into the context of developing countries. You needn't be "of a certain austrian bent" to see that many Chinese people would rather work in a factory like those Apple uses than continue working as subsistence farmers, or worse.

The perfect ideal of middle-class blue collar workers in America can be something that the rest of the world aspires to (although I think the president's ruminations on the American dream/promise are rather fanciful and limiting), but you don't get there overnight or by legislative fiat. This is precisely the point that Nick Kristof has made over and over again vis-a-vis sweatshops: people are faced with concrete choices, and manufacturing in the developing world in many ways broadens the range of actual options. The "perfect" shouldn't be the enemy of the good, or even relatively better.

For more on working toward an "authentic response," (other than say, import duties) I urge you to follow-up here:

http://blog.acton.org/archives/28488-i-iphone.html

And when did I say "corporate obligation extends only to shareholders"? Or are you reading everything through a lens of "a certain austrian bent"?

James Gilmore
January 26, 2012

Yes, this.

<i>Finally, the notion that corporate obligation only extends to the shareholders simply closes the eyes to the social reality that is everywhere testified to. </i>

When did we do away with the idea of "stakeholders"—the concept that a business is responsible not just to those who hold its capital, but to those who work for it, the nation and community as a whole, and the environment?

When did we accept as "normal" the idea that a business's only responsibility is to increase the value of the capital held by the capitalists who own it?

When did we get it into our heads that if a company's value would increase by its screwing its workers, abandoning its community, or betraying its nation, it was the fault of the victim for failing to conform to the needs of the capitalists—and not the victimizer for making "shareholder value" the overwhelming interest?

In short—when did we accept business as an amoral enterprise?

There is absolutely nothing in that view that is in any way compatible with the basic Christian teaching that Christ is sovereign over all the world, and that loving one's neighbor as oneself is a moral law that is binding on every human endeavor.

Love of oneself over all other things—and, by extension, love of the wealth of shareholders (those who, in a capitalist system, "are" the business) over all things—is not an ideology of Christ. Love of self over all things is an ideology of the Enemy.

Thus, it is the duty of all Christians who truly believe that Christ is sovereign over all enterprises to denounce this ideology—that a business exists solely to enrich the holders of its capital—for the Satanic lie that it is.

It is the duty of all Christians to make it clear that business, like any other human endeavor, <i>is</i> subject to the moral law that one love one's neighbor as oneself, and that a business is morally obligated to be just as concerned (if not more so) about the well-being of its neighbors—its workers, the community, the nation, the world—as it is about increasing the value of its capital.

Jason Summers
January 26, 2012

Yes, Jordan, you're right to suggest that some of the critique of globalization from the Left is essentially a form of neocolonialism that patronizes foreign workers. But, at the same time, I suggest that Christians operating out of a character/virtue ethic should be particularly concerned with the details of those processes through which globalization is carried out. We should not allow our moral reasoning about globalization to be reduced to what are essentially utilitarian and consequentialist rationalizations of its more unsavory aspects, by basing our arguments solely in considerations of what will best serve foreign workers in the end. Indeed, we should not make the "perfect" the enemy of the good, but in order to do so, we must have a robustly Christian vision of what constitutes the good. And that understanding of the good must place great significance on respecting the unique dignity of all people and ensuring that those processes in which we ourselves engage and those in which we ask others to engage do not do violence to the image of God we all share. That cannot be reduced solely to ensuring that others have autonomous choice. Choice is rarely fully free, information needed to make truly autonomous decisions is rarely shared by all, and---most importantly---consent is in no way the sole basis for moral obligation. It is a complex moral calculus to be sure, but we insult ourselves and our status as image bearers if we imagine we can only manage it if we simplify it to a single variable: economic gain.

js

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