I wrote last Friday about the fact that I think the impending proliferation of 3D printers is going to cause the industrial economy to collapse. Since most of the global economy, and the self-worth of a lot of people in industrialized nations, is built on having a job, this transition could be pretty traumatic for a huge number of people. But if we manage to get our crap together and come up with a way to keep having a civilization when there are only enough jobs for a fraction of the population to be employed, there are groups of people who will be unambiguously better off. For example, employees of Foxconn, a company that makes some of the iPhone's components.
On Sunday, employees at Foxconn's Taiyuan plant rioted against the security guards who monitor them. There were about 2000 employees involved. This riot, which was sparked by a failure of the management to deliver on a promised pay raise, was not, apparently, the first one. SourceFed covered it, here's their video:
I thought about trying to figure out whether the iPhone could still be produced and sold anywhere near its current scale, if all the employees involved were paid a working wage. But Apple is notoriously secretive about their products and working conditions, and I wouldn't begin to know where to start.
The way I'd go about it, though, is to figure out how many people are involved, and bump all their wages up to a living wage in their region. Ideally, labor would also be redistributed among a broader number of employees working fewer, less demanding hours, which would increase labor costs a bit more, as well as adding some more cost to overhead.
Shipping would likely stay the same. Any part of the process currently done manually which could be automated would change.
Then, I'd take the amount of extra money it would cost to maintain the current rate of iPhone sales at their current costs, and see how it matches up against the salaries of the highest earners in the company. Here are some of the ways I'd look for places the money could come from:
- (a.) Reducing the pay of the highest paid executives, but not below 300 times the lowest-paid employee, (If the lowest paid employee makes $4/hr, then at a 40-hour workweek the highest-paid employee could make about $250,000/year.)
- (b.) Reducing the pay of highly trained employees such as engineers and graphic designers by the amount they pay in student loan debt, assuming their debt would be forgiven and future American education would be socialized,
- (c.) Requiring cell phone carriers to pay an amount of money to the phone creators proportional to the standards of (a.) being applied to their executives, as well. (It wouldn't be all of it, though -- some of that money should go back into infrastructure, and some of it should go towards cutting the costs of cell phone service.)
I have no idea if those changes would actually allow for the iPhone, or any smart phone, to be produced ethically. It's totally possible we might still be a decade or two away from the technology to produce ethical smartphones. Sometime soon, though, I think I'm going to try to dig up this information -- if not for Apple, then for some other companies with unethical supply chains, and see if I can find what luxuries the less wealthy Americans enjoy that involve poor people suffering only to make the super-rich richer.