The Robber Baron Revival

“Apple has become one of the best-known, most admired and most imitated companies on earth, in part through an unrelenting mastery of global operations. Last year, it earned over $400,000 in profit per employee…”

There was a New York Times article today about Apple and its outsourcing overseas–you may have seen it the article.  But there were some issues the article tripped past just a wee bit too lightly.

Per the article, Apple employs 763,000 workers, of whom 43,000 are U.S. employees, giving a total of only 5% U.S. employees.

“Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that ‘Made in the U.S.A.’  is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.”

If this is true, I can see why a business would prefer to set up operations overseas. If you owned a business, wouldn’t you? Unless there were some sort of advantages to being an American business…Like benefits America bestows on corporations or to their employees…hmmm… Any tax breaks given to American businesses which are not given to those of other countries? How about access to the American market for its goods and services, free of import tariffs?

It’s too bad our government is currently allowing equal access to our American market to both American companies and to foreign companies such as Apple.  What, Apple?  You say you’re ARE an American company?  What makes you one?  Your employees are foreigners.  Your operations are performed overseas.  How are you different from a foreign company?  Oh–that’s right:  You are getting American company breaks.]

Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option.”

Their only option? Really? Their collective backs are against the wall? Does this mean their company is about to fail and their shareholders are at their throats? I mean, I’m just thinking of that $400,000 profit per employee, now. And the fact that they’re reaping the tax benefits of being an American corporation although they are not one, and have been reaping these for quite some time. And that their top level employees—their actual, rather than virtual American employees—have been enjoying the American lifestyle at the top of the food chain over here.  I’m just not so clear on what Apple means by “their only option”.

Couldn’t some of that $400,000 per employee have been shaved off to go into apprenticeships to talented highschool and college students here? In America? Or even untalented ones who tested well for the vocational/industrial aptitude skills needed to run efficient Apple factories here?

Could it be that this is your “only option” if your company’s only motivation is profit untempered by morals, and you have no scruples about eating the hand that is allowing you to feed upon it?

“One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves.  Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul.


New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight. (A foreperson) …immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories…each…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.” 

Said an Apple executive:  “The speed and flexibility is breathtaking…There’s no American plant that can match that.”

So, let me get this really clear:
Apple has taken its firm back to the days of the great robber-baron industrialists, with company dormitories, and the 12-hour workday—and Apple is proud of it. Boasting about it:  How they can depend upon being able to roust their human machines from their Company beds in the middle of the night and prime these pumps for a 12-hour run with just hot tea and a cracker. How is a real human being to respond?  Let me try: 

None of the top-echelon Apple employees would consider this to be appropriate treatment for an adult child of their own, or anyone else they cared about.  The fact that they consider it perfectly acceptable treatment for brown-skinned foreigners whom they never intend to see is dashed disturbing.   (Oh, but it’s perfectly all right, because a higher standard of living is brought to those they serve–perhaps like the British served the Indians?)

Think I’ll Eat About 99% of This.”


At the end of the NYT article was this:

“Companies once felt an obligation to support American workers, even when it wasn’t the best financial choice,” said Betsey Stevenson, the chief economist at the Labor Department until last September. “That’s disappeared.  Profits and efficiency have trumped generosity.”

WHOAA!!!  This is the department that is supposed to be helping American workers??!!  Betsey’s viewpoint comes through as skewed toward the business end.  She refers to Company dormitories, and tea and cracker fuel, as “efficiency”.   She considers normal humane treatment of employees to be “generosity”.  I’m sure she’s a very lovely person, but she has been working with the barons too long.  Probably without her being aware of it, their perspective has polluted her thinking.

Apparently, google and Wikipedia also need re-education.  The Wikipedia entry for “robber baron” is entitled “robber baron (industrialist)”.  And if you enter “robber barons” into google’s search box, google asks you if want “robber barons or captains of industry”.

Which Is It?

We should be far past the days when we had cause to consider all these terms equivalent.

2014-03–Deleted an entire paragraph. Post was too nerdy wordy.
2014-02–Replaced an illustration that had been removed from the web.

Leave a comment


  1. Gee, Babe, no one ELSE likes this post, so YOU may as well 🙂 .


  2. Paul

     /  2014/09/15

    I like you OB! i didn’t see this post or was not following at the time (more likely). FP does some weird things sometimes. I have been a subscriber of OM for months and suddenly his blog disappeared from my e-mail. A week later they began again. I thought he was taking a rest, but there were a lot of posts inbetween that I didn;t get. What’s that all about? That may have happened to you too, you see?

    Meanwhile I think your post is awesome. It is right bang on. It illustrates a whole lot of problems with capitalism. Don’t get me wrong, I think capitalism with democracy is one of the best and most efficient and free economic systems in the world. That being said, it will eventually transfer all the capital to a few and the rest will be left penniless. that’s the end result. However, that can be stopped by saying that capitalism needs to be controlled and used for the greater good. For instance it could be a law that everycompany has to engage in profit sharing with all employees. make it so that the shareholders and execs get more for better performance but so does every employee. That spreads the capital around and stimulates the economy.

    Also the wages of the top few are way out of control. One Scandanavian country is pondering a law that says that no employee can make more than 20 times the wages of the poorest paid employee. that ratio of top to bottom has gotten completely out of control. They are reducing wage earners’ income while increasing the execs’.(Capitalism at work) This still allows for high wages at the top if they raise employee wages as well.

    i saw a TV debate once with execs and politicians and analysts and they were discussing this very topic. The senator (woman) got up and very adamantly said: “We have to decide if we are acountry or a marketplace!” I thought to myself “Lady, that decision wa made a long time ago – you (America) is a marketplace. Just ask any citizen which she/he thinks about more on a day to day basis – their country or the price of goods – and the answer wil always come back as the price of goods.”

    no one ever sees that when they shop for cheap (moneywise) imported goods, they are also importing the poverty of overseas to their country as well. Everytime you are making a purchase based on price, you are voting with your dollars to move jobs out of America. Try convincing the citizens that – they cannot and will not see the big picture. With corporations now enjoying entity status, this accelerates the process. how can we criticize them when they are exhibiting the exact behaviour as the citizens?

    the issue is, that can’t be changed by laws anymore because of the WTO. basically they control the rules of trading between nations. If America puts up big custom barriers on imports, then those countries have the legal right according to WTO to do the same to any Ameican goods that are being imported into their countries. American exports generated in 2008 $1.7 trillion dollars and 10 million jobs Don’t care to lose those? I thoughtnot. Well, the answer is for Americans to pay the higher prices for locally made products by choice and then do with less. That is completely legal.and so anti capitalism that it will never happen without huge changes in attitude.

    basically we are burning the candle at both ends -we want the higher quality of life provided by lower prices and we want, at the same time, Americans all enployed making goods for Americans. Won’t work because capitalism stands in the way – we are being impoverished by rampant capitalism – rather paradoxical isn’t it? did you know that the top 85 most wealthy in this world hold as much financial assets as the bottom – get this -3.5 billion poorest. How’s that for rampant capitalism?
    Anyway, OB, this is a pet peeve of mine and I could go on for ages about it. There’s plenty more to say but it has been said before many times by many people way smarter than me – to no avail. To give few examples – Socrates said the same thing would result in gov’t breakdown and dictator ship when toomuch of the wealth had transfered to too few. the founders of America said the same thing as well in the Declaration of Independence (they saw this coming even back then – smart people):”That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.” ( ) “these ends” being pursuit of freedom, equality, etc – you know the list.. So, by their wording, they say it is not only allowed but also our responsibilty to trash the system and make it more fair when it fails to treat people fairly. which it is starting to do That’s a lot of blood, but even though it may take generations for it to become that bad, and we have the means to fix it before it does – we do not yet have the will to fix it.

    Anyway, i have to shut up now. Sorry. Thanks for the opportunity to comment (or write a blog within a blog ) ;D Excellent post – right on OB!


    • “…been said before by people way smarter than me.”

      Not smarter, nor more articulate, Paul, and never as able to sustain as much author passion and reader interest for as long.

      Thank you. For your kindness, and for the care you took with your response. I enjoyed thinking as I read. (The ideas for turning capitalism into a more distributive form of the beast made me laugh, think of my other post on the Brandeis tax method, which had its own approach.)


    • Shoot–typing big-fingered on wee phone–hit Post before finished. Don’t even know if link was formatted okay. Wanted to add:
      1) You are right that WP glitches are very odd: It asked me to approve your comment. I don’t have WP parameters set to require that I approve anyone’s comments. Guess it just doesn’t like you today, Paul!

      2) I added my Like of my own post only last night–how on earth…? The coincidence of you, moments later, stumbling upon it, is too much. Is there something on WP of which I’m unaware which flags recent activity to others?


      • Paul

         /  2014/09/15

        Thank you very much for your compliments OB. I have given a lot of thought to this topic both personally and in grad school – much to the dismay of my profs. Ha! We had common chat site in school called “The Watercooler”, and at the end, they gave me an award that they had made up just for me – “The Shark in the Watercooler” Ha! It was embarrassing.

        Your insights OB into the big picture, are without a doubt amongst the most focused and real that I have ever heard. You’re a natural “Babe”. I love it. And I deeply enjoy thinking and commenting on your posts. Thank You.

        About WP – it is indeed weird. i ahve to autrize comments from any given post and I didn’t even know thisone was there. let alone commented or authorized. Tour comment came into my e-mail and I happened to be on line. I always check comments from your site as soon as i see them. And lo and behold there was the little comment that could.

        I was signed into wordpress at the time and it usually just takes my comments and posts them without any question. This time it didn’t. It refused to let me post until I signed in specifically for that comment. It’s never done that before.

        Anyway, many odd things about this post wrt FP.

        Excellent post OB! thank you very much.


  3. Gobsmacked. Heartsick. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shoot. Now I’ve dragged you right down again after the lift from the other post.
      Quick: Go read Joshua Dog if you never have. That’s a spirit-lifter.

      Liked by 1 person


Best comment wins prize! (sorry, i tell naughty lie...)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: