by Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
Published in Church and Life (1842) 18.10.2012 – 6.11.2012 No 16 pg 2
It is almost Monty Pythonesque that every year we are treated to the quite extraordinary footage on television news programmes of the release of a new piece of Apple Computer hardware; be it the iPhone, iPod or iPad. Churches may be emptying, but the young and the not so young, are hailing a new ‘saviour’ – Apple Inc. What raises eyebrows, is the level of hysteria and devotion that surrounds a piece of metal and plastic. The desire for customers to purchase new models of Apple Inc products, and in the process of so-doing discarding last year’s fully-functioning model, is in itself a study in resource wastage as well as an insight into modern mans’ lust for economic growth.
We see lines of consumers, hundreds of metres long, outside Apple Inc. stores, people queuing in the cold, so as to purchase iPhone (4) and iPad (2); and no sooner has one purchased this model, than the eyes are once more on the internet looking for the release date for the next model, with all its added extras; that could have been quite easily incorporated in this release, but were held off strategically for the next. Even those who believe they are immune to such nonsense, go to the workplace and fawn over someone displaying the latest iPhone. Like simple moths we have been caught up in the garish light – of marketing. Apple Inc., is our new viaticum; “Don’t let me leave this world Lord before the release of the new iPad; place this cherished item in my folded arms.”
Great computer producers as they are; what else can be said about Apple Inc.? Well in their February, 2010 Annual Report, Apple Inc., admitted that in China where the iPads and iPhones are predominately made, children are working in sweat shop conditions, and over half their overseas workers, work more than 60 hours a week. Moreover: “Only 65% of factories were paying the wages and benefits due to workers, and 24 factories in China violated minimum wage laws. One factory even fabricated documentation to hide their underage workers and workers’ rights violations from Apple. Apple has now stopped using that factory.” (Kloer, March 1, 2010, “Apple Admits Child Labor & Sweatshops Used to Build iPhones”). An article for London’s Daily Mail also highlighted that: “Factories making sought-after Apple iPads and iPhones in China are forcing staff to sign pledges not to commit suicide, an investigation has revealed. At least 14 workers at Foxconn factories in China have killed themselves in the last 16 months as a result of horrendous working conditions. Many more are believed to have either survived attempts or been stopped before trying at the Apple supplier’s plants in Chengdu or Shenzen.” (Daily Mail, 1st of May, 2011). So as people on one side of the world exercise their ‘right’ to conspicuous consumption – people on the other side, are literally dying to satisfy this want.
Ranked by the London Times newspaper as one of the most influential books of the post World War II twentieth century, is Dr. E.F. Schumacher’s collection of essays, Small is Beautiful (1973). The basic premise of Schumacher’s work is that when economists and businessmen become callously pre-occupied, with output, consumption, economic growth, and technology, what is tragically forgotten is the importance of the environment, the quality of living, sustainable development, a sense of human community, and the dignity of human labour. In the opening chapter, Schumacher explicitly states: “we must thoroughly understand the problem and begin to see the possibility of evolving a new life-style, with new methods of production and new patterns of consumption: a life-style designed for permanence … We still have to learn how to live peacefully, not only with our fellow men but also with nature and, above all, with those Higher Powers which have made nature and have made us; for, assuredly, we have not come about by accident and certainly have not made ourselves.” (Schumacher, 1973, pp. 16 – 17).
One principle area of modern economics that Schumacher sought to expose was the un-checked gluttonous quest for materialism. In a world increasingly devoid of God – wealth and acquisition have become Gods; leading to environmental and also moral degradation. One cannot dismiss Schumacher as some bleary-eyed idealist out of touch with reality. Schumacher’s economic ideals were framed working beside such formidable economic minds as John Maynard Keynes and John Kenneth Galbraith. Quite possibly, you may not like what Schumacher says, you may not wish to hear it – but he certainly is more than qualified to say at least something about the shape of modern economics.
What is most interesting about Schumacher’s work is his connection of spirituality with economics. To Schumacher the study of the allocation of material resources does not preclude the spiritual – for within the conflagration of matter, production and consumption – is the most integral, daresay resource of all – man. In a work written by an eminent economist we read Schumacher debating of what the new economy should look like, and what should become some of the pivotal tenets. Schumacher writes: “Over the last hundred years no-one has spoken more insistently and warningly on this subject than have the Roman pontiffs. What becomes of man if the process of production ‘takes away from work any hint of humanity, making of it a merely mechanical activity’? The worker himself is turned into a perversion of a free being. ‘And so bodily labour (said Pius XI) which even after original sin was decreed by Providence for the good of man’s body and soul, is in many instances changed into an instrument of perversion; for from the factory dead matter goes out improved, whereas men there are corrupted and degraded.’” (Schumacher, 1973, p. 29).
The demands placed, in the case of Apple Inc., on Chinese workers, are certainly not those demanded of Apple Inc. workers in Silicon Valley in the United States. Apple Inc., knows this all too well, that is why they have outsourced their operations to China. Human lives, even in this globalized world, aren’t worth the same. Half a dozen people killed in the United States, equate to being more than a few thousand in China – because the average standard of living in the United States is higher than the average in China; and thus an American life is worth more. With such a degree of tunnel vision, it is no wonder that we in the West, dump upon the developing nations the production of items that are so far beyond the material reach of those who are making them for us. As long as at the end of the day, after we have queued for hours we receive our new phone, who cares? These people should be grateful for the pittance they receive. If they worked as hard as we do – then they would be in our position. Nonsense! As Schumacher so rightly concluded, so long ago: “In the excitement over the unfolding of his scientific and technical powers, modern man has built a system of production that ravishes nature and a type of society that mutilates man.” (Schumacher, 1973, p. 246)