Readers of this blog via RSS should know that I have now corrected many typos etc from the last post. I must try to more careful in future!
. “If we work less overtime, it would mean less money,” said Wu, an employee from China’s Hunan province.
Another worker from Hunan, 25-year-old Chen Yamei, said she and others are there to “work and not to play.” She has been an employee at Foxconn for four years, and earns about $634 per month.
“We have just been told that we can only work a maximum of 36 hours a month of overtime,” she said. “I tell you, a lot of us are unhappy with this. We think that 60 hours of overtime a month would be reasonable and that 36 hours would be too little.”
This is the predictable andy deplorable outcome of the monstering of Apple over conditions at the Foxconn plant. This has combined a strong streak of anti-Apple spite amongst a large number of tech commentators who think they can drive traffic up by annoying Apple’s many fans, and a strong streak of anti-capitalism, including a kind of soft anti-capitalism from people who do not condemn market economies as such, but are quick to condemn the way they work in practice to an extent which prevents the real operation of markets, and which would lead us back to state domination of the economy and society if put into practice .
As the result of bad publicity, Apple joined the Fair Labour Association, which audited Foxconn plants in China. Click here to see the FLA report and decide for yourself if it justifies the anti-Apple monitoring. I would say not. The most dramatic finding is that Foxconn is breaking the law in China on working hours which are restricted to 49 hours. The law is not broken because of Foxconn imposed working hours, but because of the demand by employees to do over time. This is hopelessly unrealistic legislation for a high income country, and even more so for a low income country. Low paid workers, which generally means low skill workers, want to to work more than those kind of hours. Increasing basic salaries to counteract that would price such workers out of the market. This kind of legislation leads to institutionalised law breaking. You can be absolutely sure that many Chinese companies ignore that law and treat workers worse than Foxconn. The FLA report certainly suggests, if indirectly, that Foxconn is a one of the more decent employers in China. After the law breaking on hours, the most dramatic FLA criticism is that the company avoided paying 14% (fourteen per cent) of its workers for all overtime worker by only paying for overtime in 30 minute blocks, so that the last 29 minutes worked might not be compensated. Not great, but worth all the outrage in the West? Really?
On the Apple bashing side, the illusion and downright lie has been created that Foxconn is purely an Apple operation. It assembles products for a number of tech companies. The success of Apple and the unusual devotion of many Apple customers to its products, and sense of identity with the company, creates a counter reaction to put it politely. Putting it less politely, a lot to tech journalists, blog commentators, and sometimes anonymous Microsoft employees (yes really, it is well known that Microsoft astroturfs, creates artificial grass roots reactions, against its rivals), lose touch with objectivity to the extent that lies about Apple spread through the web very quickly. Some stupid things are said by Apple fans as well, but nothing as concerted and damaging as false claims that Foxconn is a purely Apple operation, and associated exaggerations about working conditions.
Now it’s reasonable that we should all be concerned with the life conditions of fellow humans all over the world, including working conditions, but there are forms of expressing that concern which harm the supposed beneficiaries of that concern. In the worst case patronising pity, enjoyment of moral superiority, and instinctive anti-capitalism have highly destructive effects. Let’s identify the main misconception.
If people in less wealthy countries have worse salaries and conditions of work than in the wealthy countries, they are being exploited, and something should be done to improve those salaries and conditions.
What is that way of thinking overlooking?
1. Relatively good salaries and working conditions are the consequence of growing wealth, and cannot be achieved except through growing wealth.
2. Following on from the previous point, presuming there is competition between employers, then employee salaries are a reasonable reflection of the productivity of those employees, of the values they are adding while at work.
3. Also following on from the first point, presuming there is competition between employers, working conditions will reflect the trade off workers themselves make between salaries and working conditions. That is workers will accept unpleasant working conditions if that brings down the cost of their labour in a way that will lead to employers hiring them at a salary those workers consider acceptable.
4. There is a limit on what employers can pay employees, and what the conditions of work can be, set by the price that employers can sell products at, and what they have to pay for other inputs. If there is competition between employers then employees will have a salary and have conditions which reflects the maximum that can be charged for products and the minimum that can be paid for other products.
5. Following on from 4, pressure from well meaning lobbies in wealthy countries which push up salaries and/or improve working conditions will lead to less workers being employed by an enterprise.
6. In a low income country, now, like high income countries in the past, many people will be willing to work for very long hours to reach a minimum standard of living, reach the margin beyond pure subsistence which is narrower than in high income countries. That is, people want to work long hours to reach a minimum acceptable standard of living, and the wish to do this is the wish of workers not employers who take pleasure in making workers suffering. Possibly some managers at Foxconn are sadists who want to make workers suffer, but no more so than at any other employer, private or public in the world. Foxconn has workers who work very long hours because those workers prefer it. There is very limited advantage in employers having workers do very long hours of overtime compare with hiring more workers. In fact, the trade off between workers who are less efficient and the costs of hiring more full time workers must often lean in the direction of hiring more workers. However, most employers will feel some need to make existing employees happy and not annoy them too much.
7. When considering salaries and working conditions we must consider the broad alternatives open to workers,and the conditions that they and their parents experienced in recent history. The alternative for industrial workers in urban China has been rural property, the harsh life of peasants. Foxconn is part of the great poverty reduction program created by the liberalisation of the Chinese economy, limited by real, since the late 1970s. Yes the salaries and conditions do not look good by the standards of high income nations, but the important issue is the direction of living standards in China, and what has produced those increasing living standards.
8. Presuming salaries and conditions do improve in a company where they have been at the low end (and it’s not at all clear that Foxconn is in that category within China) what is the overall consequence?. Employees clearly benefit, but who those employees are changes. The workforce becomes ‘gentrified’, that is more highly qualified people from more advantaged groups apply for, and get those jobs. Those jobs are not open for less qualified people, and those who are historically discriminated against in the labour market and in other ways. They may well find that all the remaining jobs for which they are considered have worse salaries and conditions than the ‘exploitative’ enterprise had offered. You cannot legislate all discrimination out of existence by will, an open labour market which does not price disadvantaged workers out, is much more likely to overcome discrimination, by giving everyone a chance to show their worth as employees, though it certainly does not solve all problems.
9. With regard to the point above, there is competition between employers in large cities in China, so salaries and working conditions do reflect a trade off that has been chosen by employees. Of course Foxconn employees would like higher salaries (as the FLA report ‘reveals’), who doesn’t. Of course salaries look terribly low to westerners, but so do all low and middle level salaries in China.
The monitoring of Apple over Foxconn is a long and sordid story. It began with claims that Foxconn employees were committing suicide in epidemic numbers. This was based on ignoring two facts: that Foxconn employs hundreds of thousands of people so that the number of people committing suicide was a lot less dramatic than appeared without mentioning that fact; the fact that the suicide rate was lower than the national average in China, so that story disappeared, at least from the mainstream. Then another wave came, which was partly the consequence of a one man play by Mike Daisey, which was shown to include accusations about Foxconn and Apple based on Daisey’s imagination, not facts. The multiple discrediting and the ‘revelation’ that a lot of Foxconn employees want long hours, may lead some people to think again. I can only hope so.
The new President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Joachim Gauck, quoted the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002), in his inauguration speech of 23rd March. This link leads to a German only text, but GoogleTranslate, and similar services, should make this available to everyone.
This is the vital passage (hat tip to Union of European Federalists via Facebook feed).
Der Philosoph Hans-Georg Gadamer war der Ansicht, nach den Erschütterungen der Geschichte erwarte speziell uns in Europa eine „wahre Schule“ des Miteinanders auf engstem Raum. „Mit dem Anderen leben, als der Andere des Anderen leben.“ Darin sah er die ethische und politische Aufgabe Europas. Dieses Ja zu Europa gilt es nun ebenfalls zu bewahren. Gerade in Krisenzeiten ist die Neigung, sich auf die Ebene des Nationalstaats zu flüchten, besonders ausgeprägt. Das europäische Miteinander ist aber ohne den Lebensatem der Solidarität nicht gestaltbar.
(My rough translation] The philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer was of the view that the shocks of history, there had arisen in Europe a ‘true school’ of being with each other in a limited space. ‘We must live with other as the other of others’. In that he saw the ethical and political concept of Europe. There is also something to beware of in Europe. In times of crisis there is a particularly pronounced tendency to escape into nationalism. The European being with each other is not be conceived without the life breath of solidarity.
Gauck is a priest who lived through the Socialist era in East Germany, and is on the centre-right. I have seen Gadamer quoted by conservative politicians before. Gadamer’s respect for tradition, his preference for a form of Enlightenment that is not negative with reference to what comes before his interest in the continuity, and historically rooted aspect of interpretation (the main focus of his ‘hermeneutical’ philosophy), most notably in his 1960 book, Truth and Method, makes him a suitable reference for the moderate right. The moderate aspect is reinforced by the consensualist aspect of Gadamer’s thought, which emphasises agreement on interpretation of texts, laws and anything else that might be an object of hermeneutics. There is a theological aspect to Gadamer’s thought, which he puts at the origins of Hermeneutic philosophy, through the tradition of Biblical interpretation. The most obvious message from Gauck’s way of referring to Gadamer is social tolerance , including tolerance of difference, and not in the minimal sense of tolerance, but in a stronger sense of integration into a common ethical and political enterprise. Something for both pure ‘multi-cultıuralists’ who emphasise difference between communities and assimilationists who think communities must be fully part of the dominant culture. Presumably Gauck has immigration and the growth of the Muslim population in mind, amongst other things.
If ı go any further I will go beyond the immediate context of the speech. An interesting moment for those concerned both with philosophy and with political life.
In my usual prolix way, I left a very long response to a Facebook post about Turkey. So I think I should post it on my blog. I’m responding to an article from The New Yorker, ‘Letter from Turkey: The Deep State, The Prime Minister is revered as a moderate, but how far will he go to stay in power’ by Dexter Filkins (a real New Yorker name).
This is a good article. The one big gap is that they don’t seem to have picked up on the strength of tensions between Gülentists (followers of Fetullah Gülen, who leads the biggest religious community in Turkey, often known just as The Community)and non-Gülentists in the AKP. Also, they left out the ways in which the old ‘Kemalist’ (republican secularists linked to the Army, directly or in sentiments) establishment itself allied with religious conservatives at times. Essentially the article is what I was saying in conversations and in internet forums a few years ago. That is AKP (the governing party in Turkey) is Turkish nationalist and statist at heart, continued a pre-existing reform process, but has no genuine liberalising vision of its own, and is prepared to use unpleasant means to stay in power, and has used a parodic image of Kemalism to get misguided support from liberal opinion inside Turkey, and beyond.. I might seem to be childishly saying ‘I told you so’ (in relation to liberal-left fans of the AKP in general, and both libertarians and some parts of Marxist/Post-Marxist left opinion, yes really they have common ground ), but the fact is I did. There are a few points I would quibble with in the article, Aydınlık (Enlightenment) magazine could more accurately be described as far left with nationalist leanings, than ultranationalist. Some of the reforms attributed to Erdoğan (e.g. Kurdish language rights) took place under the arch-Kemalist predecessor, Bülent Ecevit. The article hints at, but does not make entirely clear the ambiguity in Turkey about who, and is who not, part of prevailing power. The relation of left-Kemalists to the state in the past is the most obvious example. Underlying the AKP/Gülenist take over of the state has been a division of secular democratic forces between Kemalists and anti-Kemalists, both purveying parodic negative views of each other. I hope we can now start to see a more nuanced debate about the negative and positive sides of Turkish republicanism, and new political groups emerging beyond some of the old divisions.
It’s hard to believe it decades after Civil Rights movement in America and the related legislation that went through Congress, but a white racist vigilante can kill a 17 year old African-American and not even be charged, or detained even briefly, by the police.
An unarmed 17 year old African-American, Travyon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman, a Neighbour Watch leader in a gated community who has been in constant touch with the police for years. Martin was walking home afar buying sweets. A police officer warned Zimmerman not to chase Matin when he phoned to communicate the information that he had seen something suspicious, i.e. a young black man walking through his community. Zimmerman ignored that advice, chased Martin and shot him dead. Not only was Zimmerman armed while Travyon was not, he is a lot bigger and stronger. The police appear to have let him off on the grounds of self-defence while tussling with Travyon. Utterly bizarre. Even in the unlikely event that Travyon was wining the alleged fight, shooting is to say the least a disproportionate reaction. Furthermore the police influenced a witness to revise testimony, failed to carry out basic procedures of testing Zimmerman for drugs and alcohol, and failed to make a medical examination to see if Zimmerman had been hurt in a fight, as he seems to have been claiming. The police also lied at first about Zimmerman’s criminal record, claiming he had none.
The police are now claiming that they cannot arrest Zimmerman because they lack ‘probable cause’. I’m sure that whatever ultra-narrow, and fastidious, definition they are using of ‘probable cause’ would be applied if an African-American shot the 17 year old son of a police officer. (Not everyone gets sarcasm, apparently, so just to be clear that was sarcasm). A police officer has equated the victim with his murderer, by saying that both would wish they had acted differently on the day of the killing.
As one would expect, there is a big reaction to this in America, and appeals are being made to the FBI and to the Federal Attorney General to get involved. So more than 50 years after Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, it may still necessary for federal authorities to intervene in a former Confederate State to obtain justice for an African-American victim of an illegal killing. Despite the outrage, racist killer Zimmerman is still free and the grotesque police officers who have allowed this situation are still employed to ‘protect and serve’.
It’s possible that some facts might emerge to make the killing less heinous than it might seem, but it’s impossible to see how that could leave Zimmerman guilty of anything less than manslaughter. Unless Travyon had a gang of thug friends round the corner ready to punch on him, or Travyon suddenly revealed himself to have superhuman fighting powers. (Sarcasm again).
There is a very little something that anyone can do, sign a relevant petition by clicking here.
Some links about the story
I’ve made the effort to check out what defence there might be of Zimmerman’s action and only a wild contrarian or a grotesque racist would be at all impressed. The only ‘defence’ is that he pulled a gun during a supposed fight with a smaller weaker unarmed man. Maybe Travyan did try to fight back against Zimmerman’s harassment, what defence would that be for Zimmerman?
Just found this in the Spam folder of my university email account.
My name is Younan Matta from Syria, I am a top Government functionary in the present government in Syria, I am in a dire need of a trust worthy individual/Organization who can receive and invest the sum of $7,200,000.00 (Seven Million Two Hundred Thousand US Dollars) on my behalf, the need for this is as a result of the ongoing crisis in my country, Syria and I’m planing to relocate with my family.
For your help and trustworthiness I will compensate you with 30% of the total sum and a stake in whatever business that will be setup by you with this fund in future.
If you are interested and can assure me of your honesty and capability of handling this project, Please get back to me on the following email:firstname.lastname@example.org for more details, otherwise kindly delete this message and please don’t disclose the content to a third party to avoid putting my life in more dangers.
The struggle of Syrian people for liberty and democracy is a great movement, sadly darkened by the cruelty of the Assad regime and its sadistic thugs. This email may provide light relief, if that doe snot sound offensive. It does show how corruption breeds corruption. The corruption inherent in a regime like that of Assad, which can only stay in power through creating a community of state employees and hangers on united by complicity in corruption and violence. That corruption provides opportunities for fraud by crooks trying to lure the gullible and morally weak, with the promise of a share in the gains of corruption. Just another little reason for wishing for the end of tyranny in Syria, and everywhere else in the world.
I just came across this piece by Terence M. McCoy in The Atlantic Magazine, ‘How Joseph Stalin Invented American Exceptionalism’. I’ve posted a comment there, and this is an expanded version of that.
McCoy points out that Tocqueville did not refer to American Exceptionalism as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, both competing for the Republican Presidential nomination on firmly conservative platforms (what Mitt Romney would call ‘severe conservatism’ though oddly he applied that epithet, to his time as Governor of Massachusetts). McCoy goes on to claim that the phrase originates in communications between Stalin and American Communists, disappointed by the evident failure of the American working class to embrace Communist revolution. I am not able to judge that claim, but for the moment I’ll take it as true. Anyway, I’m more concerned with Tocqueville. Some of the comments posted criticised McCoy’s claim on the basis that a direct reference to the exceptional status of America can be found in Democracy in America. I tracked down that section online. Of course I have print copies in French and English, or course, but like most people I find quick checks like this easier online, or through the search function on a pdf, rather than thumbing through print copies and that thing at the back called an ‘index’.
The passage referred to is from the second volume, book II, ‘The Example of the Americans does not Prove that a Democratic People can have no Aptitude and No Taste for Science, Literature or Art‘. Tocqueville does there certainly refer to America as an exception, but not in favourable terms. Tocqueville is referring to the lack of science and interest in science, in America at that time, or so he thinks. I’m not qualified to judge his claim. The chapter as a whole is arguing that this lack of science in America does not show that democracies must lack interest in science. So Tocqueville does not here refer to ‘American Exceptionalism’ in the triumphalist sense attributed to him by some conservative Republicans, and McCoy is right to point that out. In general, despite what Gingrich et al think, Democracy in America is not a hymn to the greatness of America or its exceptional destiny. Tocqueville looks at America to argue that the world is moving towards democracy and that America shows the future, containing warnings about its dangers as well as benefits. He refers critically to to racism and slavery for example, and of course lack of original scientific theory .
It might surprise some people to find the the criticises ‘individualism’ in America, though meaning more what we might mean by egotism rather than individualism. It should also be understood that Tocqueville was very pro-Catholic (though not believing in the truth of Christianity, except possibly on his death bed) and regarded Protestantism as distinctly inferior, and Protestantism was very dominant in America at that time. In general, those who understand anything about French intellectuals and aristocrats of that time (and even now) would not expect them to elevate America above their own country, and Tocqueville fits into that pattern. He certainly did not think that America was the heroic exception, or a model to be followed. Odd that American ‘Exceptionalists’ clearly do believe that the rest of the world should imitate America.
In general, Tocqueville was too great and too complex a thinker to be dragged into partisan party rhetoric or the pamphleteering of attack politicians who like to think of themselves as philosopher princes. Tocqueville’s admirers, and political thinkers influenced by Tocqueville, cover a very wide range or views. There’s certainly an element of aggressive French national pride about him, but also of localism and respect for different within nations. He argued for the role of property and commercial life in prosperity and liberty, but also for a social minimum and a pragmatic approach to political life which goes against some of the absolutist conservatism or libertarianism which sometimes seeks comfort in him. As far as I can imagine him in contemporary politics, I see him as overall a moderate libertarian in social and economic issues, with a tendency to shift unpredictably between social democratic, conservative and libertarian policies according to issues and circumstances . In the fields of national identity and international relations, I see him combining a belief in French grandeur with the grandeur of the European project, and with advocacy of friendship between all democratic peoples expressed through international institutions of a kind in harmony with national pride. I’m very sure he would not be an advocate of America the unique power, or of its imperial destiny soaring above weak willed Europe; and that he would have hated and despised that strong element of American conservative national chauvinism, which make a virtue of France bashing.
Priest is a well known philosopher (originally from south London, so clearly a geezer) who combines logical philosophy, history of philosophy, ‘Continental’ tradition in philosophy, and Asian philosophy. A very good discussion.
Open access (that is can be downloaded for no charge) online journal. A bit out of my field, but I did profit from reading very clear articles by Joseph Heath, ‘Three Normative Models of the Welfare State’ and Julian Le Grand ‘Quasi-Market versus State Provision of Public Services: Some Ethical Considerations’. Le Grand has acted as an adviser to at least on British government. Very useful pieces on issues round individual choice, market efficient, universal provision, and general welfare.
A sad but intriguing encounter between a philosopher from Ghana and the German academic world, engaging with Amo’s arguments and bringing them into his troubling interaction.
Perry Anderson is quoted mocking the complacent of Habermas’s Europeanism at 3 Quarks Daily, in ‘After the Event’. A link is provided to Anderson’s complete article at New Left Review, available to subscribers only, so I won’t bother.
Anderson, a well know pillar of left intellectual life over some decades now, points out that Habermas first condemned the Lisbon Constitution (now Treaty)lof the European Union as undemocratic, and now upholds the Treaty as a a democratic fortress to be defended. Unlike Anderson, I’m not a Marxist, and like Habermas I support European federalism, but Andeson has a good point about Habermas, and the general tendency of ‘Euopeanists’ to get sucked into defending the EU as it has been established, and cannot deal with referring to structural problems, and radical solutions (apart from more centralisation) to those problems.
Back to the controversy about the Koch brothers doing a take over of Cato, the Washington libertarian institute. As I’ve mentioned before, one reaction of left wing people who disagree with free market economics, and small sized state, is to celebrate the likely weakening of Cato’s credibility if two of its financial backers (though not much recently) and founders, turn Cato into an instrument of their political and campaigning interests.
I’ve just seen an item in the The Staggers, the blog section of the online edition of the New Statesmen (the most influential left wing weekly in Britain), ‘The shadowy world of Egypt’s NGOs’, by Jenny O’Connor. O’Connor points out that governmental persecution of foreign NGOs is partly explained (though certainly not justified) by the close links between some NGOs foreign governments. In particular political foundations linked with political parties in Germany and the US, which get most of their funding from government. However, well meaning these organisations are, the source of their funding and political links creates an awkward situation. O’Connor makes the surprising but well chosen move of linking with an item in the Cato website ‘Loose Cannon: The National Endowment for Democracy’ by Barbara Conry. As Conry points out, the National Endowment for Democracy is funded by federal taxes and is controlled by the two main political parties in America together with the AFL-CIO union confederation. NED has frequently intervened in the political process of democratic countries through funding of local movements. Examples in Latin America are mentioned, the sorry story of US government support for violent right authoritarian governments in that region is well known. More surprising, to me anyway, was the discovery that NED was fighting to ‘preserve’ democracy in France when the Socialist President, Francois Mitterand came to power and put a few Communist ministers in his government. An act that helped kill of the French Communist Party, making NED interference irrelevant and hilarious as well as obnoxious and immoral.
So left wingers with a big hate for Cato, the death of Cato would be the death of an organisation which exposes and criticises American support for right wing movements abroad. Along which I would mention Cato’s opposition to: the War on Drugs, immigration control, high military spending, ‘national security’ violations of civil rights, tax funded bail outs of Big Finance. Of course its economic views are not agreeable to the left, but Cato does frequently include left speakers in its public events. Surely thoughtful left wingers would wish to share that openness to dialogue.