This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
Four decades ago Richard Nixon, a once famously hawkish Republican president, cut a deal with the Communist overlords of China to reshape the world. The result was a transformation of the global economy in ways that we are only now, with the sharp critiques of Apple’s China operation, beginning to fully comprehend.
At the heart of the deal was a rejection of the basic moral claim of both egalitarian socialism and free market capitalism, the rival ideologies of the Cold War, to empower the individual as the center of decision-making. Instead, the fate of the citizen would come to be determined by an alliance between huge multinational corporations and government elites with scant reference to the needs of ordinary working folk.
It was understood by both parties to this grand concord that monopoly capitalism could be constructed in China to be consistent with the continuance in power of a Communist hierarchy, just as in the West capitalism was consistent with the enrichment of an ostensibly democratic ruling class. Sharp income inequality, the bane of genuine reform movements bearing the names populist, socialist and democratic, came to be the defining mark of the new international order.
The current controversy over Apple’s treatment of its 700,000 foreign workers, mostly in China, is a manifestation of that cross-ideological betrayal. The ironies are manifest. Not the least of which is that businessmen from Taiwan, the bastion of anti-Communist Chinese during the Cold War and still the pretend reason for a U.S. military presence in the region, are the essential organizers of mainland China’s workforce. But in the pursuit of profit, and at a time when the startling success of China’s hybrid communist-capitalist model keeps the U.S. Treasury afloat, few questions are asked.
Indeed, the pressure is now on to better emulate that model within the United States, to keep still more jobs from being shipped abroad. The human rights concerns of the U.S. have by now been opportunistically tailored to exclude any serious concern about the rights of workers to organize unions to make their job conditions more humane. China’s labor practices are now to be admired rather than scorned, lest the American economy decline further in the new world order.
As the New York Times pointed out last month in its devastating overview of Apple’s shift from its once proud claim of making its products in the USA to near total dependence on China: “It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, 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.”