Do happier Chinese workers spell the end of affordable tech gadgets?

Moderated by Lawrence Dignan | February 13, 2012 -- 07:00 GMT (23:00 PST)

Summary: Will international concerns over working conditions in China’s technology industry eventually lead to increased prices of electronics gear?

Jason Perlow

Jason Perlow

Yes

or

No

David Gewirtz

David Gewirtz

Best Argument: No

Closing Statements

Cheap gadgets require human suffering

Jason Perlow

China is the most powerful engine of production for the technology industry, and the blood, sweat and tears of Chinese workers is what fuels that hungry engine, at a tremendous cost to human rights.

Basic human rights reforms in that country aren't going to happen necessarily within five years or perhaps even ten. But it would be naive to say that China can sustain the quid pro quo of having the trappings of a despotic neo-communist nation and all of the worst aspects of modern capitalism indefinitely.

The sad truth is that in order to feed the world’s thirst for the latest and greatest in inexpensive smartphones, tablets, computers and other consumer electronics, a vast number of human beings in China need to suffer.

That is unless the world grows a conscience. But it's possible that international pressure and negative public relations regarding Chinese factory working conditions may force companies into having to take action by themselves, such as by building their own factories and employing their own workers.

And in the case of companies like Motorola, that is already happening. We can expect Apple and others to do the same, and it will translate into higher manufacturing costs that will directly affect consumers.

Opportunity for all

David Gewirtz

Although my primary interest is in helping Americans create and save jobs, it’s important to take a global view of this issue. Everyone, regardless of what country he or she lives in, deserves the opportunity to find good work, support a family, live with dignity, be healthy, and perhaps even save for the future.

Governments of nations like China and India, with almost incomprehensively large populations, have been trying to transform their economies over the last 30 years, realizing that fully participating in the world economy is the only way to keep their people fed (and keep unrest to a minimum). At the same time as these huge nations have joined the world economy, the Internet has collapsed distances between our nations, enabling us to collaborate and manage remote workers with almost the same level of interaction as those within our borders.

This has created a transformative impact on jobs worldwide, and what we're seeing in China is only the tip of the iceberg. The world's economy will change drastically in the coming 80 or 90 years, and it's up to our business and government leaders to make sure that those changes are positive for all.

Gewirtz in a landslide

Lawrence Dignan

No matter where you stand in this debate it's pretty clear who made the better argument. Gewirtz in a landslide. Sorry, Mr. Perlow: You were schooled and pummeled by a series of statistic-laden body blows. 

Talkback

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  • RE: Do happier Chinese workers spell the end of affordable tech gadgets?

    Even if Jason is right companies would simply shift those jobs to even poorer countries as costs in China increase.
    PhillyIT
    Reply Vote I'm for No
    • RE: Do happier Chinese workers spell the end of affordable tech gadgets?

      @PhillyIT I think your right, the market for this assembly will just keep seeking cheaper labor where ever that may be. Its better then raising prices or taking a hit on profits.
      jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376
      Reply Vote I'm for No
    • RE: Do happier Chinese workers spell the end of affordable tech gadgets?

      @PhillyIT The reason Chinese labor is so cheap is because there is such a large population of laborers, with no other options economically, in China. Factory workers can be spun up without affecting the labor market at large. Say you were to dump a million or more jobs into Brazil. The upward pressure on wages would be tremendous. No one but China has an unskilled labor force that is over a billion strong, so no one can absorb a large influx of work like they can without disrupting the labor market.
      SackScratcherton
      Reply Vote I'm for No
      • RE: Do happier Chinese workers spell the end of affordable tech gadgets?

        @SackScratcherton
        On population, India not far behind..

        However, I think for basic assemble jobs, some factory scum will start tapping into Africa - Famine or Factory.

        Take your pick of needy country

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population
        neil.postlethwaite
        Reply Vote I'm for No
      • RE: Do happier Chinese workers spell the end of affordable tech gadgets?

        @SackScratcherton Needy countries = $$$ to tech companies. Africa is next. Think Kenya, any tech company would love to plant a fab there.
        JazzyJeff502
        Reply Vote I'm for No
      • RE: Do happier Chinese workers spell the end of affordable tech gadgets?

        @SackScratcherton -

        To those responders saying "Africa", do some research and see how far back "philanthropic" companies have been helping that country. (Now see how you too are noting Africa is just another "return on investment".)

        "Scum" might be too harsh a word, but what has been going has been contradictory to the concept of "freedom"... and that admittedly isn't nice.
        HypnoToad72
        Reply Vote I'm for No
      • RE: Do happier Chinese workers spell the end of affordable tech gadgets?

        @SackScratcherton Forget about the numbers. It is a cultural thing. Is the population of Brazil Chinese? Of course it isn't. Chinese people are dedicated and diligent because if they weren't it'd bring shame on 10 generations of their families. They've the perfect mindset it takes in order to effectively assemble high tech products. They're all tiger workers. I ought to know, as I've assembled electronics with Chinese workers and have witnessed it firsthand for myself. It is one task they will not allow themselves to fail at.

        Now you know why the nets are there. It is to catch Chinese workers who didn't live up to their own expectations. Not the crap the media has been feeding you. Now if you think everyone is created equal you're obviously not Chinese, and don't understand this issue at all either.
        paulfx1
        Reply Vote I'm for No
    • RE: Do happier Chinese workers spell the end of affordable tech gadgets?

      Absolutely, this has already started to happen in India. The sad part is that some manager will get a huge bonus when they are out of work like we are in the west, and they have somebody new to exploit!
      techietubby
      Reply Vote I'm for Yes
      • RE: Do happier Chinese workers spell the end of affordable tech gadgets?

        @techietubby

        It has happened as India had gone thru a boom as companies outsourced their IT work (programming, remote support, helpdesk, etc) to them. There has been an upsurge in wages and wealth which now makes the Indian workers much more expensive so now the next frontiers could very well be in Africa
        rcm0502
        Reply Vote I'm for Yes
      • RE: Do happier Chinese workers spell the end of affordable tech gadgets?

        @techietubby
        You might be right, but in my mind India is totally different. China is low skill manufacturing, where people remain 'about the same value', it's products not services.
        Conversely, India is service based, where people become more valuable with experience and can go direct to market via LinkedIn, Skype, email and so forth. Highly skilled workers are in demand, and demand/supply spirals will increase wages and costs.
        Back to China, and you'd need several thousand workers to 'realise' they're more valuable, then find several million in capital to start a factory...
        I think China is going to be low... relatively speaking, for some time yet...
        jigglesden
        Reply Vote I'm for No