Wasteland Bait & Tackle / James McMurtry

 

We Can’t Make it Here
(including the iPhone)

 

By James McMurtry

 

Sometimes
my song, “We Can’t Make it Here,” seems a bit naive. It’s still a pretty good
song, and songs don’t have time to be fair and balanced. Songs are mostly about
emotion. So I still sing it. But I read the New York Times a couple of Sundays ago, and I
now understand why we can’t competitively produce iPhones here. It seems that
Steve Jobs was not happy with the easy to scratch plastic screen on his
prototype iphone and demanded that the screen be made of scratch resistant
glass. Making good glass is not a problem in the U.S.,
Corning has
been doing it forever. Cutting glass to specs at a competitive pace is a
different matter. After the meeting at which Jobs expressed his
dissatisfaction, one of his execs booked a flight to China, where he knew there
was a factory that could mobilize three thousand workers on a moments notice,
by which I mean, waking them up in their dorm beds, putting them on the
production line, and training them to cut the glass for the iPhone screen. Corning did get the contract to produce the glass and a Corning plant in Kentucky
was revived. But now, Corning is building plants
in Asia to save on time and shipping costs. It
takes thirty five days to ship glass from Kentucky
to China
– not competitive.

 

The
Times article did a good job of
detailing the intricacies of modern production. Cell phones employ materials
from around the globe. The article mentioned, but did not dwell on, “rare
metals from Africa”. A memory rose from
my mind like a pre-historic fish, long thought to be extinct. I was in a bar in
Austin. The guy
to my right was some kind of computer person, a nice enough fellow, but most of
what he talked about was incomprehensible to me. Yet, he told a story that I at
least partially comprehended. He told me that there is a rare metal in the Congo. This
metal is necessary for the miniaturization of circuitry, without which, there
would be no cell phones of any kind. People dig large chunks of this metal out
of creek banks and carry it out on their heads, at gun point. The people who
harvest this metal are slaves. So are the Chinese workers who can be forced to
wake up at any time of night, paid though they are.

 

We
can’t make iPhones in this country because we don’t want to tolerate slavery
within our own borders. We tolerate it within the borders of other nations
because, without slavery, there would be no cell phones and cell phones have
come to be seen as necessary by every culture in the world. So we outsource our
slavery.

 

People
love to talk about fixing our country. The Tea Party wants to “take our country
back,” from whom, or to what, I’m not sure. Such talk is as naive as my song.
The manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back here as long as, elsewhere, there are
people willing to enslave and masses of people desperate enough to be willing
to be enslaved. Fixing the country would not be enough anymore. We’ll have to
fix the world. It could take a while.

 

 

Singer-songwriter James McMurtry lives in Austin, Texas.
When he’s not touring, you can see him at the Continental Club every Wednesday,
‘round about midnight. Full details at his official website.

 

 

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