Outsource Manufacturing, Import Engineers
Perversely, the small number of jobs—mostly clustered in Silicon Valley—created by tech companies has helped its moguls avoid public scrutiny. Google employs 50,000, Facebook 4,600, and Twitter less than 1,000 domestic workers. In contrast, GM employs 200,000, Ford 164,000, and Exxon over 100,000. Put another way, Google, with a market cap of $215 billion, is about five times larger than GM yet has just one fourth as many workers.
This is an equation that defines inequality: more and more wealth concentrated in fewer hands and benefiting fewer workers.
While Facebook and Twitter have little role in the material economy, Apple, which continues to collect the bulk of its profit from physical goods—computers, iPads, iPhones and so on—has outsourced nearly all of its manufacturing to foreign companies like Foxconn that employ workers, often in appalling conditions, in China and elsewhere. About 700,000 people work on Apple’s physical products for subcontractors, according to the New York Times, but almost none of them are in the U.S. “The jobs aren’t coming back,” Jobs bluntly told President Obama at a 2011 dinner in Silicon Valley.
It is really interesting to think about all those extra manufacturing jobs in the US. US workers are more efficient than Chinese workers, so it would take fewer people to do the same work, probably 250,000 or less, but that is a big chunk of the labor market. There are lots of reasons why companies off-shored manufacturing, but it really does seem like the benefits of this practice have accrued to a very few, while the costs have been shared broadly.
The argument has been made that the net prosperity gain of the Chinese and other emerging economies outweighs the net loss to American workers, but I do notice this argument is never made by unemployed ironworkers from the Rust Belt. Besides, I thought modern economics isn't zero-sum.