To Have a Job or Be in Poverty, That Is the Question


Each time I listen to one of the talks based on Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, I pick up on a different detail. Today, the Bucknell un/real and un/true: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” I picked up on what working conditions are really like at Foxconn compared to the status quo in China. Is it better to have the “miserable” job or be in poverty?

This week my answer is more on the side of Apple. In the play, Professor Zhu of Bucknell University, came in to give his opinion on the matter. One of his more interesting points was that the consequences of demanding an increase in wages would likely result in layoffs or simply firing those demanding them and hiring new workers who do not mind the low wages. Prof. Zhu also pointed out working at the factories offers a way for people to get out of poverty, a chance they likely would not have had otherwise. His conclusion was to blame globalization for the humanitarian issues in China but also to praise globalization for helping the people.

So, which is worse for the workers, poverty or the job? I believe that the poverty is worse because the jobs offer opportunity to help not only the worker but also the entire family of the worker. Many would argue the job is not worth it because of the terrible conditions and the suicides. However, Steve Jobs pointed out that 26 suicides per year out of about 400,000 workers is a lower suicide rate than the rate in the United States. Additionally, many of the workers are around 19 years old which means this is likely their first time being away from home and, I would guess, they do not have much support which would contribute to feelings of depression and suicide. Thus, I discount that argument. In conclusion, although I still do not believe that the working conditions are just, I do believe that the jobs are better than the poverty the people would face otherwise.

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8 thoughts on “To Have a Job or Be in Poverty, That Is the Question”

    1. Also, the number of suicides at Foxconn has seemed to have gone down significantly in recent years as well (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxconn_suicides#2013). As far as no job vs terrible job goes, I find it hard to tell which side I would take as I fortunately have never been in that situation. But just due to the fact that hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers have chosen the latter, I would guess to say that despite their poor working conditions, Foxconn provided the workers with a ‘better’ life than they would have had without a job.

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      1. I think China’s shift from being a primary to secondary sector economy in the matter of decades is crazy to think about. Shenzhen was a fishing village 31 years ago. Fishermen need to get up really early to be out on the water, they’re out there all day doing hard work hauling, and when they dock and sell their product (maybe to a co-op or commercially), there’s no guarantee the market price or demand will be high every day. The same with farmers, they have physically tough work with insane hours, and there’s no guarantee on price or demand on any of their products. Working for a factory may be terrible, but Foxconn shows no sign of shortage of work anytime soon. It’s interesting to contrast and compare normative jobs from China’s economic development in the last few decades…is one “better” than the other?

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  1. Matt- I have to point out that the date of the article that you posted, which is February 17, 2012. Daisey’s segment aired on “This American Life” on January 6,2012, and he “Retraction” piece aired March 16, 2012, so the base pay must have doubled between 2009 and 2012, not 2012 and 2014. I’m not sure what the figures on between 2012 and now. How does this change your opinion, if at all, in regards to the impact Daisey has had on furthering movement towards fairer wages and conditions in such factories?

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    1. Cate- You and Matt have an interesting point as to whether Daisey has had an impact on improving wages and conditions. Recently, it there has been a lot of talk about new robots to manufacture Apple products at Foxconn, which will hopefully help to fix their tainted reputation. (http://www.businessinsider.com/foxconn-will-replace-workers-with-robots-2014-7) These robots have been developed in response to the rising labor costs, thus, if there is a belief that Daisey’s monologue assisted workers in receiving higher wages, could he also be blamed for the robots developed to replace their higher costs?

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  2. I don’t care if the suicide rate is the same or lower per population. They are all in one place, the Foxconn factory, many living there. Even if Foxconn is not directly causing the suicides, why wouldn’t you, or anyone, feel a responsibility to understand why they are all happening and do something to address the problem? Suicide watch groups? Worker training? Counseling?

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  3. Is globalization like a weater front? It just comes along and we all have to cope, an act of god? Or is it something specific and concrete that can be name, analyzed, and changed?

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