Chrystia Freeland

China’s ‘Apple authoritarianism’

Chrystia Freeland
Feb 24, 2012 02:15 UTC

Are we outsourcing repression to China? That is the fear driving stepped-up scrutiny of labor conditions at Foxconn, the consumer electronics maker that assembles products for a number of Western technology companies, most prominently Apple.

As one blogger put it before watching the latest high-profile investigation, aired this week on the ABC news program Nightline: ‘‘I had been worried that after I watched the report, I’d feel angst-ridden and guilty about using my iPad, iPhone, or MacBook Pro.’’ An independent assessor working with the Fair Labor Association, a non-profit group that Apple has hired to audit conditions at the plants, said the California company was facing its ‘‘Nike moment,’’ a reference to the 1990s, when the sporting goods maker was accused of using Asian sweatshops to manufacture its iconic sneakers.

The conditions at Foxconn are indeed grim: 12-hour shifts doing boring, repetitive work; dorms that pack seven workers into each room; commands issued by a disembodied fembot. And the ABC cameras and FLA auditors surely didn’t see the worst of it: Foxconn first came to international attention in the spring of 2010, when 18 workers killed themselves, or tried to.

But the Nightline report included an implicit justification — the 3,000 workers lined up at Foxconn’s gates before dawn in hope of a job. Work at Foxconn may be hard and boring, but for many Chinese people, it is better than the alternative.

This is the historic price and promise of industrialization: It is no fun, but it is better than subsistence living back on the farm. And, modernization theorists like Seymour Martin Lipset have argued, as people get richer thanks to dismal jobs like those at Foxconn, they are able to demand more rights.

Former Senator Alan Simpson on Freeland File

Chrystia Freeland
Feb 17, 2012 15:42 UTC

Today at 11am, Chrystia will interview Alan Simpson live on YouTube. She and the former senator will discuss the Obama administration’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year as well as his new memoir, Shooting from the Lip: The Life of Senator Al Simpson. You can watch the whole thing here:

Rich shouldn’t have to pay taxes, Santorum backer says

Chrystia Freeland
Feb 17, 2012 14:54 UTC

In an age of rising income inequality, one of the big questions is what impact the growing gap will have on democracy. Francis Fukuyama worries about it in this month’s Foreign Affairs, in an essay that bears the worrying subtitle, “Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class?” President Barack Obama, as he signaled again with his budget this week, is putting the issue at the center of his re-election campaign.

The powerful connection between money and politics is also on vivid display in the roller-coaster Republican race, where Rick Santorum owes his surge in part to the generosity of the Wyoming multimillionaire Foster Friess, whose “super PAC” helped keep Santorum’s candidacy alive by running TV ads on his behalf.

I interviewed Friess a few days ago, before he made his headline-grabbing remark about women using aspirin as contraceptives in his earlier days (“The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”) He’s a folksy, white-haired, septuagenarian charmer whose Web site features a photo of him astride a horse and “Foster’s Campfire Blog.” He also has unequivocal views about the proper relationships among the wealthy, the state and politics.

Rise of the machines

Chrystia Freeland
Feb 9, 2012 22:57 UTC

If you want to get a finger-tip feel for one of the most important transformations in our world today, read The Fear Index, Robert Harris’s new thriller.

Harris has been widely praised for his adept portrayal of the hedge fund universe in which his novel is set. “The greatest pleasure of this book is that it gets the finance right,” cooed Felix Salmon, the Reuters finance blogger whose keyboard often oozes acid.

He is right that Harris’s hedgies are a welcome and realistic departure from the Masters of the Universe of most popular fiction. For one thing, these are the alpha geeks, the nerdy doctorate-holders whose testosterone is channeled into equations instead of frat-house swagger.

The economy’s ‘China Syndrome’

Chrystia Freeland
Feb 2, 2012 23:00 UTC

Mitt Romney’s thumping victory in the Florida primary this week is bringing us closer to a Romney-Obama face-off in the autumn. While we do not know for sure if Romney will clinch the Republican nomination, if he does, we can already say what the central question in November will be: Is the United States one nation under God, or has it become a country where the government needs to secure a better deal for the 99 percent?

We know Romney’s view. In a television interview last month, he explained: “When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus 1 percent — and those people who have been most successful will be in the 1 percent — you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.”

Meanwhile, in his State of the Union address, the president opted explicitly for the 99 percent perspective. Restoring their fortunes is “the defining issue of our time,” he said. “No challenge is more urgent. No debate more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”

Canada’s top central banker on the Volcker Rule

Chrystia Freeland
Feb 1, 2012 20:01 UTC

In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney tells Chrystia that the implementation of the Volcker Rule in the U.S. will have unintended consequences in the international bond markets and that JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon is wrong to say that the Basel Committee’s decision to increase capital requirements is “anti-American.”