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The MIT Technology Review Has It Wrong About Manufacturing iPhones In the US, And They Know It

Jun 12, 2016   //   by Bob Warfield   //   Blog, Business  //  6 Comments

iphonex2000There was a disappointingly fluffy article about the impossibility of manufacturing iPhones in the US written recently in the MIT Technology Review.  The article includes only the most minimal facts to support the author’s conclusion that you can’t make iPhones in America economically.  Commenters quickly point out that BMW makes every example of particular models in their line in the US without apparent problem.  There are many other examples ranging from Teslas to Stealth Aircraft being made here on our shores.  To make matters worse, as the commenters turned against the article, the Editor-in-Chief, JPontin, decided the best answer was to attack on of the commenters over his earlier views on Global Warming, a complete Red Herring for this discussion.  In fact, it was a fairly personal attack (referred to as an ad hominem attack, meaning “to attack the man”) which is generally considered to be beneath the standards of such an institution as MIT.

I left them a comment to this effect which I won’t be surprised if they delete the way the discussion has been going:

I have to say this article and the resulting discussion have been disappointing and not up to the standards of a publication that wants to use “MIT” in its name.

Put aside the rather fluffy analysis the author makes–there’s too much hand waving and too little fact.  As has been pointed out BMW makes vehicles here all day long for shipment all over the world.  And never mind that we make many other things from Teslas to Stealth Aircraft here as well.  Clearly these things can be done, and while we may argue cost is not a factor for stealth aircraft, it clearly is for BMW, Tesla, and the many others that manufacture here.  The world’s largest automated machine tool manufacturer, Haas, has their factory in regulation and tax-laden Southern California of all places, and it doesn’t seem to have hurt them despite shipping many units overseas.

We also have not considered while wringing hands over poor Apple’s costs that they’re the most profitable company on the planet and that some amount of that profit perhaps should be shared in the economy where they were born and that still accounts for the lion’s share of their sales.  Just because Stephen Jobs said something or other about it being impossible doesn’t make it right.

Then there’s the rather amazing display by the publication’s Editor in Chief, Mr Pontin who flew in from the wings apparently to make an ad hominem attack on zdzisiekm who it seems to me was conducting himself professionally.  An ad hominem attack from the Editor in Chief?  Really?  And apparently because Mr Pontin doesn’t like the commenter’s prior views on Global Warming, a total Red Herring in this discussion?

Then there’s the bit about how obvious it is that Free Trade is net beneficial.  I hate to burst too many bubbles but no less than Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman is starting to muse that not only might the theory not be completely ironclad but the reality has actually been pretty destructive in today’s economy.

Can we possibly get back to a level of journalistic integrity that does not involve ad hominem attacks and that actually has time for real facts, real analysis, and real discussion without the need for ad hominem attacks on the participants?

I hope so.

There’s a lot I didn’t mention in the interests of brevity.  For example, Foxcon is on record saying they have some 500,000 assembling just one model of iPhone (this from my recent article on the China Manufacturing Myths) but the article claims it would be a “small fraction of the 1.6 million Chinese jobs Apple creates.”  I read the article by Jason Dedrick, who is the MIT article’s source for costs, and it is eerily similar to the MIT article–all hand-waving, numbers, pulled out of the air, and conclusions that don’t quite fit.  For example, they want to discount the value of doing the manufacturing in China because companies like Foxconn are actually not Chinese-owned.  Or, they want to claim that it’s largely just assembly work and not “real” manufacturing that’s happening in China when we as CNC’ers have all seen pictures of the rows of CNC machines in China making cases for these products.


These are not CNC machines manufacturing anything because we only do ASSEMBLY in China. Yeah, right…

As a CNC’er, I feel strongly when I read anti-manufacturing propaganda like this.  It’s even worse when it’s thinly veiled politics under the guise of scholarly work.  Personally, I think Editor-In-Chief Pontin could see the MIT Review’s article was going down in flames so he made a masterfully-troll-like effort to save it.  Not good journalism, but one does hate to see one’s views shot down so easily.


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The MIT Technology Review Has It Wrong About Manufacturing iPhones In the US, And They Know It
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  • I am stepping on my own face by even adding a comment. Much of today’s blogging and posting of opinion are from blind men judging the elephant.

    We all judge from the truth as we feel it. But personal attack and knowingly being deceitful are moral crimes and those people should be shunned into their own misery.

  • Great article Bob, keep up the good fight. cheers,c

  • I used to subscribe to Tech Review, but let it lapse after issue upon issue pushing green energy possibly maybe’s. I signed up for hardhitting sci-tech cutting edge reporting from smart people on emerging technologies, not whatever their agenda turned into the past couple years.

  • In addition to BMWs and stealth aircraft, we also produce millions (billions?) of dollars worth of electronics, which is more germane to Apple than those.

    I’ve just retired from working 40+ years in the electronics manufacturing world in the US, most of that as a design engineer. Aside from the cheapest commercial stuff (I’m talking the $20 class), we make everything in the US. I’m fond of saying the only constant in the industry since the mid-70s is people telling me we don’t manufacture anything in the US anymore so that my job doesn’t exist.

    • SiliconGraybeard, I’m sure many of those domestic electronics manufacturers would step up to save at least some of the increased cost of logistics the article claims would prevent us making iPhones here. Just because Apple mostly uses suppliers in China doesn’t mean they would if assembly and manufacture were moved here.

  • It’s refreshing to see someone debating the facts for a change! Our universities are quickly turning into indoctrination centers for a certain political viewpoint. The end result is young people devoid of common sense and the ability to reason in an intellectually honest way, which is a shame. It’s now the norm for the conversation to veer into character attacks, rather than an honest debate of the facts. What can become of a generation of so-called engineers that are unwilling or unable to deal in facts? Really, it’s a moral problem. When a corporation chooses to move its manufacturing base to a country to increase profit margin, it has violated its responsibility to its neighbor and country. There was a time when business was driven by innovation, but I’ve seen more companies getting lazy and looking for the easy solution, which is outsourcing; both technology development and manufacturing. They do not realizing that in doing this they are cutting their own throat.

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