How Steve Jobs would have answered the debate question on Apple

October 17, 2012|By Andrea Chang
  • At Tuesday's second presidential debate, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney discussed how they would bring jobs back to the U.S.
At Tuesday's second presidential debate, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney… (Michael Reynolds / EPA )

Your iPhone or iPad says "Designed by Apple in California" on the back, but as nearly everyone knows, the devices are actually made in China.

That came up during last night's presidential debate, when moderator Candy Crowley asked the candidates why more products can't be made domestically.

"IPad, the Macs, the iPhones, they are all manufactured in China," Crowley said. "One of the major reasons is labor is so much cheaper [there]. How do you convince a great American company to bring that manufacturing back here?"

Mitt Romney tackled the question first, saying the answer "is very straightforward." China, he said, has been "cheating over the years" by holding down the value of its currency and by stealing intellectual property. He noted that China was home to a counterfeit Apple store and said America needs to be the most attractive place for entrepreneurs, which will bring jobs in.

"We can compete with anyone in the world as long as the playing field is level," he said.

When the debate turned to Barack Obama, the president said some jobs "are not going to come back because they are low-wage, low-skill jobs."

"I want high-wage, high-skill jobs," he said. "That's why we have to emphasize manufacturing. That's why we have to invest in advanced manufacturing. That's why we've got to make sure that we've got the best science and research in the world.

"And when we talk about deficits, if we're adding to our deficit for tax cuts for folks who don't need them, and we're cutting investments in research and science that will create the next Apple, create the next new innovation that will sell products around the world, we will lose that race."

Turns out the late Steve Jobs weighed in on the matter during a meeting with Obama in early fall 2010.

"The meeting actually lasted 45 minutes, and Jobs did not hold back," according to Walter Isaacson's biography of the Apple co-founder.

"'You're headed for a one-term presidency,' Jobs told Obama at the outset. To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs."

Later, during a dinner with Obama and a group of carefully selected tech CEOs, Jobs urged the president to find a way to train more American engineers, Isaacson wrote.

"Apple had 700,000 factory workers employed in China, [Jobs] said, and that was because it needed 30,000 engineers on-site to support those workers. 'You can't find that many in America to hire,' he said. These factory engineers did not have to be PhDs or geniuses; they simply needed to have basic engineering skills for manufacturing. Tech schools, community colleges or trade schools could train them. 'If you could educate these engineers,' he said, 'we could move more manufacturing plants here.' The argument made a strong impression on the president. Two or three times over the next month he told his aides, 'We've got to find ways to train those 30,000 manufacturing engineers that Jobs told us about.'"


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