At a rally on Monday, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump vowed that he would get Apple to makes its products in America if he is elected president, Gawker reports. Speaking to a crowd of supporters at Liberty University in Virginia, Trump declared, "We’re going to get Apple to build their damn computers in this country instead of other countries."
That was met with huge cheers from the crowd. Trump knows he can’t go wrong in the eyes of voters by saying he’s going to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., especially by making the biggest tech company in the world bring their offshore manufacturing operations back onto home soil. After all, Foxconn, the company Apple uses to assemble its iPhones and other products, employs over a million workers in China. In 2013, Fortune reported that 300,000 of those workers were dedicated just to assembling the iPhone 5s alone. And that’s to say nothing of the legions of foreign workers assembling iPads, iPods, and MacBooks. Bringing all those manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. would be a huge win for the American economy.
Of course, even if Trump is elected president, it won’t happen. There are a number of reasons why Apple can’t or won’t bring its manufacturing jobs to the US:
Legal reason: For starters, there is no U.S. law that can force an American company to make its products in America, notes Engadget. Any attempt at passing such a law would be vigorously opposed by virtually every U.S. company, Constitutional scholars, and likely, even most Republicans in Congress.
China reason: Then there is China, which is increasingly becoming Apple’s most important sales territory in the world. No tech company wants to annoy China, the country with the largest amount of consumers on the globe. Can you imagine how China would react if Apple said it was moving Chinese manufacturing jobs out of the country? If it wouldn’t ban Apple’s products outright, it would almost certainly levy draconian import taxes on them, making them so expensive for consumers that Apple’s sales in China would nosedive.
Cost reason: Another reason Apple would probably never move all of its manufacturing jobs to the U.S. is because it would increase the cost of its products all over the world. Wages are higher in the U.S. than in other countries where goods are manufactured and those wage hikes would almost certainly be passed on to the consumer in the form of more expensive iPhones and iPads.
Logistics reason: And then there is the biggest reason of all, notes Engadget: Even if Trump could get around the legal arguments or Apple could avoid pissing off China or could still keep its prices low despite having to pay higher wages for U.S. manufacturing workers, the biggest reason Apple will never make all of its products in the U.S. are logistical ones. Apple simply wouldn’t be able to find enough skilled U.S. workers to fill its manufacturing jobs.
As the New York Times wrote in 2012, "Though Americans are among the most educated workers in the world, the nation has stopped training enough people in the mid-level skills that factories need."
Company executives explained to the Times that "they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. Americans at that skill level are hard to find." And if you can’t find people to fill the positions, you can’t scale your operations when the need arises:
"Another critical advantage for Apple was that China provided engineers at a scale the United States could not match. Apple’s executives had estimated that about 8,700 industrial engineers were needed to oversee and guide the 200,000 assembly-line workers eventually involved in manufacturing iPhones. The company’s analysts had forecast it would take as long as nine months to find that many qualified engineers in the United States. In China, it took 15 days."
Of course, one could argue that Apple has moved manufacturing back to the U.S. for one if its products—the Mac Pro—so why not others? As Engadget notes, Apple is able to make the Mac Pro in the U.S. because it's a niche product with low sales and little need for scale and most of the manufacturing can be done here by robots, with the manufacturing process itself supporting around 360,000 jobs through third-party suppliers.
So props to Mr. Trump for energizing his supporters with empty rhetoric, but the reality of manufacturing is far more complex and far harder to change than blowing hot air.