As the unemployment rate in the US continues to hover around 9.2%, I am reminded of a recent article by Derek Thompson of The Atlantic entitled, "How Much Would the iPad 2 Cost If It Were Made in the US?." The article considered what the consumer impact might be if Apple chose to manufacture its best-selling product in the United States and concluded that, if Apple were to maintain its 54% gross margins, the price to consumers would increase from $729 per unit to $1,144.02 per unit. While I think it is reasonable to ask consumers of a non-essential luxury item such as an iPad to pay a little more in the name of patriotism... shareholders would argue that the price increase would reduce market share and diminish shareholders' returns. If Apple, one of America's most valuable companies, is incapable of steering jobs back to America, then who can?
It won't, in all likelihood, be a public company! While I am no economist, I do understand that once a company goes public, there is little it can do to resist shareholder's insatiable demand for increased profits. Shareholders, even the fashionable ones, when united, are an unpatriotic bunch and care little about improving the world or resolving a country's unemployment problems. They exist for the sole purpose of obtaining increased wealth through their ownership stake. And while their motives are obvious and fundamental to the workings of a capitalist economy, they can not be counted on to act in the best interests of America. Shareholders and public companies have little interest in addressing this country's high unemployment rate. It seems clear then that a responsible and considered government policy is the only way to create the local jobs public companies are so keen to outsource in pursuit of higher margins.
Repairing America's crumbling bridges and roads is one way to spur job growth while benefiting Americans. Unfortunately this, for reasons beyond me, has become a controversial move and is resisted by the circus that is now Congress... something I nervously consider every time I drive over a bridge. The other, perhaps less controversial thing to consider (although when child obesity is also viewed as "controversial"... who knows?) is to provide further incentives for private companies in America to continue local manufacturing. Congress went to great lengths to ensure those great big gapping tax loopholes public companies enjoy remain wide open. Perhaps offering private companies who employ Americans even bigger tax loopholes and extra credits might do more to help spur job growth at home? While American private companies are not immune to shareholders, their ownership interests typically consist of far fewer shareholders than a globally traded publicly company. And if the owners of a private company happen to live in America, they should be more interested in the national economy that affects all areas of their lives.
Ultimately, though, all roads lead to the American consumer, each of whom is a shareholder in the nation. Every day decisions are made as to where to spend their hard earned dollars. Consumers, in essence, are making serious decisions about the fate of their local economies whenever they make a purchase. As the owner of a company who is committed to manufacturing in New York City, I am intimately aware of where I put my dollars. When consumers begin putting more of their money behind American-made products, it will certainly help shave a few percentage points off of our high unemployment rate by helping American companies grow and hire more local workers.
Shareholders should and will continue to drive value and keep our public companies honest in their pursuit of high margins and growth... but it's time that we look to America's private companies and consumers for unemployment relief and to lead our economy back to economic prosperity.