To understand rising inequality, says the New York Times, consider the janitors at Kodak in 1987 and Apple today.
From Neil Irwin’s Labor Day story in the Sunday Times:
Eastman Kodak was one of the technological giants of the 20th century, a dominant seller of film, cameras and other products. It made its founders unfathomably wealthy and created thousands of high-income jobs for executives, engineers and other white-collar professionals. The same is true of Apple today.
But Kodak also created enough working-class jobs to help create two generations of middle-class wealth in Rochester. The Harvard economist Larry Summers has often pointed at this difference, arguing that it helps explain rising inequality and declining social mobility.
“Think about the contrast between George Eastman, who pioneered fundamental innovations in photography, and Steve Jobs,” Mr. Summers wrote in 2014. “While Eastman’s innovations and their dissemination through the Eastman Kodak Co. provided a foundation for a prosperous middle class in Rochester for generations, no comparable impact has been created by Jobs’s innovations” at Apple.
My take: Irwin’s piece about janitors puts human faces on one of my obsessions—the hollowing out of society. His critique of Apple, I think, is a fair one. Management does treat its contract workers as costs to be minimized, rather than assets to invest in.
For a company that takes pride in doing what’s right, the fact that everybody in the business does it is not a strong defense. If I were a shareholder, of course, I might feel different.