Myths and legends of the anti-corporation : a history of Apple, Inc., 1976–1997




Gansky, Andrew Emil

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Apple, Inc. is today one of the wealthiest and most powerful corporations in the world, with annual revenues that rival the gross domestic products of nations such as New Zealand. Over the company’s four-decade history, however, Apple has consistently presented itself as an emblem of countercultural ideals, and its leaders have insisted that their pursuits of profits and influence are fundamentally altruistic, because their ultimate aim is to develop technologies that will empower individuals and serve the cause of social progress. Through an examination of Apple’s first two decades, from 1976 to 1997, this dissertation challenges the argument that Apple’s financial self-interest is synonymous with the public good. I conduct case studies of two main aspects of the company’s growth and evolution: Apple’s labor policies and the company’s influential role in the computerization of U.S. public schools. Through an extensive analysis of popular literature about Apple and archival materials chronicling labor practices and employee experiences at the company, I show that Apple cofounder Steve Jobs helped establish an exploitative and frequently abusive working environment at the company, which was designed to extract the maximum amount of worker labor at the lowest possible cost. I consider why many employees were nevertheless incredibly devoted to the company, and I examine the consequences of Apple employees’ willingness to forego formal labor rights and protections, which left them largely incapable of mounting any collective resistance to executives’ most ethically troubling practices and decisions. By turning to Apple’s lobbying efforts, business strategies, and charitable initiatives in U.S. public education, I show that the company repeatedly prioritized its commercial interests in schools over the needs of teachers and students. While Apple successfully turned educational computing into a multibillion-dollar business, I contend that the computerization of U.S. schools has achieved negligible positive results while draining scarce public resources, and in some instances has increased educational inequalities. Finally, I draw connections between Apple’s history, broader trends in Silicon Valley corporate culture, mounting wealth inequalities, and the current weakness of U.S. labor rights to challenge the concessions frequently made to corporations in contemporary U.S. public and political life.


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