Apple’s Foul Odors

There’s a plumbing problem in Cupertino, California, and the stench emanates from the fabled Space Ship corporate headquarters of one of the richest, most valuable companies in the world. Reminds me of a 500 year old apartment in France I once rented, but, this case, its a 22 year old tax deal that makes my stomach queasy.

I did primal code at NeXT, release after release, and at Apple, but back when my/our NeXT based software architecture was still being baked into Mac OS X, the company was on the brink of bankruptcy, and it sorely needed an influx of cash, and a deal was struck between Cupertino and Apple.  

Here’s how it works. Buy a latte or a pair of shoes or haircut or pretty much anything in the jurisdiction of Cupertino, and one pays an 8.25% sales tax, right? Of that, 7.25% goes to the state and 1% goes to the municipality. So Apple, under the original deal, sells its products to businesses all across California, and 35% of the sales tax revenue that Cupertino gets from those sales goes straight back into Apple’s pockets. That deal has been going on for 22 years – even though Apple is now the first company ever to break the $1 trillion market valuation cap.

As a recent Bloomberg report pointed out, these deals are in operation pretty much everywhere across the state as corporations pick and choose municipalities to fork over their tax revenues and, well, – tax jurisdiction shop for the best payola they can find, from QVC to Macy’s to Ulta to Best Buy. Let’s end this. Let’s get rid of the power of municipalities statewide to reduce their revenue through gaming the “free” market with backroom deals.  Let’s return 100% of that 1% tax directly to the municipalities. Since it doesn’t look like the cities themselves have the power to fight back against these big companies holding jobs and revenue hostage, it looks like it’s up to Sacramento.

The second bad odor about Apple, although there are quite a few since I retired shortly after Steve Jobs’ death, concerns what is fair about cities where teachers and police, firefighters and garbage collectors, cooks and waiters and every other kind of profession we take for granted, do so despite not having a living wage sufficient to live in the city where they work. This is unconscionable.

I personally know a cafeteria worker at Apple who lived in her car because she couldn’t afford rent despite working full-time. Read that again. She lived in her car because the wages she was working for couldn’t pay her rent. Meanwhile Tim Cook makes millions upon millions of dollars off of her work and the work of so many others who are paid poorly.

We’re living in a system where so many are slaves for wages insufficient to propel them forward. Historically, slaves never get many choices, and it’s clear that Tim isn’t going to change the status quo, so it’s up to the rest of us to right the wrong. Since the Trump tax cuts were announced, Apple has bought back at least $175 billion of its own stocks, in a self-dealing move that benefited its executives quite substantially, and those rich enough to own Apple stock. At the same time, these executives could not, did not, and still cannot find enough heart to pay a living wage to its own workers.  

Ending an unjust sweetheart deal isn’t going to fix corporate exploitation, but at the very least, Cupertino could claw back that payola and use it to provide services for those without permanent homes, for example – even if, in my opinion, Apple should just use its payola money to pay all of its workers a wage that actually reflects human dignity.

Fairness is a common ethic among liberals and conservatives, and it is, for the most part, a common human trait. So, in the interest of that fairness, let’s strike this deal from the books, and all the others just like it. They’re not needed now, but what is needed is a thorough reimagining of the obligation our cities have to their citizens – all of their citizens.

Blaine Garst had a primal hand in POSIX, Objective-C and Foundation, Apple, Java, C11, C17, and elliptical encryption. An emotional impact magician, a from-beans chocolatier, marathon bicyclist, his new gig is unhackable for and by the people.

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