Ap­ple opin­ion

Ap­ple wants to turn its re­tail stores into learn­ing hubs and to teach cod­ing. What’s wrong with that?

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Tim Cook has re­peat­edly stated his be­lief that Ap­ple should aim to make the world a bet­ter place, and he’s put Ap­ple’s money where his mouth is: for ex­am­ple, in Septem­ber Ap­ple made a size­able do­na­tion to help the EU refugee cri­sis and of­fered to dou­ble up on Ap­ple em­ploy­ees’ do­na­tions too. But money isn’t all that Ap­ple’s of­fer­ing. In a rare in­ter­view, Ap­ple re­tail boss An­gela Ahrendts has out­lined plans to make Ap­ple Stores into hubs, com­mu­nity cen­tres that of­fer help to peo­ple. One of the ex­am­ples she gave was teach­ing women and eth­nic mi­nori­ties to code.

What Ap­ple is de­scrib­ing is phi­lan­thropy, which is when the very rich use some of their money or resources to try change the world in some way. From An­drew Carnegie’s li­braries to Bill Gates’ bat­tle against malaria in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, to Steve Woz­niak’s do­na­tions of money and per­sonal time to IT in lo­cal schools, phi­lan­thropy can do an enor­mous amount of good. But there’s a down­side to it too, and it’s a sim­ple one: who pays for the things that aren’t lucky enough to catch the phi­lan­thropists’ at­ten­tion?

Teach­ing peo­ple to code is un­doubt­edly a good thing, but it’s a lit­tle self-in­ter­ested too: the peo­ple Ap­ple teaches to code to­day could be­come the Ap­ple en­gi­neers of to­mor­row. What about teach­ing peo­ple to read in­stead? US pub­lic schools are in cri­sis af­ter nine con­sec­u­tive years of cuts. A lit­tle Ap­ple money there could go a very long way.

This isn’t ‘whataboutery’, the in­ter­net tac­tic where any­thing good is damned by say­ing “yeah, but what about…?” It’s about whether Ap­ple is the best judge of which things de­serve fund­ing. We al­ready have or­gan­i­sa­tions to do that: they’re called gov­ern­ments, and the money they have – or don’t have – to spend comes largely from the tax that firms such as Ap­ple, Google and Mi­crosoft pay or don’t pay. Just 11% of US tax re­ceipts come from cor­po­rate taxes, and the amount has been fall­ing for years; Bloomberg re­ports that US tech com­pa­nies – not all com­pa­nies, just tech ones – are cur­rently and com­pletely le­gally “stash­ing” $2.1 tril­lion over­seas to avoid pay­ing tax. That sum is the same amount as the en­tire US tax take for 2010. $2.1 tril­lion would pay for so­cial se­cu­rity and health care with money left over. It’s four times the defence bud­get, and five times the bud­get for un­em­ploy­ment com­pen­sa­tion and food stamps.

Tim Cook and An­gela Ahrendts seem to be good peo­ple, with good hearts. But if Cook re­ally wants Ap­ple to “leave the world a bet­ter place than we found it”, he could take a look at chang­ing Ap­ple’s ac­count­ing prac­tises as well as its re­tail out­lets.

Free­lance jour­nal­ist Gary Mar­shall used to work as a tech trainer. “Novell NetWare and Win­dows 3.11”, he re­calls – with a shiver.

Ap­ple teach­ing peo­ple to code is un­doubt­edly a good thing, but it’s a lit­tle self-in­ter­ested too

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