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