Debunking the "iPhone Argument"

A common argument given by capitalists to socialists is that we enjoy the benefits of capitalism, and so it is hypocritical to speak out against it. This is often phrased as something like “Tweeting against capitalism on an iPhone made by capitalism? LOL.” This argument is, to be blunt, incredibly fucking stupid.

For one thing, it says nothing about whether socialism is actually desirable. Enjoying the benefits of capitalism does not invalidate the socialist position. It does not follow from the fact that, “Capitalism made the iPhone” that capitalism is moral or that socialism is not. Just as it does not follow from the fact that abolitionists wore cotton picked by slaves that slavery is moral or that we should not try to abolish it.

Secondly, we do not choose which society we are born into. We do not have control over the fact that we live in a society where in order to survive, let alone lead a happy existence, one must purchase commodities and earn a living with which to gain the means to do so. We are not exercising free choice when we buy things, as we cannot not buy things and lead our lives. We are not free not to go without commodities. We are not free to go without capitalism when we live under it, even if we disagree with it. 

However, we are free to buy certain commodities over others. A socialist may be a hypocrite if they chose to buy blood diamonds from Sera Leone, as they do have a free choice about whether or not to purchase those diamonds. But the Internet is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity of life. Imagine trying to get a job or stay abreast of current events without reliable access to it. The extent to which a socialist is a hypocrite is the extent to which they have money, and thus free choice to purchase certain items.

It’s worth noting at this point that capitalism did not, in fact, make the iPhone. Labor did. The ‘-ism’ merely determines who gets paid. Also, most of the technology present in the iPhone actually originated in the State sector, not the so-called ‘free market.’ As Mariana Mazzucato writes in an article for New Scientist, “In [Apple’s] early stages the company received government cash support via a $500,000 small business investment company grant. And every technology that makes the iPhone a smartphone owes its vision and funding to the state: the internet, GPS, touchscreen displays and even the voice-activated smartphone assistant Siri all received state cash. The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) bankrolled the internet, and the CIA and the military funded GPS. So, although the US is sold to us as the model example of progress through private enterprise, innovation there has benefited from a very interventionist state.” It is not the case even in theory that capitalism or ‘the free market,’ made the iPhone. At least, not the sort of capitalism people who make this argument usually advocate for. (That version of capitalism has never existed and cannot ever exist, but we’ll get into that another time)

I would also like to mention that slave labor is used to mine cobalt in the Congo, which eventually makes its way into iPhone batteries. Does this mean that when capitalists use an iPhone, they support slave labor? Of course not. Socialists don’t make that argument against you, so why would you make it against them?

My last point is that just because someone is against a given economic system, that does not mean that one is against everything in it or everything that flows from it. I can be in favor of iPhones and laptops and the Internet, all while being against capitalism as a whole. I’m not against everything capitalism does, just certain aspects, which I wish to abolish. Things like wage labor, poverty, and alienation. 

But to put it in such absolutist terms, “Either you approve of everything within a given system or you are against everything within it,” is a false dichotomy. This argument holds no water, so please, capitalists, stop making it.