The workers in Indonesia are working more quickly and producing more guitars. The point is that the economics of the industry dictate they do not have time to focus on the differentiators of quality even though they are working as hard.We aren't talking about custom shop master builders or even luthiers of any level, we are talking about production line workers.
and I don't agree that they 'might spend equal amounts of time with guitars in hand'
Here's one example I can think of from a recent experience.
On a Squier Jazz bass it's pretty clear that when they install the pickups they just ram the screws straight into the wood with some kind of power tool. They are really difficult to adjust for height without taking all the screws out cleaning out the holes and threads, maybe even needing to drill them a little deeper if you want to lower the pickup height.
On a USA made Bass it appears the holes have been drilled to the correct size and depth (and in the right place) the holes blown out and you can adjust the pickups up or down quite easily.
I'm gonna suggest that the Squier pickups are fitted in a matter of seconds, maybe it takes minutes on a USA.
This has nothing to do with the skill of the worker, the folk that install the pickups in Indonesia could quite easily do an equal or better job than on the USA ones and could be taught/shown how to do it very quickly and you can apply this to any part of the production line to make a better guitar. .. at a higher cost.
A lot seem very enamoured of the theoretical argument that guitars of equal quality to e.g. US made could be produced with cheaper labour. I don't dispute this argument (and there are small manufacturers - Shije would be one - who are running with this model).
But this model hasn't cracked the mainstream and won't in the foreseeable future.
There was nothing to stop major manufacturers moving high end production overseas e.g. five or ten years ago but none have.
One reason is that workers in richer countries e.g. Japan, are more productive than those in e.g. Indonesia. So the labour cost saving isn't as big as some assume (an hour of labour is cheaper but you need more hours per guitar to produce the same quality).
Secondly, we live in an uncertain world. Moving production of high end guitars still requires cap ex in land/machinery/buildings, recruitment, training, marketing etc. And in the current climate of high supply chain uncertainty, what company is going to relocate manufacturing away from the biggest market for its products? It would be a crazy bet.
Thirdly, electric guitars are not hugely expensive instruments when compared with some others. Most people buying US/other higher end guitars are not shopping primarily on price. They understand they are paying a high premium for the last few percentage points. This further reduces the incentive for anyone to do it.