I am on more than

by francine Hardaway on June 8, 2004

I am on more than one email list of disgruntled techies bitching about the outsourcing of high paying jobs to third world countries. I wrote about it once before, and I thought I had my place on the political spectrum all figured out– square in the center. But now I�m being (indirectly) called a right wing conservative, and that is frankly baffling. How can this be? I�m a child of the sixties, the summer of Love.

The current thread on one of the groups casts people who believe in free trade as fascists who don�t care if their children have jobs, or enough to eat. We are lambasted as imperial plutocrats and corporate greed mongers with no humanity, The political cast to this threw me for a loop, especially as I am most often accused of being a bleeding heart liberal. In the early days of the Internet, I was in the camp that thought the Internet should be as free as possible, to allow it to be a place where the benighted peoples of autocratic countries could reach out and tell the free world how they are being persecuted. I still don�t believe goods bought over the Internet should be taxed. Nor do I believe in any form of censorship. And I was never for the war in Iraq.

So with these credentials, I thought I approached the subject of outsourcing with�if anything — the credentials of the left. Guess not.

Outsourcing (offshoring, whatever) is a fact of life that has been going on for a long time, in all directions, East to West, West to East, North to South and South to North, and it is something that must be accepted and dealt with, not judged and blamed. In our era of instantaneous communication, national borders are becoming less important and a global economy is emerging. In America, we buy cars from Japan, cashmere shawls from India, cell phones from Finland, and TVs from China. We WANT those products. We want Wal-Mart to source everything from China so we can have lower and lower prices. We love our cheap cashmere (when I was a kid only the rich wore it).

So it�s not a political issue, but an issue of economic competitiveness, and we can become more competitive in two different (and pretty much opposite) ways: we can accept a lower standard of living by accepting lower wages and making ourselves equal to the Indian and Chinese labor that is �stealing� our jobs, or we can become more innovative and invent new technologies not yet known around the world. But we can�t put the genie back in the bottle, turn off the Internet, or turn off technology (because if we did, the techies would be out of work anyway). The same techies who laughed at the Luddites who fought computers are now on the other side of the fence.

Whether you are left, right, or center, you can�t argue too much with what I heard Craig Barrett, the CEO of Intel, say last week: in the past two decades, something has happened that can only happen once. An entire 50% of the world�s population has been added to the economy. Three billion people have had the lights turned on.

And that has meant not only the outsourcing of jobs, but the creation of purchasing power in societies that never had any. This is a liberal�s dream, not a conservative�s.

Barrett also said that 70% of Intel�s business is done outside the United States. That�s shocking. But it also explains why plants are being built in China, India, Costa Rica, and all over the �third� world. That�s where the CUSTOMERS are. And we don�t want that to stop any more than we want the cost of good at Wal-Mart to go up, because we are the shareholders of Intel, Dell, Wal-Mart and Microsoft � companies whose stocks are in our retirement plans and that we�re counting on to help us lead the good life.

To me there is no logic, left or right, in fighting the inevitable, especially when the US economy has itself generated almost a million jobs in the past 90 days. Come on, everybody, get over it. The real issue isn�t outsourcing; it is global competitiveness. We had better figure out how to compete in the world we are living in today, not try to re-create the world we lived in yesterday.

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