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Listen! Do you hear that?
It's the sound of American jobs whooshing out the window. Looks like the results of this election will be another devastating blow for laborperhaps the ultimate blow. I'm talking about offshoring again, the movement of American jobs overseas, because it really can't be talked about enough.
Bush's position on offshoring has been clear for many years; he believes it is ultimately good for the American economy. And it isn't likely that he's going to change his mind any time soon.
One of the good points about capitalism is that stagnation equals death, and a society that embraces it will advance quickly to beat the competition to market. Since the Industrial Revolution, invention and knowledge in America have taken off like gangbusters. And capitalism existed within the North American microcosm, where barriers to trade (both physical and informational) were many. There is dismal poverty in our history, but we seem to have more or less conquered it, relative to poverty in the undeveloped world. As we've moved up past slavery, industry, and heavy manufacturing, we've finally created a superindustry of information in which knowledge can instantly be sent across the globe cheaply, and is accessible to just about everyone.
For a while, it was good, and Americans flocked to these jobs. But then greediness, which has defined the darker side of capitalism since the very beginning, took advantage of this inexpensive data transmission and realized that they could start employing sweatshop labor instead of Americans. (Of course, I don't literally mean sweatshop, I'm sure they have air conditioning.) All of a sudden, the free flow of information and the advent of free trade have had an unfortunate side effectthe barrier separating the American economy from the outside is dropping more rapidly than ever before. The American balloon of prosperity is popping, and the "Invisible Hand" is pushing all of the air straight out into the vacuum that is the rest of the world. The prosperity America has built up is deflating through ever-widening holes, because though the market is the best determinant of what's right for the world, the U.S. economy was never meant to play in the same sandbox as the smaller ones.
It didn't have to be this way. Restrictions on trade or incentives for keeping jobs in America could have stemmed this mass exodus. The defenders of these offshoring practices will tell you that by employing foreigners for slave wages, they're helping the American economy by freeing up our Information Technology work so that we can move on to higher things. And an economy should progress on to different jobs, of course. But something I saw in Wired magazine made me think that our destiny for greater things is all a bunch of hooey. It was one little sentence, written by an American critic of outsourcing: "I'd like to know where you go from knowledge." It's true. This offshoring phenomenon is happening far too quickly to spur real advancement among the people who are displaced.
I mean, really... where do you go? I can't be convinced that all of the people in America who used to be tax accountants, computer programmers, and call center workers are going to be able to elevate themselves to a higher calling in the workforce. Are we all going to become stem cell biologists? Work to achieve nuclear fusion? Become CEOs and executives of sneaker companies? Or any other of the "21st Century Jobs" that Dubya has promised us?
No doubt, a person in India can do an information job almost if not as easily as an American, cultural differences aside. Indeed, much as Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing with the assembly line, all business have needed since those days are cogs in a great machine. An individual cog doesn't have to know what the machine does, just its own individual function. So now we have people overseas performing previously American-held support roles, though they lack the skills to communicate properly with customers, and their knowledge of American business practices is sorely lacking. But hey, they sure are cheap! How do we know that they can't also do the new jobs that we will find to do once we've advanced?
Meanwhile, back in America, our lifestyles all of a sudden seem far too expensive to maintain, and it keeps getting worse. Gas prices are skyrocketing; healthcare is out of control. Americans have just become too expensive, too overweight, too used to a life of entitlements, consuming a quarter of the world's resources. The trending toward true world equilibrium is finally starting to put life back into balance, and it has a decidedly bittersweet taste. Budding middle classes in the lucky nations that receive outsourcing contracts are raising their standards of living, and are doing very nicely for themselves.
The good news for Americans is that once this worldwide equilibrium is reached, we'll have stability again, and for everyone else, world poverty may start to improve. The bad news is that there are hundreds of millions of people who are dead-ass broke in this world, and it's going to take an enormously long time, perhaps centuries, before they can all start to afford a cup of coffee at Starbucks after working for a full day. Once India is oversaturated with IT work, we'll move on to even cheaper nations. Hell, even India will move on to cheaper nations to outsource the outsourcing.
Will Americans even be able to afford luxuries such as Starbucks, or even our basic needs, once the wages that we have come to depend on have been fully trumped by overseas competition? Given the speed at which offshoring has taken hold in just the past two years alone, I shudder to think what might happen after another four years of Bush administration negligence. The middle class will continue to erode at a breakneck pace, consolidating power and wealth into ever fewer hands.
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