Source this!

Maybe outsourcing isn’t all bad.
Friday, April 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:54 p.m. CDT, Friday, June 27, 2008

Namaste, readers. This week Sockdolager’s been bit by the latest craze sweeping the country: Outsourcing! Yes, we’ve been temporarily outsourced to Bangalore, India. Fear not, however, as this is not the death knell it may seem. Don’t get us wrong — losing your job is never a good thing. But as with most things, the outsourcing issue is a bit more complex than the view that a bunch of low-paid foreigners are stealing our jobs. In many ways, it is about America finally finding itself on the short end of a practice — brain drain — that this country has been perfecting for years.

The truth about churning

The issue of outsourcing has sucked up an inordinate amount of national attention lately. President Bush recently signed a bill forbidding the outsourcing of federal contracts. John Kerry says offshoring is done by “Benedict Arnold CEOs.”

But several of America’s leading economists point out that outsourcing is a key component of a process called “churning.” The nitty gritty of this process is that, yes, jobs are moving abroad, but churning is also creating a situation where more jobs can be created at home. This is because permitting the production of goods and services overseas brings down the costs of goods and services at home and puts more money in our collective pockets. In theory, the extra money can go toward making America a leader in emerging fields such as professional poker playing and extreme sports reporting.

As with anything that involves churning, there is some agitation involved. Jobs will temporarily disappear or, in case of parts of the American manufacturing sector, possibly disappear forever. And we are fully aware that a stuffy academic term like churning doesn’t put food on the table or pay the rent.

Still, outsourcing is not the problem. Outsourcing is merely the scapegoat for the country’s real problem — we’re not educating and training our workforce to compete in the global marketplace that we have been instrumental in creating. While we may think our situation is unique, it’s not. Mexico, South Korea and Japan are engaged in similar soul searching as China makes inroads into industries these countries have historically dominated.

Putting a gun to the head of American employers to keep them in the country is just the sort of myopic solution our politicians have become all too fond of these days. It’s the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. Instead of imploring us to buy American products, we should be rebuilding our job base to focus on skills employers can only find in America. It’s either that or get comfortable with the fact that most of us will soon be working at Wal-Mart.

While this rebuilding project may seem like a daunting task, keep in mind that this country is all about reinvention. Just ask Madonna, who, yes, is now living in London. Learning a new skill and changing professions is never easy. But the least our national leaders could do is be honest about the harsh reality facing a fair number of American employment sectors. And that’s a task they can’t outsource.

--Tom Porto

Job security made easy

Outsourcing is not a new problem. For the past 30 years, the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program has been retraining American workers after they get the boot for someone cheaper in Bangladesh.

Sockdolager sees no problem with keeping these upstanding citizens from “going postal,” (although the U.S. Postal Service has excellent wages and benefits), but there should be a better attempt at risk prevention.

So consider, instead, these jobs that long have become synonymous with security in America.

  • Middle management. These office jobs are great for the worker sick of dirt under the fingernails and calling out every morning, “I’m off to the plant, honey.” And e-mailing your friends from a cubicle and occasionally making copies is generally salaried. The only downside is that there is rarely any tangible result of your “work.” There won’t be a shiny new washing machine at the end of the line because you’re only “doing just enough not to get fired,” as “Office Space” coins it.
  • Boards of Directors. For the more ambitious — or less, depending on how you look at it — a butter-soft leather chair at the head of a long table could be in your future. The government could easily train individuals for Boards of Directors positions, perhaps by using many of their own as “mentors.” Outspoken jerks who fly in twice a year to rubberstamp the CEO’s latest compensation package can’t be difficult to develop.
  • Professional athletes. We’re not talking about becoming the next Kobe Bryant. We’re talking about the talentless hacks who develop one skill that makes them indispensable to their team. In football, there’s the kicker; in basketball, there’s the uncoordinated guy to hack the superstar; in baseball, there are too many to count. If the government can teach people how to build bridges, training situational lefthanders to come in to face one batter can’t be that difficult.

Americans could take these jobs because they pay reasonably (or excessively) well and they are secure, as long as their immediate supervisor has the gumption to keep his or her mouth shut about how little work actually gets done. Laborers can be found in every land, but leave it to Americans to slack and call it work.

--Reed Fischer

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