Letters

Salon's readers can't stop sharing their opinions on the future of outsourcing: Responses to Jeff Taylor's "Poisoning the Roots of the Techno-boom."


Salon Staff
January 17, 2004 1:30AM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

First let me state that I am an Indian, living and working in the U.S.

The author is correct in saying that it's not just R&D, but also company ownership that will migrate to India or other competitors to the U.S. In the case of company ownership this is already happening; Indian companies are buying small U.S and Australian firms. Something mind-boggling to me.

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But one can also argue that there is nothing to prevent Indian companies from investing in R&D themselves. What holds them back perhaps is the financing and organization, which large U.S. corporations have no shortage of. But financing can be found, sooner or later, so U.S. companies might as well grab the best R&D folks available in countries like India, China, etc. Organization in R&D will come in time.

Lastly, countries such as India have always argued that their biggest export is their people and if Western or developed nations wish to export their goods and services to India then the West must reciprocate and allow India to export its primary resource as well. Essentially we are seeing this, jobs are moving to India in the services arena. However, labor costs will rise in India and there is already a shortage of good, skilled people in India.

What the U.S. should be asking India for is to open up India's immigration laws. Let India face the same pressures that it put on other countries by exporting its people. Perhaps Americans won't go and live in India, but others might.

-- Mohan Paul

Jeff Taylor describes a phenomenon that economics and ecology have neatly captured in the phrase "tragedy of the commons." If we all restrain ourselves we can share a public commons and each graze a few sheep on it, enriching us all. But society is organized so that there is no control in place to stop anyone of us from overgrazing the commons, with extra sheep, beyond the commons' grasses ability to regrow. The result is that one or a few of us are excessively enriched, but temporarily -- until the commons is denuded and everyone's sheep starve.

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Jeff Taylor rightly points out that while R&D jobs provide good livings to a smart, hard-working, and sometimes just lucky, few, they also provide a greater good that we all share in -- technical knowledge and the human infrastructure to acquire more knowledge. It my be prudent for us all to "graze a few sheep in the commons" and send some particularly old technologies offshore. But when an executive enriches his shareholders by sending essential R&D work offshore, he also destroys parts of our national economy's common human infrastructure and hands over some of our common intellectual property -- infrastructure and intellectual property that we have all paid for with the tax dollars that we invested in schools and public research universities and institutions. He gets away with it, though, because he's only taking a little from each of us. In this way, the cost of what is being stolen is "externalized" and shared by us all.

Our track record for recapturing these "externalized" costs, though, is poor. For example, the air pollution credits model that the EPA uses for protecting our free air won't work simply because the real impact of the lost knowledge that goes offshore with each R&D job is not as equal as the real impact of each ton of sulfur that goes into the air. And so we are not being compensated for any of these common losses. Perhaps it's time we figured out a way to start charging the guilty few for what they take from us all.

-- Jim Martino

Jeff Taylor brings up some good points about high-tech jobs outsourcing and its potential effect on the economy.

Engineers, Techies, Geeks, Nerds, Scientists and other Very Smart People have somehow placed themselves in a subservient position at the mercy of thugs and other stupid men (CEOs, CFOs, stockbrokers and politicians to name a few). We seem to have lost the imperative of "geeks shall rule the world!" (Remember the early history of the 20th century, when the scientists and engineers said, "No more of this war shit, you thugs and warlords!!!" We collectively got tired of getting beat up on the playground, and voilà, the H bomb. End of story.)

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But why did we stop there?

All this collective unemployed brain power is just sitting around. We should have rolled out Democracy 2.0 by now (ever notice how the American electoral system looks like it was designed by Microsoft? What a fucking joke -- it allows a poorly written script-based virus like President Bush to infiltrate the system and take over the most powerful military in the world? Uhh ... can anyone say "security hole"?)

We should send the CEOs packing to their appointed rounds at Burger King ("Hold the mustard, Mr. Trump"), and really fix the world's economy. What we need is an open-source standards-based economy that will slowly auto-adjust over the next 20 years until all currencies are roughly equivalent to the others without diminishing the quality of life and at the same time preserving the environment while transitioning to a solar infrastructure. Fuck the naysayers, the men who lack the vision of such things if they're not outright stupid. They usually have an invested interest in injustice and closed-mindedness (and in the new IEEE standard global economic model, they will all be issued Wal-Mart applications).

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Geeks, Nerds, Techies, Scientists and Other Smart People (maybe even some of you non-Techie English major media types), you've taken enough of this shit! It's time to reclaim our proper rulership of this iceberg we call Earth! It's time to establish justice, order and equality, because it's obvious the politicians and other retards in power lack the technical and detail-orientedness it takes to implement such a thing.

-- Joseph Kelly

I don't want to answer the more general question of whether outsourcing tech jobs is a good idea but Jeff Taylor's article is based on some poor arguments. Outsourcing may harm the U.S. economy, but Taylor thinks it will also hurt the companies that are doing the outsourcing. According to him outsourcing will lead to poor communication and inferior products. Yet, if that is the case, these companies that outsource won't last very long, and jobs will return to the United States. The only reason outsourcing is a danger to U.S. workers is that it offers large cost savings with only minor losses in quality.

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When Taylor says that outsourcing is undermining the U.S. technology sector, he is equivocating. Yes, the workers involved may be hurt. But neither the companies involved nor consumers stand to be hurt. The U.S. tech sector will shrink, but the worldwide tech sector will expand, and companies will come to rely on a worldwide tech sector instead. The entire point of outsourcing is that companies that were previously limited to American workers now have many more resources to draw upon. Again, without this benefit for companies, there would be no outsourcing.

Outsourcing may be a poor idea, but these just aren't the arguments to prove it.

-- Justin Blank

It's not so much that I disagree with the conclusions of Mr. Taylor's article. However, has he considered that his opinion, along with all those who have prognosticated along with him, is immaterial to the outcome?

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We can carp all we want, and note that there are worse effects yet to come, but really what we're talking about is a coming equality between the economies of previously "poor" countries and previously "rich" countries. So, eventually, the salaries of Indian programmers will rise, as those of Americans fall. They'll meet in the middle. The winners are ...? The very rich, as always, who will profit regardless of whether the job is done in India or the USA. And to some extent, "consumers," as high-tech becomes cheaper to make. I bet that makes us all feel good, as we see the prices of things we can no longer afford anyway come down.

Free-market economics. What a system!

-- John Kemp


Salon Staff

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