How India is destroying the American middle class: Readers respond to Katharine Mieszkowski's "How India Is Saving Capitalism."

Salon Staff
April 6, 2004 11:30PM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

You disappoint me greatly in that you do not ask why wages are so low in India. Indians pay less for food, housing and services because many of their agricultural, construction and menial workers are held in debt bondage and victimized by caste discrimination. This is common knowledge, which you ignored.


I feel sure that you are aware of the very good information on bonded labor and the denial of civil rights to one in every six Indians at the Human Rights Watch Web site. Check the "Broken People" document. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both recommend sanctions against India. Check the Amnesty site also. The book "Disposable People," by Kevin Bayles from Antislavery International, also explains the bondage practiced in India.

"Red China Blues," by Jan Wong, details some of the abuses of workers in China. Even better, "China's Workers Under Assault," by Anita Chan, includes accounts by Chinese journalists working undercover in sweatshop factories. Including accounts of beatings and murder. Amazon sells these books.

Offshoring jobs to countries that have low costs because of their repression of their citizenry brings that repression to bear on Americans. People have made the point that U.S. companies buy a lot of services already from Europe. Well, Europeans no longer shoot labor organizers. They no longer practice slavery or feudal bondage. They must compete on their innovation and energy, not their willingness to send out a goon squad. Competition with any country that maintains labor and civil rights will never cause massive unemployment or drop the floor out from under wages.


Apologists for India say that their tech workers are not bonded or oppressed. I agree. Their tech workers come from the hereditary higher castes. But check Arundhati Roy's book "Power Politics" for a description of emaciated workers digging ditches by candlelight -- to lay fiber optic cable. A bonded workforce cuts costs for infrastructure. And for food and housing. So Indian professionals can charge less for their work.

You probably know that the U.S. Congress passed sanctions against trade with Myanmar (properly called Burma) last year. Coerced labor, often unpaid, contributed to the building of a pipeline there for an American oil company. American companies will readily take profits that rest on violence done against the poor.

I very much dislike your deliberately omitting the daily violence done against India's working poor from your discussion.


-- Patrick Tibbits

I have been pleasantly surprised with Salon's coverage of the white-collar outsourcing phenomena. Statements about blameless CEOs and developing-country riches stand alongside the more typical Salon fare about the new imperialism and cross-continental, brown-skinned sisterhood. Salon, as opposed to, say, Lou Dobb's hourly rant and corporate blacklist, has chosen to grapple with the technological underpinnings, cultural realities, and multifarious economic implications of developments that are complicating the standard litmus-test arguments about globalization.


-- Jaffer Abbasi

Wow! All those poor oppressed capitalists ... and I did not even know they were in such imminent danger. Thank heaven for those barefoot Indian bicyclists, bravely coming to the rescue of the endangered entrepreneur. I'm so relieved to read that there are actual idealists involved, people with enough vision and courage to not only hire cheaper labor overseas but also press the battle lines forward and provide the terrified capitalist with tools to take the fight to the enemy.

I bet this guy Behlendorf does not even realize what a selfless heroic figure he really is. Above all, we've seen the enemy and it is us. I can now serve my sentence at the nearest Wal-Mart, in the earnest hope of eventual rehabilitation. I can now be secure in the knowledge that the Great Enemy has finally been unmasked, and take heart in the most recent California state budget proposal -- a small but important victory in the War That Must Be Won. California will reduce higher education enrollment by 10 percent, and for the first time, qualified applicants to California's state universities will be turned away. Our shrewd politicians, allied with our courageous Capitalist Idealists, will inevitably be victorious as they hunt down and destroy the wicked, ignorant, greedy American middle class -- job by job, and school by school.


-- Richard Rosenberg

I just read the article on CollabNet and its outsourcing of jobs to India. After finishing it the first question that comes to mind is, "Why should I give a shit if companies that don't provide jobs to Americans are successful?" As a former technology worker with 27 years' experience who can't get a serious interview, never mind a job, why should I care if they succeed or not? It will not benefit me or my unemployed/underemployed friends in any way.

So who gives a crap? I'm sure the capitalists among us are thrilled with the result, but it ain't doing anything for me. Of course, when I tell them that I now earn one-third the salary I made two years ago, working at a retail job for which I am vastly overqualified, they'll call it "improved productivity" and tell me it's a good thing for the economy. Screw 'em. I'll be voting Democratic for the first time in my life come November.


-- Maurice Savard

Katharine Mieszkowski went a long way in illuminating an issue that has been marked almost entirely by hysteria and ignorance over the past year. Outsourcing, worldwide sourcing, global integration -- whatever you want to call it, it's trade, pure and simple. And whatever a person's views on globalization may be, there's just no getting around the fact that borders and physical location are becoming less relevant every day, in terms of how we communicate, interact and conduct business.

A highly competitive global economy is not a force on the horizon -- it is already here. And any company that doesn't use every tool at its disposal to stay competitive is a company that's not going to be around very long -- and nonexistent companies don't employ workers.

Many Americans are threatened by emerging economies like India's and what they will mean for American jobs, and they should be. We can no longer afford the mentality that tech jobs are our birthright, to use Carly Fiorina's words. But the "Benedict Arnold CEOs" rhetoric is dangerous because it suggests precisely the wrong response to concern about American jobs. Impeding the ability of U.S. companies to invest globally and stay competitive won't create a single good job.


Our best response to growing global competition is, as Ms. Mieszkowski suggests, to move up the knowledge-economy food chain. Our economy has transformed itself many times in the past. And there's simply no reason to believe that we've suddenly reached the end of American innovation. We're the global leader because we are the leading global innovator. As long as we keep doing what we've always done -- invest in R&D, encourage creativity and free thinking, promote entrepreneurship and venture capital, and improve education -- we will turn the outsourcing challenge into an exciting new opportunity to adapt and grow. That, I believe, is the American way.

-- Rachael Leman

Just to clarify a couple of points:

Much has been said about the need for Americans to retrain. Yet it is clear from the article "India Is Saving Capitalism" that the best programmers are still in the United States.


Do they have jobs? For how long? Are we supposed to believe that the only Americans who lose work to outsourcing are less qualified than their foreign counterparts?

I've challenged one writer to document his claim that "the American education system" is to blame for outsourcing. I haven't heard from him yet, and I haven't seen anything in his columns, either. I doubt he will find a single example -- from any industry --where Americans lost jobs because they were less qualified than their replacements overseas.

The simple and sole determining factor in outsourcing is money. When you live in a country with one of the highest living standards in the world, and perhaps the highest prices (outside Japan), it is impossible to compete, skill for skill, with workers in other national markets. The wage differential is simply against you.

This condition will continue to apply until global wages are equalized in real terms. This means that working a 70-hour week in Malaysia, India, Mexico or the U.S. won't earn you more buying power than working 70 hours anywhere else.


Then you can argue that outsourcing is due to the lack of skills or motivation.

Until then, let's keep this "debate" an honest one. Foreign workers can afford to work for less than Americans, period.

What the hell are we supposed to do about that?

-- Jon R. Koppenhoefer

"He [Mr. Behlendorf] and his fellow executives want CollabNet to be a truly global company, with no distinction made between employees in one country or another."

The same article acknowledges that Indian workers are paid a fraction of their U.S. counterparts.

Interesting approach to hiring policies with "no distinction" made between workers based on their home country.

Does anyone know the Hindi equivalent of B.S.?

-- John Richard

A less than one-dimensional "code" culture consciousness appears to inflict Salon's senior technology writer in "How India Is Saving capitalism." Like Behlendorf's ethical reductionism, the "new virtual workplace" exists in some context-less "no" space wrought by the digital hand of globalization. When is the Salon editorial staff going to be outsourced to India?

-- James Andrew LaSpina

My God! Another kick in the ass for the American laborer. I thought that Salon would rise above such antics. As an unemployed I.T. worker -- one of those unfortunate 39-year-olds shocked by the "new realities," I have little sympathy for your arguments. "Move up the chain," you say, and get retrained, as though four years of postgraduate work in management science and computer science combined with a dozen years of I.T. work were not sufficient.

Offshore labor is painted as "inevitable" and "good for the world" in many of Katharine's articles. I suppose she would find it great news if American laborers made $2,000 a year (excepting, of course, the corporate executives whose paychecks mushroom under an offshore fiasco).

Community means nothing to such people. "World community" is the mythos that replaces the allegiance to your neighbor and her children who just lost their health insurance (and their house, by the way). There's something to be said for loyalty to your nation first, and that's not backward. It's another "reality" that is essential if the American middle class is to remain intact.

If a bland leveling of salary to some international standard is acceptable to Katharine, then offshore labor is the equivalent of the Second Coming. My problem is that I don't see the market as a deity on either a national or international level. The bland leveling of salary that would occur essentially introduces an enormous divide between the rich and very, very poor. As the American middle class vanishes, so does any hope for the future of American democracy.

Then again, I suppose that there is an economic model out there that shows such a catastrophe to be wonderful, on the whole, for the human race.

-- Barry Cole

Your editors need to watch the misleading titling of your stories.

In what way is India saving capitalism? Because American companies can hire workers there and keep their companies afloat? Why are the companies in this position in the first place? I would suggest that it is not only due to unchecked growth in the tech boom, but also unchecked expansion of companies. If companies hadn't been so greedy in the first place, they wouldn't have expanded their infrastructure so far out that they now have to find quick ways of bracing the delicate, unfinished house of cards they've created. Uncontrolled growth can be as bad as no growth for a company. But besides this, how is India saving it? Aren't they merely propping up a teetering economy? But I digress.

Secondly, I assume, although the subject is not broached, that the upside for us here in the U.S. is that eventually, after the infrastructure is stabilized by the foreign workers, "our" companies will be saved and will eventually hire us again. Is that what the author is trying to say?

Let me enlighten some of you non-tech people. The positions being lost in India will never be back here. Q/A and tech support jobs have always been a sort of "blue collar" type of computer job here. If one worked hard, one could become an engineer or programmer, learning on the job. Now that opportunity is lost. What are these workers supposed to do? Go back to school and get programming degrees? They won't be hired, according to your article.

So what's next? America is supposed to start inventing something else again? What haven't we invented? Aren't we tired of the relentless pace of things? We just built the Internet last decade and already it's time to think up something new. When will it stop? When can one just go to work, do their job, and come home to their family without worrying about putting in extra hours, studying, constantly bettering themselves to survive?

I'm a liberal, but the kind of liberalism that's being used to sell me on outsourcing bothers me. Most of this article (I'd say three of the four pages) is devoted to telling me how bad it is in India. Why is that? To make me feel like a rich American who is whining about losing his job when there are poor people to help? Why is it my burden? Why isn't it the burden of the wealthy 10 percent who run the companies? Have CEO salaries gone down lately? I haven't seen that report yet. No, it's not about charity, it's not about making the world a better palace: It's about greed and profit.

Don't tell me that you're saving me by doing this. The fact of the matter is that I helped create a wonderful industry, and it's being shipped off without me now. Why the hell should I create anything new at all? Is there no job security anymore? Fuck you and your puerile good intentions. I don't feel like having 15 careers in my lifetime. There's more to life than that.

Sorry for the rant, I'm sure you can't publish any of this and it's not very well written, but I'm pissed. In the future, please try to stick with facts and arguments in your articles. This "slice of life" crap is useless to me and clouds the issue.

-- Ian Asbury

Salon Staff

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