Letters

"We didn't hear any complaining while the U.S. exploited the rest of the world." Readers respond to the most recent package of Salon stories on offshoring.


Salon Staff
April 9, 2004 11:30PM (UTC)

[Read the original story "How India Is Saving Capitalism" and the letters in response.]

I read with interest the first of your series on outsourcing to India, and the letters in response to that article.

India is succeeding because of two things -- cost and skills. They are winning contracts because of cost, but customers are staying because they provide quality service, worth every penny of their "cheap" rates. It is a fact that a few years down the road, if Ghana or Laos or Swaziland were cheaper, U.S. companies will move their business there. Many Indian techies recognize this and are attempting to move up the value chain.

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All this talk about "slave wages" and "bonded laborers" is balderdash. The fact of the matter is outsourcing has injected lots of money into the Indian economy, and it is trickling down into the lowest levels. That "emaciated ditch digger" laying fiber optic cable would starve if not for that job.

-- Padmaja Narsipur

Ms. Mieszkowski has done a poor job of writing an article on outsourcing. It helps neither the American audience, nor the Indians who are at the receiving end of all the rant.

The following are some of the facts that are missed:

1. The world of business runs not on socialistic structure, but on the rule of economics. People are greedy everywhere and they will stay the same forever. Whenever and wherever things are made available cheap, people will opt for that, rather than paying a high price for the goods or services. People go to Wal-Mart not out of love, but for cheap prices.

2. It seems from the reader responses that it is OK to screw a foreign worker, be it a Mexican, a European, an East Asian, a Chinese or now the latest fad, the Indian I.T. worker, but it is never OK to screw an American worker on the job market. What kind of moral equation is this?

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3. America became rich because of the free market economy. America became rich by playing war games on foreign soil. America became rich by exploiting foreigners living in foreign lands and by exploiting first-generation immigrants for 10+ years before they became successful.

4. Coke and Pepsi destroyed the local soft drinks industry in India. The multinational publishing houses destroyed the local publishing houses everywhere including India. The U.S. has destroyed pretty much the agriculture industry in India. South India has some of the highest suicide rates in the world.

5. As an American Indian, born in India, raised in India, now working for America I am not complaining. Why? I simply understand the rule of the economics.

6. My elderly mother, living in India, is a victim of globalization. Her agricultural produce does not fetch the prices it used to. Thanks to globalization, she now depends on her son (me) to get by. Or else, she will die early without proper nutrition or access to healthcare.

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7. Am I complaining? Not at all. I am doing my share, going to places where my job skills are accepted. I keep learning and adapting to the new industry standards, so that I can keep my job.

-- Krishna Kannan

For years high-tech workers have been developing technology that put many people below their social class out of work.

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Friends who were high-paid typesetters became obsolete with the advent of desktop publishing. Factory work that didn't go overseas became highly automated thanks to robotics.

Now that the very technology they invented is being used against them they see it as a "tragedy." I see it as more of a belated karmic payback.

-- John Scott

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It is interesting how the coverage of foreign outsourcing has ballooned as soon as white-collar jobs are on the line. Where were all the media and the huffing, outraged public when American factories, mines and shipyards closed and millions of blue-collar jobs were lost? If the middle class had more ethical and democratic considerations (overriding their comfort and the convenience of lower prices) in the past, and the issue was addressed when it started at the bottom of the ladder, this might not be happening now.

A few years ago I visited Italy on a business trip. To protest the disadvantageous renegotiation of their contract, the worker unions took to the street in Florence. But not only them: I saw stores, cafes and offices emptying, bosses and employees filing to the main square hand-in-hand (literally!). The American people could learn something from them. Timely protest is not unpatriotic: It is the basis of democracy. They need to learn that political and industry leaders are not always working for their good; only the people can protect the people.

-- Ana B.

It makes little difference whether the jobs go to India, China, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Africa or Sweden. Destroy the American middle class and totalitarianism is sure to follow. This is not rhetoric, it is history. Liberal democracy cannot and will not exist without a robust middle class of merchants, skilled laborers, and both blue- and white-collar workers to fill the socioeconomic gap between the wealthy and the wretched.

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And I have a message for the Behlendorfs of the world: They who sow the wind reap the whirlwind. Don't assume that the inevitable totalitarianism I mentioned above will be corporatist. It could turn out to be fascist, with a home-grown, American Hitler with his finger on the button controlling 20,000 nukes. If I were an engineer in Bangalore, I would be very, very nervous.

-- Rob Anderson

[Read Sam Williams' "When Offshoring Goes Bad" and Katharine Mieszkowski's "The Global Market at Work."]

I used to outsource myself here too.

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Although I used nothing more than my phone line, my head and my computer, Los Angeles City started demanding city taxes as a business operating in the city limits from me. Based on my federal and state tax returns, I owed them about as much as she tithes.

Mind you, I was not using any city services that I already did not pay for with my property taxes, and sales taxes. No traffic, no visiting clients, no parking spaces taken up, no noise or pollution nuisance for my neighbors who did not know whether I was in or out.

As for the sample site of SmartWebby's work, I think you get what you pay for. This looks like a newspaper full of small print and uninviting columns in Microsoft blue. Computer time is taken up loading a dumb sunrise photo.

Who crafted the run-on sentence passing for a survey question to let you discover that old folks use computers?

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I guess we will have to go to India, move in with someone else's parents for a fee, and start working under the hanging laundry in the balcony to get these jobs. Oh, I forgot. We cannot get work permits as noncitizens.

-- Sylvia Sur

I'm no longer in the software development business, but many of the problems this article described with outsourced workers are completely familiar to me -- except I wasn't working with outsourced workers. No firm methodology, poor data models, nonexistent or sketchy specs -- all commonly plagued U.S.-staffed projects during the dot-com boom. Clients were too impatient for tangible results (i.e., something they could click) to spend the necessary time planning and describing.

In my experience, programmers are highly literal people. You need to tell them exactly what you want, down to the last detail; otherwise you may end up with what they think makes sense (which may be a disaster in terms of usability or visual appearance -- how else did the original Netscape end up with Times text on a gray background?). Insufficient specs create problems when the programming team sits around the corner from you; when they're half a world away, it has to be worse.

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But this isn't the fault of Indian programmers -- it's the fault of business or account managers who are unwilling or unable to take the time to understand what the programming team needs to produce a superior product, and it's a failure on the part of the project manager to adequately communicate the team's needs to the client (internal or external), though project managers are often placed in an impossible position by managerial expectations. I've never worked with outsourced Indian programmers, but my experience with foreign-born and trained programmers was nothing but positive: they were highly skilled, highly professional, and generally a pleasure to work with, as much as any native-born American programmer. The problems your article describes sound to me like "project disasters" not "outsourcing disasters."

-- Maia Gemmill

"In general, when senior management makes a decision to outsource, there's political pressure to pretend it's working just so they don't look stupid. That's happening here, too. Everybody has to grin and bear it just so Joe Schmoe at the top doesn't look like an asshole."

That's the real bottom line, isn't it. All those executives who claimed they "earned" all those salaries and benefits when the economy was booming but, when the economy goes bust, well, it's not their responsibility or fault the company depreciated likewise. Their success was only in being better con artists and liars. Beyond that they're really not worth more than any other specialized employee. The personal rewards many received plainly did not match any personal risks they took.

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-- Richard Dunn

I'm certainly glad to hear that some of the companies responsible for destroying the careers of I.T. professionals in the U.S. are feeling some (but not enough) pain themselves.

However, I take issue with some of the managers trying to get what they see as revenge against "recalcitrant" (perhaps a better term would be "uppity") American programmers. Contrary to the opinion of the Anonymous COO, most of us are just looking for a job which will pay a reasonable (American) cost of living while letting us stay in our chosen profession. Even during the dot-com boom, most of us were making less than six figures.

Most of these "managers" are blind to what they're throwing away. For instance, Mr. Raynor complains about the "pushback" when developers had to fix the same bug six times. A skilled software professional will leverage the code so that the bug only needs to be fixed once. Isn't that more valuable than an automaton that copies and pastes the same code in a dozen places?

I was also a little surprised by some of the cost figures. For instance, who pays $1,000/day on U.S. programmers? For that price you could get five American programmers. I wonder how much upper management is making at that company? In fact, when are we going to see upper management being outsourced? The cost savings to companies would dwarf what they save on I.T.

Thank you for this piece.

-- Mike Gollub


Salon Staff

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