Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Can't Work Your Way Out of This One

This month's Wired magazine focuses on the migration of technical jobs from the United States to India, a topic near-and-dear to many a geek's heart.

Sadly, (for the American worker) the tide of outsourcing cannot be stemmed through working more hours. U.S. Workers are already the world's most productive, working 1,825 hours in 2002 (compared to 1,444 in Germany or 1,545 in France).

Over the long run, the type of offshore outsourcing currently affecting US technology jobs will prove to be fadish. How long will the fad last? As long as it takes for two factors to return to equilibrium.

Standards of living and wage expectations among the American middle and upper classes will fall compared to the rest of the world. Since personal monetary standards of living currently exceed our peer nations on a dramatic scale, their retreat will (paired with maintenance of our educational competitive advantage) will make offshoring less financial beneficial.

(Frustrating as this might sound, it will be easier to stomach as multi-national business executives find themselves under wage pressure. Outsourcing management to the lowest bidder will be the next vogue in shipping the whole lot overseas.)

Falling domestic wages represents only half the trend that will abruptly draw labor off-shoring to a close. Historically, wage inequities in democracies have been short-lived phenomena. As India (and its ilk) emerge from a status quo where abject poverty is acceptable, their prices and wages will rise. What happens to an Indian programmer when he or she asks for a raise? What happens when they all do?

Is there a place where bright people will work for free? No.
Do we need to think of ourselves as members of a global workforce? Yes.

This bout of outsourcing will educate us to the real cash value of our skills, and challenge us to be excellent.

There's no denying that this bout of offshored labor has been a bitter pill for the American worker. However...

Because outsourcing will more rapidly pull quasi-developed nations out of half-affluence, it represents a positive global development.
Because it awakens all of us to the demands of a global community, it represents a positive personal development.
Because it will ultimately undermine the ostentatious wages paid to the top 1%, it represents a positive social development.

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