Alan Reynolds

The total Blinder list of the 22 most offshorable major jobs totaled 15,732,670 in May 2005. That was up 7.7 percent from 14,603,140 jobs in May 2002. Employment increased in 18 of the 22 job groups, and wages increased in all of them.

The two most vulnerable jobs on Blinder's list are the most plausible, and the ones most often mentioned -- computer programmers and telemarketers. They are followed in the same top tier by computer systems analysts, bookkeeping clerks, consumer software engineers and systems analysts.

The second, less risky category includes accountants, but also several jobs that do not seem easily "zapped across international borders electronically." The group includes welders, for example, plus production worker helpers, packaging and filling machine operators, machinists, inspectors and even "first-line supervisors/managers."

In the third group, we are asked to believe that "sales managers" may soon be relocated to foreign countries. Customers may get an e-mail or phone call, but don't expect lunch or a handshake.

Employment increased between 2002 and 2005 in 18 of the 22 job categories supposedly threatened by electronic delivery of services. Employment did decline 4.5 percent among telemarketers, a loss of nearly 19,000 jobs, but that is an unpleasant low-wage job, and the job drop is largely explained by the national "do not call" registry. To put that loss of about 6,000 jobs a year in context, the United States routinely loses about 30 million jobs each year, yet gains even more. The net gain is why the unemployment rate is just 4.5 percent.

Employment among computer programmers fell by 68,000 jobs, nearly 15 percent. I am not unsympathetic, since my son John is a PHP programmer of online applications (in New York, not India). Most software professionals in India are just coders, a rote job requiring little creativity. Besides, employment in four other computer-related "offshorable" U.S. jobs, such as computer software engineers, increased by 210,570 between 2002 and 2005, far outstripping the loss of mostly low-end programming jobs.

Blinder needed a short and snappy idea designed to be "marketable in the political arena." He is trying to sell us on his public policy ideas. As the academic paper notes, "The appropriate policy responses (if any) to this problem probably depend on how many jobs might be susceptible to offshoring." He wants a large policy response, which requires a large number.

It is always prudent to be suspicious whenever wildly sensational claims are used to market any public policy.

Blinder wants more generous unemployment benefits (which discourage work) and more costly retraining programs (which almost always fail). He even expects expert central planners to redesign "our education system so that it turns out more people who are trained for the jobs that will remain in the United States and fewer for the jobs that will migrate overseas." If your children want to be computer programmers or accountants, they will simply have to adapt to the national plan.

Employment is increasing in nearly all the occupations Blinder imagines to be in imminent danger of being handled through electronic communication with some distant country. Unless the facts change, Blinder's imaginative guesstimates and policy advice need not be taken too seriously.


Alan Reynolds

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