Outsourcing of information technology services continues to be a hot topic -- and a sore point for many IT professionals. As they stand in unemployment lines, they see their former jobs being shipped off to India, where they are now done by people making one-fifth as much. It has aroused much bitterness and led to legislative efforts to restrict outsourcing in the name of saving jobs for Americans.
I can't really offer any comfort to unemployed programmers, but the process of outsourcing is good for both the U.S. and world economies. Any jobs saved in the short-run by restrictions on outsourcing will come at the expense of better jobs in the future that will not be created.
The problem really arises because India, rather than, say, Canada or Germany, is the perceived threat. We don't generally worry about American jobs going to wealthy industrialized countries like Canada and Germany, because their workers are highly paid and cannot undercut us based on low labor costs. Because Indian workers are paid only a fraction of what a comparable American (or Canadian or German) makes, the competition is viewed as unfair.
But how did the United States and other wealthy countries get that way? It was by being the low-cost producer in some area. No doubt, the European farmers of the 18th century were bitter about being undercut by American farmers, whose cost of land was a fraction of that in Europe. They must have felt that this was as unfair as unemployed IT workers feel about India. But as time went by, costs equalized as capital and labor migrated to other countries and other industries. This is all part of the process of economic growth.
An article in the February issue of Wired Magazine makes this point well. It points out that Indians now doing jobs outsourced from America are seeing a rapid rise in their wages and standard of living. In the process, they are becoming more like Americans, which is translating into demand for American goods and lifestyles. The Indians also know that they can't compete only on price; the quality also has to be there, and they believe that they are delivering it.
The author of the article, Daniel Pink, goes on to make this important point: "Isn't the emergence of a vibrant middle class in an otherwise poor country a spectacular achievement, the very confirmation of the wonders of globalization -- not to mention a new market for American goods and services? And if this transition pinches a little, aren't Americans being a tad hypocritical by whining about it? After all, where is it written that IT jobs somehow BELONG to Americans -- and that any non-American who does such work is stealing a job from its rightful owner?"
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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