Up and Outsourced

Outsourcing labor to other countries in which labor is cheaper and taxes are more favorable is often seen as a BAD THING.  Oh, those naughty corporate bigwigs who send jobs overseas to the people in crushing poverty and raise their standard of living while providing more affordable products to folks back home in the U.S.  While it may seem very clear to many people that outsourcing is simply terrible, I like to look at the complexities of the situation and weigh the factors rather than making simplistic judgments like media types looking for a good story to rile folks up.  Yes, we have fewer jobs here, which is certainly a pressing issue.  It also often provides jobs and a higher standard of living for folks living in places where it’s an even more pressing issue.  Through outsourcing, we’ve done a great deal to help people in other countries have a better life.  It also gives us cheaper products and exposes folks in other countries to our debauched culture.  The outcomes have been mixed for everyone except the people with ever more gigantic stacks of cash that will be largely worthless as time goes on.

A similar issue that doesn’t get as much recognition in the media is upsourcing, which is process of exporting responsibility and power from the lowest level (individuals) to higher levels (municipal, state, and federal governments).  Looking at the history of our country, there are many examples of upsourcing.  One of my favorite examples is Prohibition, which also had mixed results.  Instead of being content with not indulging in excessive consumption of alcohol and putting social pressure on those who did, or just restricting commercial alcohol-related ventures at the county or state level, prohibitionists made it a national issue.  They upsourced the issue in an attempt to win.  It’s rather like a child running to the school principal when their teacher won’t let them make the rules in the classroom for everyone else.  And while I’m sure their intentions were good, they set a pretty terrible precedent.  It wasn’t the only precedent for the massive overreach of the federal government in matters of the economy or civil liberties, but it is a well-known case of it that features some serious abuse of the Constitution.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that we really consider how much we want to upsource.  How much of your responsibility for your own security, responsibility for your own health, and responsibility for your own financial decisions do you want to hand over to government?  I can see the appeal of not having to worry about that stuff and having more pleasant leisure time.  I can also see the loss of the corresponding liberty whenever responsibility is upsourced.  It’s a problem facing the Catholic Church in the U.S. right now.  The Bishops in the U.S. have pretty consistently advocated for universal healthcare legislation that would help ensure that everyone had access to decent healthcare.  They wanted to upsource the issue and give the federal government control over healthcare, and now they’re getting exactly what they asked for, but were surprised by the corresponding loss of freedom to make their own decisions about what constitutes decent healthcare.

I wasn’t surprised by that result.  I learned my lesson as a child that receiving the benefits of having someone else be responsible for you came with a corresponding loss of freedom.  I’m sure some people are still comfortable with having the kind of carefree security they had as a child, the security that comes with having someone else be the responsible party and liberty taken out of your hands.  I’m just not one of those people.

Sometimes, the feeling of security comes with too high a price.  Or it doesn’t, depending on your perspective.  Just ask these folks working in a sweat shop in Bangladesh:

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8 Responses to Up and Outsourced

  1. You do realize American labour pours money back into the U.S. economy right? 

  2. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @SolidStateTheory – Sure do.  I know that I as an American laborer certainly put money back into the economy or the pockets of the extraordinarily wealthy.  It’s hard to tell which sometimes. 

  3. agnophilo says:

    I’m confused, are the sweatshop owners screwed because they have no federally mandated rights or access to healthcare or are they screwed because they “upsourced” all their rights?  The former makes much more sense than the latter.And I see the government (federal and otherwise) as a check against corporatism.  While I understand the argument for states rights and having an america that’s like 50 little countries that all suck to varying degrees, it’s just easier to have some things done on the federal level.  Like say, catching murderers and bank robbers.  If all you had to do to get away with such crimes was get across a state border it would be simple to break the law.  And by extension this is also why extradition treaties are a good thing.

  4. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @agnophilo – I’m honestly not sure how the sweatshop owners are screwed in either way you mentioned.  Did you mean the workers rather than the owners?  If it’s the workers, I’d suggest that it’s complicated.  Some might be better off in the short term, but screwed in the long term.  Some might be much better off all around.  Some might not be better off at all.You see the government as a check against corporatism in which country exactly? I only ask because I’m in the one where our government officials receive large political donations (in a refreshingly bipartisan way) from large corporations and bail major failing businesses out with money they don’t have because they spent more than we have on wars overseas from which the only folks profiting without much loss were some of the aforementioned large corporations.I am very much in agreement with you that some things are better done at a federal level.  I think we’d both agree that prohibiting the sale of alcohol isn’t one of those things, and that different states cooperating on law enforcement matters is a good idea, but I doubt we’d agree on all examples.  Such is life.

  5. agnophilo says:

    @Nous_Apeiron – “I’m honestly not sure how the sweatshop owners are screwed in either way you mentioned.  Did you mean the workers rather than the owners?”  Yes I meant workers, sorry.”If it’s the workers, I’d suggest that it’s complicated.  Some might be better off in the short term, but screwed in the long term.  Some might be much better off all around.  Some might not be better off at all.”I was asking what you were implying in the blog.  “You see the government as a check against corporatism in which country exactly? I only ask because I’m in the one where our government officials receive large political donations (in a refreshingly bipartisan way) from large corporations and bail major failing businesses out with money they don’t have because they spent more than we have on wars overseas from which the only folks profiting without much loss were some of the aforementioned large corporations.”I agree things are screwed up, but these problems could be fixed with proper regulation.  The problem is the people doing the regulating are the people who benefit from the current system.  But “who will guard the guards themselves” is always a problem.”I am very much in agreement with you that some things are better done at a federal level.  I think we’d both agree that prohibiting the sale of alcohol isn’t one of those things, and that different states cooperating on law enforcement matters is a good idea, but I doubt we’d agree on all examples.  Such is life.”I don’t think prohibiting the sale of alcohol is a good thing on any level.  Not that in principle it isn’t an excellent idea, but that it doesn’t get rid of it and gave rise to drug lords, the mafia and gang bangers without actually getting rid of alcohol.

  6. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @agnophilo – “I was asking what you were implying in the blog.”A fair question.  One of the key themes of my Economics Week is that economic realities are more complicated than the perspectives presented to us by politicians, media outlets, or ideologues who happen to favor capitalism, socialism, communism, etc.  It’s easy for people to latch on to an economic system as the answer to various problems.  But the truth is that economies don’t operate in a vacuum, and more than one approach could be perfectly functional depending on the cultural values of the people, demographic trends, existing economic institutions, the amount of international trade, the amount of national debt, the level of infrastructure development, and so on.  Fundamentally, my point was that we need to be able to understand that any economic policy is going to have both positive and negative consequences and that instead of just assigning a knee-jerk solution to it out of ideology, we need to really think through the benefits and costs of it and take the most practical steps regardless of whether they match exactly to our ideals that would only work really well under circumstances we don’t have.”I agree things are screwed up, but these problems could be fixed with proper regulation.  The problem is the people doing the regulating are the people who benefit from the current system.  But “who will guard the guards themselves” is always a problem.”This actually ties in really well with my overarching point.  I see well-meaning liberals proposing more regulation as a solution to help reign in corporate excesses, and I see well-meaning conservatives proposing less regulation so that more small businesses can enter the market and end the market dominance of the giant corporations.  But neither of those things solves the real problem, which is the systemic corruption.  As you pointed out, our “guards” have no one to effectively guard them, which is because we have a public successfully divided and conquered and entertained with the modern equivalent of bread and circuses.  Solving the problem of corporate excess using either approach requires that we first end the systemic corruption, which requires first that we have a public capable of holding accountable those who engage in corruption, which requires first a truly informed public.  Which I think is something that you and I are both genuinely interested in, but most people would rather enjoy the comforts of life with their heads in the sand until a crisis hits.

  7. galadrial says:

    @Nous_Apeiron – Ok….I read all the posts.North of here, the Loreal factory operated since the 40’s, employing thousands of workers, not at minimum wage, but an actual Living wage. Last December they moved their base of operations to Mexico.In NJ, we have close to 10 percent unemployment. Most of the available jobs are at minimum wage. So the people who are now out of work are facing a drastic cut in wages, if indeed that can even get work. People over 40 are SERIOUSLY screwed, because there is a marked trend toward not getting call backs if they can figure out your age. (Which a resume can do for them pretty easily. If you have a 20 year work history, you are probably 40 or over. ) So these workers are now screwed for decent employment, and NOW face trying to pay mortgages they can’t afford. And selling their homes? Sort of complicated in a market that is still reeling from the bubble burst of 2008. If they DO sell…where are they supposed to live? Rents around here remain high…so I am not buying how “out sourcing” is good for our economy in the least.I live in a planned community of 10K homes…condos, townhouse and free standing houses. When people lost their jobs, it impacted on ALL of us…because they couldn’t afford their maintenance fees. We still had the same bills that needed paid, such as trash collection, or snow removal…but we had less ,money to cover it. So the fees had to go up…for everyone.  It works the same way for taxes, and with so many foreclosures, and people walking away from underwater mortgages, the remaining tax payers are left holding the bag. So…In summary. out sourcing doesn’t help ANYONE…and should be of interest to everyone.

  8. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @galadrial – One of the things I mentioned in the first paragraph was the parties who benefit from outsourcing.  The naughty corporate bigwigs are the only ones who get a good outcome for themselves without paying a high price for it.  American workers lose good jobs, but get lower prices on consumer goods.  Foreign workers get jobs, but they often have their problems as well, such as a lack of safety regulations.  So for the workers, outsourcing has been a very mixed bag.  Outsourcing has enriched the folks at the top immensely.  They are the ones who really benefit.I’m sure you remember the “trickle-down” economic theory (which I made fun of in one of my other posts).  The idea was that if the rich had more money they would invest more of it here and create different good jobs here.  And to some extent, that happened a bit during the tech boom, but much of that wealth gained from outsourcing never trickled down.  It stayed in the banks, where people did some really unethical and stupid shit that caused a lot of problems.  It was traded on the stock exchanges and put in mutual funds.  In essence, there was a lot of money put back into American hands from outsourcing, but it wasn’t shared with people like you and me.  It stayed at the top, never being reinvested in creating jobs for middle-class families.  That money is primarily used by people who already have a metric fuckton of it to get even more that they don’t plan to reinvest in jobs.  They would rather invest it in buying the cooperation of politicians so that they are protected from their unethical behavior.  So the problem isn’t that outsourcing doesn’t help anyone, but that it primarily helps those who need the least help, and they aren’t that interested in providing jobs for those who need more help.  It’s greed, plain and simple.  Which is why even though the entry-level adult wage earner in this country should and could be making over 20 dollars an hour, they don’t.  While CEOs get paid millions of dollars in a golden parachute for failing to run a business properly.

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