Friday, January 30

The outsourcing reality for America

The American reality from

* A century ago, 40 percent of Americans worked on farms. Today, the farm sector employs about 3 percent of our workforce. But our agriculture economy still outproduces all but two countries. Fifty years ago, most of the US labor force worked in factories. Today, only about 14 percent is in manufacturing. But we've still got the largest manufacturing economy in the world - worth about $1.9 trillion in 2002. We've seen this movie before - and it's always had a happy ending. The only difference this time is that the protagonists are forging pixels instead of steel. And accountants, financial analysts, and other number crunchers, prepare for your close-up. Your jobs are next. After all, to export sneakers or sweatshirts, companies need an intercontinental supply chain. To export software or spreadsheets, somebody just needs to hit Return.

What makes this latest upheaval so disorienting for Americans is its speed. Agriculture jobs provided decent livelihoods for at least 80 years before the rules changed and working in the factory became the norm. Those industrial jobs endured for some 40 years before the twin pressures of cheap competition overseas and labor-saving automation at home rewrote the rules again. IT jobs - the kind of high-skill knowledge work that was supposed to be our future - are facing the same sort of realignment after only 20 years or so. The upheaval is occurring not across generations, but within individual careers. The rules are being rewritten while people are still playing the game. And that seems unjust.

Couple those changed rules with the ham-fisted public relations of the American companies doing the outsourcing and it's understandable why programmers are so pissed. It makes sense that they're lashing out at the H1-B and L-1 visas. US immigration policies are a proxy for forces that are harder to identify and combat. It's easier to attack visible laws than it is to restrain the invisible hand. To be sure, many of these policies, especially the L-1, have been abused. American programmers have done an effective job of highlighting these abuses - and during an election year, Congress will likely enact some reforms. But even if these visa programs were eliminated altogether, not much would change in the long run. *

[The New Face of the Silicon Age: Page.4]