Monday, 21 November, 2005

Off-shoring is the workers' fault

The uninformed arrogance that passes for patriotism these days is sickening.  It's one thing to believe that the freedoms afforded by our form of government make the United States the best place in the world to live.  From all I've read and what little traveling I've done, that seems to be the case.  I'll rally around that flag.

But to act as though we are somehow better than other people, just because we live in the U.S., is tribalism at its worst.  I'll grant that there was some justification for that behavior after we defeated Japan and Germany in WWII, emerging as the most powerful economic and military force on the planet, and credited by many with "saving civilization."  I won't say that it was right to act like the kings of the world, but at least our fathers and grandfathers had some justification for it.

Things change in 60 years, though.  American industrial capacity continues to decline at an increasing rate due to off-shoring.  Textiles were among the first to go.  Then it was shoes and other manufacturing that requires relatively unskilled labor.  Dirty industry began to move.  Japan and other countries began producing cars, televisions, and other electronics.  It wouldn't surprise me if 20 years from now there is no heavy industry at all left in the United States.

Two related issues today are an extension of that off-shoring: migration of customer support and some skilled office work offshore, and formerly high-paying skilled jobs (construction and meat packing, for example) in this country being taken over by immigrants who will work at much lower wages.  Workers who are losing their jobs are rightly concerned, but they're screaming at the wrong people.  The culprits aren't shoddy government or corporate greed, but rather the workers themselves whose demands for ever-increasing wages and benefits to support an unsustainable lifestyle force companies to find a less expensive workforce just to produce a product at a competitive price.

We as a people sit here in our palatial homes, storing our cars in garages that are larger and better appointed than the dwellings occupied by the majority of people in the world.  We have an easy life, working only forty hours per week and not having to worry about food availability.  Anything we could possibly want is just a few minutes' drive away at the local big box grocery store.  We lead a privileged, slothful existence, spending money faster than we take it in, expecting the gravy train to last forever, all the while looking down our noses at intelligent, hard-working people in the rest of the world who are scrabbling for existence and saving every penney they can in order to get ahead.  Somehow we forget that not so long ago our ancestors were those people.  We're living our luxurious lifestyle because our ancestors worked, scraped, and saved.

Immigrants and offshore workers aren't stealing our jobs; we're giving them away by demanding ever increasing payment for ever decreasing work.  And then we complain about the increased prices and lower quality of the things that we buy.  It's little wonder that companies are finding workers elsewhere.  They get more committed workers who will work for less money, producing a better product at a lower price.  Asia will become the next economic powerhouse, not because of corporate greed, but because the growing number of educated people there are willing to work to attain the lifestyle that we take for granted.

That is undoubtedly bad for America.  Fewer jobs means less money, a weaker economy, and overall a country that is not as strong as it once was.  But no amount of government regulation attempting to restrict trade or prevent companies from offshoring will prevent that.  If American companies can't move their production overseas, foreign competitors will tap that huge pool of available workers and produce products at a fraction of the price of American-made goods.  American exports stop.  High import tarrifs will serve only to keep the prices for American goods high so that, rather than being overrun with inexpensive foreign merchandise, we'll struggle to afford the decreasing supply of American-made goods.  In short, government regulation can only change the shape of the decline, and perhaps draw it out a bit.

The only solution to the problem is for American workers to realize that the world doesn't owe them a privileged lifestyle just because they happen to live in this country.  If that means giving up the vacation home, boat, new car every three years, and the many other frivolous luxuries, then so be it.  The alternative is bankruptcy, poverty, and fighting your former co-workers for the choicest intersections at which to beg for dollars from passersby.