Dude, Where's My Job?
The ins and outs of outsourcing.
Unless you're an expatriated third-world dictator living incognito, or a former Lehman Brothers executive in the witness-protection program, you've probably had to make some adjustments in your personal budget over the past few years. Average Joes like us have found innovative ways to stretch a dollar — reusing coffee grounds, eating ramen enchiladas or borrowing our neighbor's cable. But I recently read about a new money-saving trend that seems to have plenty of practical applications: outsourcing!
Outsourcing can be the perfect solution for those of us somewhere between clinging to an antiquated faith in free enterprise and having to knock over a liquor store to make rent. Details vary, but generally, it works like this: find an easily exploitable labor pool and pay them in beads, pancakes or a handful of rice! They work cheaper and more diligently than overpaid, lazy Americanos. It might sound a bit dubious, but since there's nothing technically illegal going on, you can rest easy in the knowledge that not only are you sponsoring economic development in a backwater nation built of mud and chicken bones, you are also opening up your schedule considerably, too.
My initial experiments in outsourcing my daily activities have been successful thus far. As mundane tasks roll in, I simply delegate them via email to a group of sweaty kids in Bangalore who were educated in American colleges and are smarter, more nimble and much more agreeable to be around. For the cost of a Snickers bar, I can put my name on a professionally prepared spreadsheet or web site after playing Farmville all day, and still cash my regular paychecks. Talk about a win-win situation!
Some narrow-minded people take issue with outsourcing, but they're probably just bitter because they're out of work. If they took the time to research the issue, they'd clearly see that outsourcing is nothing new. The Founding Fathers were big believers in outsourcing, and brought in a highly skilled African workforce to pick cotton and raise tobacco. Moral issues aside, it was successful because white people really don't like to work that hard and were far more adept at sitting on the verandah, drinking mint juleps and writing a Constitution that claimed that "all men are created equal" unless they were, um, colored differently or had vaginas. Bad form.
Outsourcing to African labor fell out of favor after a little diplomatic negotiation we like to call the "Civil War." Luckily, savvy businessmen found cheap labor in the Irish and Chinese, who built amazing things like the transcontinental railroad and the Brooklyn Bridge for bread and water (whisky for the Irish). In fact, Americans still outsource labor to other nationalities: Who picks our crops, cleans our hotel rooms and lays our tile?
So if a guy named "Brad" wants to fix my computer remotely for $1.25 an hour from a cubicle farm in Delhi, who am I to fuss about an accent so thick it makes Mowgli seem like a classically trained Shakespearean thespian? "Brad" gets the job done, quickly and professionally, is extremely polite (I think), and lets the software company provide me a service I probably wouldn't get otherwise. Meanwhile, "Brad" gets to enjoy the fruits of a steady paycheck in an economy that probably doesn't give him many opportunities. Again, seems like a win-win.
Sounds un-American, doesn't it? I mean, with roughly 10% unemployment, shouldn't we keep the jobs here at home? Well, let's see in New Mexico, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. An employer must also pay half of the employee's FICA taxes, which puts the employer's cost at about $7.80 an hour. In addition, an employer must often provide health insurance, which can cost different amounts to different employers. Let's say the company kicks in about half; that puts the employer's cost up to $8.29 an hour. That's $1,324 a month for the employer and $1,160 gross for the employee, who really will take home only about $928. Try living on that income. Who even wants that job?
So an employer has to pay market value for an employee, which has to be substantially more than even minimum wage. OR the company can outsource jobs overseas for a lower cost, and still provide services for their customers and be competitive in a global marketplace. The success of Wal-Mart has proven that people still shop for the lowest-priced items, outsourcing be damned. If a company is going to survive and sell products in the Wal-Mart aisles, it has to reduce costs. After all, it's hard to compete with China, where I hear they pay their own workers in rice and fish heads.
Outsourcing isn't a sinister corporate conspiracy to destroy America; it's a necessary evil to remain competitive in a global marketplace. As with most of our nation's problems, if you want to uncover the criminal mastermind responsible for outsourcing, you need look no further than your mirror.