Saturday, November 13, 2004

Economist on Outsourcing

This week's issue surveys the situation.

As Alan Greenspan, chairman of America's Federal Reserve Bank, has pointed out, there is always likely to be anxiety about the jobs of the future, because in the long run most of them will involve producing goods and services that have not yet been invented. William Nordhaus, an economist at Yale University, has calculated that under 30% of the goods and services consumed at the end of the 20th century were variants of the goods and services produced 100 years earlier. “We travel in vehicles that were not yet invented that are powered by fuels not yet produced, communicate through devices not yet manufactured, enjoy cool air on the hottest days, are entertained by electronic wizardry that was not dreamed of and receive medical treatments that were unheard of,” writes Mr Nordhaus.

...Indeed, the definition of the sort of work that Indian outsourcing firms are good at doing remotely—repetitive and bound tightly by rules—sounds just like the sort of work that could also be delegated to machines. If offshoring is to be blamed for this “lost” work, then mechanical diggers should be blamed for usurping the work of men with shovels. In reality, shedding such lower-value tasks enables economies to redeploy the workers concerned to jobs that create more value.

My main worry is that our system doesn't do a good job of redistributing benefits from winners to losers. It seems probable that the rather sudden addition of more than a billion workers to the world labor market will, for a time, lead to a surplus of labor in certain categories or at certain skill levels. Is America's educational system really preparing surplus workers to move to "jobs that create more value"?

1 comment:

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