"I have a mind like a steel... uh... thingy." Patrick Logan's weblog.

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Friday, August 29, 2003

Higher Values

An interesting article on "offshore" IT. ("Offshore" if you're in the US at least.)...

Libertarian IT workers who watch their jobs go overseas should derive joy from geographic shifts in employment. Their "dog eat dog" creed requires them to be happy whenever the marketplace finds a way to pay workers less and increase business owners' profits.

I thought this was an insightful connection with the seemingly disproportionate number of self-professed libertarians in the IT industry.

A couple of observations about this "offshore" movement...

  • Of course capitalism and libertarianism are idealistic theories. They assume perfect knowledge and model behavior. The real world is not so tidy, and so dislocations have been and continue to be painful for all industries.
  • More importantly in my opinion is this: when you choose to move some jobs to a lower cost market, or for that matter, when you choose to buy a product, "offshore" to cheaper labor, in some sense you are making a value statement of another kind. You are saying you don't care that the labor conditions "over there" are worse than they are "here".

What's that? We're talking about IT. How are labor conditions worse for IT workers? Well, for example, I am diabetic. Diabetic care in the US is great* but in lower cost labor markets even well off IT workers suffer from less advanced and available diabetic care. This is just one example that hits home for me.

So employers who move jobs "offshore" without providing equivalent benefits are very much saying they value their workers less. Maybe this is to simply stay competive with everyone else, maybe its to satisfy stockholders who demand growth or as much as possible in a down market. But this is still a value decision that should not be ignored for Adam Smith's sake.

In theory wages and benefits should average out. "Ours" will come down a little and "theirs" will go up. And in theory improved productivity will lead to advances in technology and society as a whole, and we'll all rise with the tide. Of course the difference between theory and practice in theory is small, but in practice it is great.

What do we really value? Are we making good choices that reflect our higher values? Don't they need jobs "offshore" too? Of course. There are no easy answers. Jobs should go "offshore" to capable people.

The real problem is we should be putting our governments (plural) to work to reflect our higher values. Governments should be made effective market shapers when the "natural" course of a market does not appear to be moving in a desired direction. What I think our governments need to be shaping is the development of "appropriate" technology. We cannot deny that we need to do more with less, and concetrate truly scarce resources where they will have the best long term benefit.

Can governments be so efficient as to reflect our higher values?

*(In spite of the fact that vendors are not eager to cure such a money maker, and religious fundementalists are not eager to appear yielding an inch to the abortion/cloning faction, yet stem cell research is neither.)

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Portland, Oregon, United States
I'm usually writing from my favorite location on the planet, the pacific northwest of the u.s. I write for myself only and unless otherwise specified my posts here should not be taken as representing an official position of my employer. Contact me at my gee mail account, username patrickdlogan.