Rethinking outsourcing

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If the Owls (Occupy Wall Street) taught us anything of late, it’s that when enough people participate long enough in a demonstration they might be heard. It is foolhardy to think that because of the Owls Bank of America dropped its planned $5 fee on the use of debit cards. Even if not a causal connection, there is something about the frustration of the many that eventually gets the attention of the few.

There is an old story about the king who sends his tax collector around his kingdom to collect taxes. Each time he returns, the king asks about the mood of the people. When the tax collector reports that the people are complaining, the king suggests another tax hike. But the people are really upset, they are crying, he is told. Raise the taxes again, he shouts with gusto. And then the tax collector returns, reporting that the people are laughing. Oh, says the king, now we are in trouble. Lower the taxes immediately!

There is a lesson to be learned here for government officials and corporate heads alike. The people are frustrated, disempowered, disenfranchised, and unemployed. Be glad for the Owls in public or private squares, for they are still venting their anger and hardship, the unfairness of a system that was supposed to provide equal opportunities for all. Just think what would happen if they began to laugh at the authorities, defying ordinances, refusing to file their tax returns come next April.

The fact that the disorganized voices of the Owls are heard around the country, that their protest against economic injustice resonates with the public at large, should give all pause. Instead of trying to ridicule them or analyze their lack of coherent agenda or their poor public relations presentations, those of us who are employed should instead offer solutions, however outlandish or far-fetched. Here are some.

If you recall, before the great housing bubble, there was a job drainage that was broadly called outsourcing. The great Indian labor market became the Mecca for call centers. These jobs used to be right here, some even in virtual settings, where stay-at-home moms were able to log into their company’s website and answer standard customer-service questions. Can’t we bring these jobs back?

Why not extend college internship programs, offering undergraduates and graduate students alike the opportunities readily offered foreigners when outsourcing. Perhaps a bit of tweaking in regulations could make this more appealing to students and corporations alike, reducing costs (below market hourly wages), considering these costs in terms of scholarships or awards rather than standard wages that are subjected to additional costs.

Similarly, when we complain that we don’t produce enough engineers and scientists in this country, we can solve this problem as well. Every student who graduates with an engineering degree, for example, and who works for any engineering company in the US would receive a rebate on tuition and fees if working there for more than four years. Sounds familiar? Yes, it’s like ROTC, where we, the taxpayers, are paying for officers’ tuition. Serving the scientific and engineering needs of the country is just as important and patriotic, contributing to our national security as officers in the armed forces.

Another innovation, one that would require government intervention, is proposed by Perry Sanders in his Fixtheusa.us Anyone can read through this one-page plan and then decide if it makes sense or requires some revisions to make it operational. No matter your reaction, at least someone took the time to write out a plan and have it be part of the public discourse. When was the last time you thought of a solution? We need more, not less of these ideas to float to the top. Apparently the top — politicians and economists alike — is short on ideas.

As we think through solutions to the systematic problems that affect us all, we should be reminded of the intricate relations between the political and economic domains, and between them and the cultural and moral domains. Are we, as Americans, that inconsiderate of each other? Aren’t we personally offended when injustice occurs around us? Has money, as the only denominator of exchange and valuation, robbed us of our sense of compassion and empathy?

Philosophers have taught us that Hobbes’ view of humanity at war against each other is politically untenable. We must find ways to get along so that living in a community promotes trust and a modicum of collaboration. Compromise, as our Founding Fathers admitted, is necessary at times to get a Constitution signed. Compromise isn’t a four-letter word, as it appears from the DC vortex. It’s what our hybrid capitalist republic is based on.

Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS and is committed to offering solutions to his critiques. He can be reached at rsassower@gmail.com Previous articles can be found at sassower.blogspot.com