- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2003

I recently wrote that a whole lot of programming jobs were moving to India, that the flow wasn’t about to stop and that, having cut their teeth on scut-work programming, the Indians would move into research and design. This, I claimed, had enormous but murky implications for the United States. Well, I still claim it.

I didn’t see this as particularly percipient. Many Indians are smart, like mathematics, want money, speak English, and have Internet connections. Such folk do not move aggressively into bricklaying.

My e-mail from technical folk was heavy and varied. Some of it pointed to real or imagined characteristics of Indians and said that, yeah, they could do simple programming but research and design were American specialties. Many guys said, “We’re just as good as they are, but they work really cheap.” Correct on both counts — but as good and cheaper is enough.

Anyway:

“General Motors, the world’s largest automaker, has announced it has set up a $21 million automotive research laboratory in India’s technology hub of Bangalore, its first outside the United States,” according to Al Jazeera.

Alan Taub, a research bigwig for GM, talks of having 100 scientists employed within a couple of months doing high-performance computing. He speaks of tapping into “science-rich countries” to harness the best available talent.

It is nothing new for multinationals to have research projects conducted with foreign universities or to do technical work overseas. General Motors has lots. Many such companies operate in so many countries under so many laws that it’s hard to say which country they belong to. But the scale is increasing and the flow is toward Asia.

The outsourcing isn’t just in brainwork. Not long ago, American workers were angry because manufacturing jobs were going to Mexico. Now Mexicans are upset because the jobs are leaving Mexico and going to — China.

An Indian software worker is estimated to make about 15 percent of what an American makes. A common figure is that India graduates 200,000 engineers a year.

Many American technical folk say that the employment of Asians in places like Silicon Valley is a good thing. The United States, they say, has always drained high-end brains from elsewhere.

It’s what keeps the country prospering, they say.

What appears to be happening now is that the best brains in Asia may choose to stay at home and work, by Internet or otherwise, for American firms — which inevitably means setting up, before long, their own companies.

The new transnational telecommuting is different from past practice, in which the incoming brains usually became citizens. The old assumption was that people in other countries wanted to come to the United States. The Mexican tide crossing the border consists of such people in search of a better life.

Other things being equal, however, people tend to prefer to stay in their own cultures. If techies in Bombay can live splendidly on what they get from a company in Scranton, Pa., why would they choose to leave Bombay?

The effect of the networking of the planet — it seems to me — is less to erode national sovereignty than to make it less important.

When the product is information it just sort of goes wherever at broadband speeds. And governments come to be regarded chiefly as sources of paperwork.


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