- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Who does Bill Gates think he is fooling? Microsoft’s chairman spent the last week of February on the college stump trying to talk up computer engineering. But nothing he can say can overcome the fact students have been reading announcements from every American high-tech company, including Microsoft itself, about thousands of engineering and research jobs being moved to Asia.

On Feb. 16, the Associated Press reported Siemens announced it will move most of the 15,000 software programming jobs from its offices in the U.S. and Western Europe to India, China and Eastern Europe.

“Siemens has recognized that a huge amount of software development activity needs to be moved from high-cost countries to low-cost countries,” said a Siemens managing director.

According to official U.S. statistics, at the end of February 2004, the U.S. economy had 229,000 fewer jobs in computer systems design and related than in January 2001, a decline of 17.2 percent in three years. Architectural and engineering employment lost 33,000 jobs during the period, a decline of 2.6 percent (the data are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics payroll surveys). With the economy shedding more knowledge jobs than it creates, new graduates face poor prospects.

The typical economist is too much a True Believer to notice what is being done to Americans’ occupations by outsourcing. High school and college students are much more astute. They are abandoning occupations that can be outsourced.

Nationally, enrollments in computer science and computer engineering are down 23 percent this year. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the premier engineering school, enrollment in electrical engineering and computer science fell 33 percent in two years.

The New York Times on March 1 reported that even MIT’s best graduates are abandoning their computer engineering profession for investment banking. Presidents and deans of engineering schools are expressing concerns engineering education has no future in America.

It has been years since the U.S. economy has created any net new jobs in export or import-competitive industries. Obviously, trade and our massive trade deficit are not the stimulus to our export sector that economists claim.

Overall, there has been no job growth in three years. The economy during this period has lost 2.97 million net private sector jobs. The few areas of job growth are concentrated in lowly paid nontradable services.

The BLS in its Feb. 11 job projections for the next 10 years emphasizes that seven of the 10 occupations with the largest projected job growth are so menial they can be learned with short-term on-the-job training. They are not high-paying jobs and they produce no export earnings: nursing aides, orderlies and attendants, waiters and waitresses, janitors and cleaners, cashiers, food preparation and serving, including fast food, customer service representatives, retail salespersons. As Business Week notes, “most of the big growth areas will be low-skill and low-paying.”

Economists and pundits who keep talking about the wonderful high-tech economy that outsourcing is creating are talking about China, not the U.S. Writing in the Wall Street Journal online Feb. 20, Steve Liesman, senior economics reporter for CNBC, points out jobs in this “recovery” are as conspicuously absent as weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Mr. Liesman pours cold water over the favorite “solution” offered by economists — education: “In Oct. 2001, this country passed an ignominious milestone: For the first time ever, the number of college-educated unemployed surpassed the number of unemployed who don’t have high school diplomas.”

When U..S firms produce offshore, the products are not potential American exports. Offshore production reduces the ability of the U.S. to export, while turning what was formerly domestic production into imports. Offshore production thus delivers a double blow to the trade deficit.

Unable to pay for its imports with exports, the U.S. is paying by giving up ownership of its assets. Foreigners are becoming the owners of our real estate, companies and government and corporate bonds. When they acquire ownership, they also acquire the future income streams produced by these assets. As Warren Buffet recently made clear in Fortune magazine, our trade deficit is making us poorer.

What will balance our trade deficit is the collapse of the dollar. Economists like to emphasize a decline in the exchange value of the dollar will make U.S. exports cheaper, and more will be sold abroad. They don’t like to emphasize that dollar decline pushes up the price of all imported goods, from energy to those “cheap foreign goods” in Wal-Mart.

Americans lose both ways: First they lose good jobs in exchange for cheap foreign goods; then they lose the ability to pay for the foreign goods as the falling value of the dollar drives up the prices of the foreign goods. People trapped between falling incomes and rising prices are not people with a future.

Paul Craig Roberts is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.

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