- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

Offshoring is a sensitive subject, so corporations don’t wave their plans around if they can avoid it.

Yet tech jobs continue to move east. Week after week, the stories of their departure appear but often on obscure Web sites.

From time to time, I see figures showing that the U.S. economy has created a large number of jobs.

This causes a certain smugness among friends who think I am a paranoid gloom-peddler with respect to offshoring.

Then the pundits point out that these jobs, essential as they might be, are not in research and development, or high-tech manufacturing. They are service jobs — jobs that produce nothing exportable.

A friend of mine, a programmer recently laid off (because the company collapsed, not because of offshoring) has decided not to look for work in programming.

“Everything I did could have been done from [Bombay]. It wasn’t, yet anyway, but could have been at any time. Who wants to work with that hanging over his head?”

When I read about more and more research centers being set up in Asia, with Asian scientists and engineers and programmers, I can’t help thinking: How can this possibly work?

People who favor offshoring argue that it will actually produce more jobs and prosperity in America.

What they say reads like a complex theological argument from the Middle Ages. I ask, how is this connected to reality?

When I look at the tech goods in my house, all of them come from Asia.

Three Canon cameras and a Nikon, routers, modems, several computers with U.S. labels but to my certain knowledge built of components made in Asia. The stereo, printer, shortwave radio, on and on. The car, a Toyota Corolla.

I often see the argument that manufacturing is scut work, that America’s strength is ideas, advanced technology, fearfully difficult engineering. We’re going to sell brains, and let the others stamp metal. And I think, “What are we smoking?”

We are training our replacements. When you set up a design center in Bombay, you quickly have Indians who know how to design things. They aren’t stupid.

Both soon and inevitably, you get the Santa Clara Lunch Break: The software-design staff goes out to get Jolt Cola and potato chips (which is what programmers eat) and goes into a rented garage.

Now it’s an independent local company. In all likelihood, it begins writing software for the U.S. market.

There’s nothing reprehensible in this. It’s called free enterprise, entrepreneurship, the market, and so on.

But as Asians learn to do these things, they will move up the chain from call centers to design centers to design companies.

They’re doing it. And they’ll do it lots cheaper than we can.

I suspect that it’s inevitable. Borders are porous to technology.

Asia may not have the capital we have, yet, but it has the brains, and the Internet makes intellectual work independent of geography.

Tell me how this is going to help the U.S. economy.

When your manufacturing base goes away, your premier corporations become detached from the national sovereignty, and your advanced thinking is done abroad, what is left?

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