Clash of the Titans XXXVI: Outsourcing

July 7, 2007, 12:00 pm; posted by
Filed under Chloe, David, Debate  | 20 Comments

In this corner, supporting outsourcing, is David!

And in this corner, opposing the practice, is Chloe!

I am 46 and I’ve been a salesman nearly all of my adult life. I don’t know everything, but I know some things. Globalization, outsourcing, whatever else you want to complain about, it’s all inevitable.

Without getting deep into all the economic theory, this one is a no-brainer. People want to pay the lowest possible price for the product or service they need, and if there is a way to make that happen, someone, somewhere, will do it. And the market will either flock to them or find an even cheaper way. If that means using factories in Mexico to produce clothing, our clothes will come from south of the border. If it means locating a call center in India because they can hire five people for the price of one here, then our calls will be handled in India. Inevitable.

I personally believe our main barrier to accepting this globalization is our American mindset — after all, we are Americans and we have rights. We want to pick up the phone, call the number and have our billing problem solved in 30 seconds. We are the fast food generation. We microwave TV dinners because waiting 20 minutes for the oven is too slow. “Dang it, solve my problem now Rajiv, or we’ll bomb you back to the stone age! And learn English!!!”

The other half is that as patriotic Americans, we are threatened by any loss of jobs here. We enjoy a privileged existence in the richest nation in the world, and we don’t want anyone to screw it up. “Let the rest of the world starve, we don’t care! Don’t take our jobs!!!” We are a far cry from Moses, who “when he was of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter . . . esteeming the riches of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.”

An unknown second-century writer penned a letter to a certain Diognetus, describing Christians thusly: “The Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. They display to us, nevertheless, a wonderful and confessedly striking manner of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens they share all things with others, and yet endure all things as foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers . . . they pass their days on earth but they are citizens of heaven.”

I remember feeling the weight of this the first time I took a missionary trip to Haiti. I looked around the bus as we rode through this foreign land, watching the Haitian translators sitting quietly in their seats as we made fun of their food, their roads, their hygiene and their language. Meanwhile, we were on our way to a meeting to preach the Gospel to them.

Globalization is just part of the issue. We need to understand we are not citizens of earth, we’re citizens of heaven. Once we settle that, I think we may be able to shed some of our hatred for immigrants, outsourcing and anything else that threatens our privileged life here in America.

I would like to introduce you to a family by the name of Gutierrez. They have three children: 11-year-old Marie, 16-year-old Diego, and 19-year-old Manuel. Mr. and Mrs. Gutierrez work in the factories, called maquiladoras, making parts for American cars. Marie is in fifth grade. Diego and Manuel quit school at fifteen to work in the lead factory; ends weren’t meeting.

The Gutierrez family brings in 1650 pesos a week ($153), the mother making 100 pesos less than her husband and sons. This covers their housing, transportation to and from work, and usually food (the cost of living in Juarez is about 80% of El Paso). Their wages don’t always cover gas or water, and only covers new clothes every 18 months or so. The boys are forced to constantly wear clothes that have been exposed to lead.

The Gutierrez family lives in a 2-room hovel in a dump on the border, where most maquiladoras are. The family is lucky enough to have wooden walls and a tin roof. The rent is exorbitant on their wages and they sometimes have trouble keeping up. When they can’t afford to pay the gas bill, they light a fire. When they can’t afford water, they take it from the river and drink mercury, lead, and traces of arsenic, dumped in the river by the unregulated maquiladoras.

Mr. Gutierrez has had knee pain for several years now, and when it gets cold, he can barely walk. It won’t be long before he can’t work anymore. Mrs. Gutierrez found a lump in her breast a few months ago but hasn’t mentioned it to anyone because she can’t afford to go to the doctor and she doesn’t want anyone to worry. Though the boys aren’t aware of it yet, they are slowly dying of lead poisoning because there is no one to enforce the feeble laws on lead manufacture. Maria is malnourished and has trouble concentrating in school. In four years, she’ll give up on education and take to the streets, where she’ll earn her living until she too becomes a drone in the maquiladoras.

If you were to ask the Gutierrez family how they were doing, they would reply with a tired shrug that they were surviving. They wouldn’t tell you that their very livelihood, what is supposed to be the highest-paid job for an unskilled worker in Mexico, is killing them.

I know, outsourcing is great for our country’s economy. People want the lowest possible price and they don’t want to hear about the sacrifice someone is making to provide it. The fact is, the Gutierrez family is just a natural byproduct of the endeavor for a new and better low-price America. But dare I say it?

It isn’t worth it.

(The Gutierrez family is fictional, comprised of several reports on conditions in the maquiladoras and interviews with workers.)



20 Comments to “Clash of the Titans XXXVI: Outsourcing”

  1. David King on July 7th, 2007 5:15 pm

    Going with Chloe on this one. I’m all about good economy, but that means I want a good economy for the Gutierrez family as well as myself. I’d be all about outsourcing if the countries we were outsourcing to had employee rights. But then, that would defeat the point, wouldn’t it?

  2. Chase on July 7th, 2007 7:47 pm

    well… lets think… Jesus tells us to love the poor… out sourcing loves the rich and lets the poor live on (in horribleness) so I have to go with Chloe on this one. Really, if you read the bible can you clam to love the poor can you go another way?

  3. dsweetgoober on July 7th, 2007 8:06 pm

    So we should close the macuedi…macquarl…mexican factory things so they have no jobs? That would make their life better.

  4. Steve on July 7th, 2007 8:10 pm

    I love Chloe. But her anecdote provides no solution and doesn’t even rightly identify the problems. What are we supposed to do, boys, stop importing products from Mexico? Gee, that would help the poor down there. Are we just supposed to stop ‘sending jobs’ to that country? What would that even mean? Perhaps we might try to meddle in their domestic politics to ensure they pay what we consider to be a living wage or ’employee rights’?

    Outsourcing does not love the rich; in fact, in America, it’s usually the middle class that feels its bite. It’s a net BENEFIT to the working poor, especially in developing countries like India. I read the Bible. I love my neighbor. I’m going the other way.

  5. Chase on July 7th, 2007 9:58 pm

    Steve, if your American your rich. Well there is the homeless but you weren’t talking about them.

    Saying that, your very much right about not having a solution to the problem, and I do understand that such methods of outsourcing as those which give jobs to people who would other wise not have jobs can be seen as helping them. But tell me one major US corp that is using OS as a way to help foreigner and I will show you a country of people using it to help their selfish desires.

    One idea I have about how to help those who are oppressed by out-sourcing is to start buying from companies owned and run by citizens of the residing country that also complies with basic human rights.

    Another idea would be to help found a company that pays its workers in a manor that is seen as just under basic civil rights.

    Once again, my ideas are ideals, flawed and unworkable. But does this mean don’t try them? How else rather then though trail and error are new ideas on commerce going to be discovered. Someone gambled on oppressing these people, can we not gamble on freeing them?

  6. Chase on July 7th, 2007 11:06 pm

    Reading over what I wrote, I realize that is sounds hateful. Sorry about that, I was joking around when I wrote it and I think my sarcasm is lost in the text. I really do understand the problems with how I am voting, its just I don’t think the other direction is any better in the long run.


  7. MC-B on July 8th, 2007 9:31 am

    I think David and Steve have listed most of the reasons behind my vote. Even though the Gutierrez story is sad, based on their revealed preference the family should be the first demanding that the maquiladora stay in their village (if they are intellectually honest). We should never make choices based on ideals, but only based on the choices currently available to us, and this is especially true in the short run.

  8. Djere on July 8th, 2007 12:24 pm

    As the source of our goods (and slowly services) ebbs from America and flows to developing nations, the poor in those countries are helped more than they are hurt.

    Sure, there’s pollution, but America and England of the nineteenth centuries were stinking cesspools. Right next door, just fifty miles south is one of the most polluted lakes in North America, Onondaga Lake. Our economies have matured and have ‘moved beyond blatant pollution.

    Those governmental controls are coming and will come to the developing nations of the world, with the sole exception of China which will rot in a pile of self-inflicted filth, acid rain, and poisoned dog food.

    As liberal democrat John (effing) Kennedy said, defending his tax cuts for the rich, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

    The same is true of globalisation and outsourcing.

  9. David King on July 8th, 2007 2:05 pm

    Yay, internet debate!
    Having carefully considered the options, I’m still going with Chloe, only a little less vehemently. Even if a job pays like crap, it is still a job, I suppose–better to have little income than no income.
    So the problem isn’t the outsourcing, it’s the working conditions that the countries being outsourced to have. The ideal would be able to give the folks out in the not-america jobs, and have those jobs pay well and not be killing people.
    The obvious solution is for America to muster all it’s military might, conquer the world, and establish a peaceful regime where everyone who conforms to our culture is treated equally.

  10. dsweetgoober on July 8th, 2007 6:38 pm

    We can’t instantly Americanize all those nations, nor should we even try. As Djere said, they have to build toward a better society themselves and by allowing them to participate in the global economy at least we are giving them a beginning.

  11. Steve on July 8th, 2007 7:39 pm

    “The obvious solution is for America to muster all its military might, conquer the world, and establish a peaceful regime where everyone who conforms to our culture is treated equally.”

    And everyone who doesn’t? Guantanamo!

    Chase, didn’t think you sounded hateful at all, and I love issues like this where people have honest and open disagreements. I agree wholeheartedly that the best solution is on an individual basis — changing the way we consume things, with a mind to how the poor in other countries are being treated. I just believe that on the whole, in the long run, the best economic results for these people — as Djere alluded to — will arrive through capitalism.

  12. Chase on July 9th, 2007 1:49 am

    I have been thinking about the phrase “Let them eat cake” over the last day. I wrote it on my blog as part of the title to a post discussing this issue and for some reason it has stuck in my head.

    Now that a day has passed since I first thought to use this quote I find the quote to be a perfect view of how I feel about this issue. I feel like what we are saying when we say “at least they have a job” is “let them eat cake”. It will give them what they need to make it another day, but will it last them?

    Steve – I think capitalism is the answer for this issue. In fact I think that the state is a major contributer to man problems in our world. What I would like to see is a change in the people, not in our laws, that brings about the end of companies using labor in a manor which mocks basic civil rights.

    Djere – “As liberal democrat John (effing) Kennedy said, defending his tax cuts for the rich, “A rising tide lifts all boats.””

    How is this a wise philosophy? There is only so much water in the ocean, if you move a lot of it to one place you are taking it from another right? If you want to balance out the worlds economics you must lower the living standers of the rich while raising those of the poor.

    PS: What did JFK ever do anyway? He was just an idealist with no since of realism who was shot before his planes could fail. Or am I missing some important part in my history book?

    -Chase (Eating a big piece of steak)

  13. MC-B on July 9th, 2007 7:34 am

    The idea that there is only so much prosperity to go around is kind of silly if it’s taken to its root. I think that if you add everything up, the world as a whole has gotten a whole lot richer since, say, the Bronze Age.

  14. Tom on July 9th, 2007 10:17 am

    “There is only so much water in the ocean, if you move a lot of it to one place you are taking it from another right?”

    The analogy implies that all the boats (people) are in one place. The government is the open ocean, and the moon of fiscally responsible tax-cuts for middle and upper class Americans moves water (money) from the open ocean (government) to the harbor with the yacht club (upper and middle class Americans). This correspondingly raises the water level of the rafts, barges, and houseboats moored nearby (increases the economy, raises wages for the poor, etc.) and “lifts all [the] boats.”

    Marie Antoinette didn’t actually tell them to eat cake, that quote is a mistranslation. Her actual statement was slightly less callous, advising them to eat a sweet variety of bread.

    I think there’s no wrong answer to this question. While antiquated concepts like nationalism still exist, and columnists can say things like (paraphrased) “Sure, if we pull completely out of Iraq the entire region will be drastically destabilized, and there will be many, many, many more casualties than now, but at least they won’t be Americans dying!” there is absolutely no resolution to this issue and many others like it. We’re programmed to love the self and fear the other, and our current way of determining who are included in those groups is not something that will change overnight or overcentury. Barring an alien or zombie invasion, of course.

  15. Djere on July 9th, 2007 11:08 am

    And by the way, Chloe, what do you think this is, the New York Times? Fictional characters, making up interviews…

  16. Steve on July 9th, 2007 11:12 am

    She didn’t make up interviews; she invented characters from real interviews and disclosed it at the end of the piece. Perfectly fair.

  17. Tom on July 9th, 2007 1:54 pm

    I did the same thing for “This Hurts me More…”

  18. Chloe on July 9th, 2007 6:06 pm

    Okay, so I didn’t read all the comments, but I’m clocked in, so I don’t have a lot of time.

    Steve – the point of the Clash is not to provide solutions.

    Djere – our industrial revolution cesspool ended when the workers were given better rights, which is hard for the workers in outsourcing factories to do because they are dealing with something from another country.

    I don’t have a solution except to boycott those places that you know are sweatshops or use slaves. When it comes down to it, it’s up to the people themselves to do what the immigrants here did and rise up to defeat the corporations and the corrupt governments.

  19. Chase on July 9th, 2007 11:30 pm

    Yes the world is richer now then it was at the time of the bronze age, but at the same time it is still the same dichotomy of the rich and the poor, where the rich have the cake and the poor only have crumbs left after the fat kid licks the plate (well not including the cake we though from our French history books to the dying people at the gate).

    And about the quote “Let them eat cake” I thought I mentioned it was miss-attributed, sorry if I did not. But still does not the concept apply?

  20. David on July 10th, 2007 9:28 am

    It may apply somewhat. But she said it of her own people whom she was directly responsible for, and off whose largess she was living in luxury. She was responsible and in a place of responsibility from which she could have changed things for her own people. We really can’t change things for the entire world. We don’t have the power nor the resources.

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