I just looked up the word “outsource” in my Webster's Dictionary. Guess what. It's not there. Admittedly, this is an older version of Webster, published about 20 years ago (I rarely use words less than 20 years old anyway, preferring a more well-traveled experienced vocabulary.).
This particular tome saw me through the dark ages before I could check spelling on a computer screen and was published before outsource became a commonly used term, before outsource became a commonly use business practice.
It does make some business sense to outsource, send manufacturing jobs overseas where cheap labor (sweatshops) assemble goods and then ship them back to U.S. consumers who benefit from cheaper products.
It's happened with textiles, automobiles, electronics, shoes, and all sorts of other products. American companies hire foreign workers to produce goods for American consumers and they save money on labor and regulatory issues such as workman's compensation, minimum wage and child labor laws.
The downside comes from the workers in the United States who are displaced by outsourcing. Since they no longer have jobs, they can no longer buy the radios, shirts, and automobiles put together in Mexico, Guatemala or China. So, manufacturing jobs disappear and the work force has to retool and learn new skills, say in the service sector, where they do customer assistance work, tele-marketing and the like. That way they can continue to buy an occasional Walkman or golf shirt.
However, service industries still labor under the burdensome regulations of the EPA, OSHA and minimum wage, so companies discover ways, with the latest in communications technology, to ship these jobs overseas as well.
I called a customer service center recently and was soon talking to a gentleman with a distinct Indian accent. Of course he could have been an Indian/American citizen. But chances are equally good that he was talking from an office in Delhi. And I've received tele-marketing calls (just this morning as a matter of fact) that I strongly suspect originated somewhere outside the United States. It's bad enough to be interrupted in the middle of a particularly pithy paragraph when I know it's likely a college student working her way through school or a husband or single mother trying to make ends meet with a second job. But when I'm relatively certain that the caller is from Constantinople or Timbuktu, I'm a bit more than peeved at the intrusion.
What I'm wondering now is, if we outsource all our jobs, who will be left with money to buy the goods and services now offered from off shore?
And painfully disturbing is an apparent apathy on the part of government and consumers that agriculture is likely the next target.
For instance, we use more cotton each year than we produce, yet countries that can't meet internal needs slam our farm programs for disrupting their markets.
And those same farm programs that help keep America self sufficient in food and fiber production provide large targets for U.S. consumers who complain when the price of bread hits $2.50 a loaf but gladly pony up $8.50 for a movie ticket, or, even more confusing, upwards of $100 for a rock concert that will probably cause premature deafness.
It makes no sense. Outsourcing, in some cases, might be justified. But manufacturing companies in this country, as well as service industries, must, at some point, take a long view of who their customers will be in 10, 15, or 20 years. America's middle class, the working class, the blue collar men and women who buy the television sets, the tennis shoes and cell phones also pay the taxes that support the huge infrastructure required to make this country work.
And among those hard-working folk, remember those who grow the grains, fibers, fruits and vegetables that feed us all. Outsource them at the peril of losing our independence.