The Jobs of the Future Are a Thing of the Past

Outsourcing and the sad little movement to stop it

Now Emmons is running for Congress, as a Democrat. He makes some great points: "You know," he says, "I wouldn't mind if the relentless search for cheap, cheap, cheap included critical items Americans need. While I was training my Indian replacements, my HMO insurance was being increased 84 percent, to $18,000 a year—one-half the money Siemens pays my replacement!"

Few of those cheering co-workers, however, have signed on to fight by his side; the campaign has been a shoestring travesty. His former colleagues might just be scared. Outlets like Foreign Affairs ("The Outsourcing Bogeyman") and The New Republic ("Missed Target") pooh-pooh the issue as hysteria—citing the same famous study from Forrester Research, they point out that we're only talking about one job out of 30 by the year 2015, some 220,000 slots a year. But ask anyone who's ever tried to organize a union in the post-NAFTA world, and they'll explain just how real these fears are. The white-collar masses are learning a blue-collar kind of lesson: When the Man can suddenly make a more credible threat to replace you, he's got a kind of power over you that he's never had before.

Just ask Steve Landess, Rescue American Jobs' Austin organizer. Some people at his office have been thinking about picketing at the Siemens facility just down the street. "We're probably going to have to wear disguises so that people here won't recognize us," he says.

illustration: Katherine Streeter

Then there is garden-variety apathy. Recently an angry thread broke out on a listserv of tech workers in North Carolina after a company called Keane (slogan: "We Get IT Done") began boasting, on the underwriting ads it broadcasts on National Public Radio stations around the country, of its prowess at helping American companies move jobs overseas. A letter-writing campaign was proposed, and it shouldn't have been hard to achieve. NPR invites listeners to e-mail ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin front and center on its website; Dvorkin receives some 4,000 such missives a week. He's gotten all of five complaints about Keane's underwriting on NPR.

The ancient, everyday anxieties of workers suddenly finding themselves dispensable in a "dynamic" economy may finally be making it onto the cover of Time magazine; but the kind of people who read Time are turning out not to be very effective advocates for their own anxieties. Part of the problem is structural. Unions could be doing more to help. But the way the law works in the United States, you can't join a union if you serve in a "managerial" capacity. Service-oriented companies respond by classifying more and more of their workers as "managers"—where Charlene used to work, the official ratio of "managers" to "managed" is an unlikely 20 to one.

A more profound obstacle resides in the realm of the imagination. For people who would fight for alternatives, "neoliberalism"—the hegemonic doctrine that markets provide the solution to every problem—has stolen their voice. They blame foreigners instead for the demonstrable failures of laissez-faire capitalism.

When the chairman of George Bush's Council of Economic Advisers uttered the infamous words last February that "outsourcing is just a new way of doing international trade. . . . More things are tradable than were tradable in the past, and that's a good thing," it sent a thousand Democrats' tongues wagging about the cruelty of the Bush regime.

Hillary Clinton proposed a "sense of the Senate" resolution denouncing him. She forgot that her husband's economists had said much the same thing. Clinton CEA chair Martin Baily praised outsourcing in the fall of 2000 as a welcome new "coordination of activities through a value chain spread around the world." Indeed, Hillary Clinton has worked with Tata Consultancy Services to help them establish a body shop in Buffalo. "They've created 10 jobs in Buffalo and have told me and the Buffalo community that they intend to be a source of new jobs in the area," she has said, defending herself. She has also introduced an amendment to extend job retraining funds to displaced white-collar workers. In India, the media have convincingly spun her position as supportive of outsourcing, a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.

In New Hampshire, John Kerry was asked about the problem. His answer: "We have to create the next wave of those kinds of jobs that come from the fact that we're highly educated and deeply committed to science and technology education." He mentioned artificial intelligence—and drew a laugh from a computer science professor who noted that artificial intelligence, the gleaming dream of the 1990s, has hardly created a single job in the world.

Such is the touching faith of our market-besotted elite. Recently New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman quoted an Indian woman who earned a Ph.D. in America and was so impressed with the ingenuity on display here that she had no time for alarmism about all the good jobs America was losing. She cited the example of the unemployed man who started a business selling T-shirts reading "My job went to India . . . and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." It took a cartoonist to do the fact-checking. On his blog,, Tom Tomorrow reported that this entrepreneur had "made about ten bucks off the idea so far."

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