The Jobs of the Future Are a Thing of the Past

Outsourcing and the sad little movement to stop it

Reached by the Voice in his D.C. office, Friedman found that gesture churlish. "I think that American ingenuity stands on more than the anecdote by an Indian woman about something she thought she read," he says. The economic transitions due to outsourcing, he allows, will be difficult. "But what I do believe in my gut is that innovation is the only way to stay ahead of this curve and raise our standard of living."

Statistics from the Economic Policy Institute reveal the sinkhole underneath the theory that superior education will save our job base. Recently the unemployment rate for college graduates surpassed that for high school dropouts. All the glib happy talk of a Thomas Friedman, the panaceas of a Hillary Clinton are powerless to grasp this nettle. "What am I supposed to tell my guys who have Ph.D.'s in computer science?" asks Mark Fullerton, a software executive in Cincinnati. "To go back to school to become a nurse?"

illustration: Katherine Streeter

Back in Wheaton, the meeting shambles to a close. Topics flit about, one to the next. Occasionally one of Rescue American Jobs' three conspirators entertains a notion that their plight might have something to do with Republicans, or sellout Democrats. They sometimes even mention the obvious: that many computer people lost their jobs simply because the tech bubble, pumped beyond reason by unwise governmental decisions, burst.

Then, it's back to blaming foreigners. It's the only language that springs readily to mind.

Charlene suggests they support the AFL-CIO's upcoming "Show Us the Jobs" bus tour. "This one is not filled with legal and illegal aliens like the last one," Char assures them, referring to last year's Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride. She wears a pin that features a blue-and-white striped ribbon, AIDS style, with a life preserver in the middle; it symbolizes the newfound solidarity of blue-collar and white-collar workers, all now being thrown over the side of the same post-industrial boat. The solidarity is selective by color. "Under the L-1 'intra-company transfer' visa," Mike Emmons wrote in the inspiring e-mail to his colleagues, "Foreigners"—in bold type—can "send their kids to our schools"—the warning in red.

The elites, however, betray a racial bias of their own. A cover article in Wired reflected on the neon sign that ornaments a bridge in New Jersey, a rust belt relic: "Trenton Makes—The World Takes." "Now that the rest of the world is acquiring knowledge, and we're moving to work that is high concept and high touch, where innovation is essential but the path from breakthrough to commodity is swift," Wired admonished, "the more appropriate slogan . . . might be this: America Discovers. The World Delivers."

That's it. We'll save our middle class by all becoming inventors. Except that presumes brown people cannot be inventors too. Surprise, surprise—they can. Google recently opened its latest research and development facility in Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley. "These employees will be involved in all aspects of Google's computer engineering work: conception, research, implementation, and deployment," Computerworld reported.

Or, like Boxer the Horse in Animal Farm, we must work harder. Or "smarter."

Or follow the lead of this Canadian résumé poster, who, stung by NAFTA, sounds like many desperate Americans: "From today, I've started this notion by putting my six years experience to work for less [than the] usual salary OR work twice as hard as one. I will do whatever to keep my job in this country; this can be anything from working more for less to learning and adding more resources and skills to my experience."

Our elites don't have a better answer than that. Until they learn that sometimes it's better to trade economic efficiency for values like fairness and equity; that strengthening the hand of labor instead of sucking up to capital can be more economically beneficial in the long term, for Americans as much as Indians (who after all might soon surrender their newfound bounty to cheaper English-speaking workers in the nearby Philippines)—until then, maybe it's time to outsource them for another.

Additional research: Robert Zarate

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