Tom Friedman's T-shirt employment guru
March 11, 2004 12:24 PM   Subscribe

Tom Friedman, well meaning NYT columnnist lunkhead, gets job outsourced In a stunning development, Tom Friedman - until recently the famous NYT op-ed columnist who has downplayed the outsourcing of American jobs, finds his job has been outsourced due to an egregious factual error concerning T-shirts. "[ BANGALORE, India ] I am delighted to write to you today as the new foreign-affairs columnist for the New York Times . My name is Tam Veeraraghavan. Ah, you say, you've never heard of Tam Veeraraghavan, but the name sounds vaguely Indian. Well, I am an Indian. I live in Bangalore. And I'm now the pundit you read in this newspaper. Now some of you might think that I'm an example of how outsourcing is hurting American workers. Well let me introduce you to Yamini Narayanan, an Indian-born 35-year-old with a Ph.D. in economics....."
posted by troutfishing (39 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"I'll Be Driving Your Lexus and You'll be Planting Olive Trees"

posted by saladin at 12:32 PM on March 11, 2004

Thanks troutfishing.

If only he were outsourced there would be one less incompetent media whore at the NYT.
posted by nofundy at 12:37 PM on March 11, 2004

I'd like to see outsourcing of executive jobs. There must be some smart MBAs in Bangalore who would happily be CEOs for, say, $200k instead of millions in salary and bonuses. And, since anyone left working here will be in the office around the clock, the time difference will not be a problem.
posted by crunchburger at 12:42 PM on March 11, 2004

one down... seven hundred forty-three to go...
posted by wendell at 12:45 PM on March 11, 2004

Outsourcing cannot be stopped, globalization is inevitable.

The discussion is better served by finding solutions in America's interest within the framework of the international economy.

Funny tshirts are perhaps not one of these.
posted by the fire you left me at 12:54 PM on March 11, 2004

Well the exile had the same Idea:
Tamish Phreedman - Outsourcing Thomas Friedman:

"...I know, it's tough, it's not pretty or gentle or comfortable. In fact, it's a lot like what my predecessor at this column liked to call 'the Golden's here and it's the only model on the rack this historical season.'
I just wish Mr. Friedman remembered his own words. See, I replaced Mr. Friedman for this column space a few weeks ago. Fact is, I'm a lot cheaper than Thomas Friedman, and I do just as good a job at promoting globalization, or war in Iraq, or just about any other insane idea that America's oligarchy is peddling on the world's playground. You don't need a high-wage, high-prestige American columnist to help sell ideas like that - not when there are hundreds of millions of Indians just as eager to shill for America's oligarchy..."
posted by talos at 12:57 PM on March 11, 2004

Blame India Watch
posted by donth at 1:07 PM on March 11, 2004

Thanks for that link, donth.
posted by homunculus at 1:19 PM on March 11, 2004

I blame the Simpsons for the painful Blame India phenomenon, you know
posted by matteo at 1:28 PM on March 11, 2004

I am horrified about all the jobs going overseas, hollowing out our economy. And don't even get me started on that newfangled "steam engine" contraption that will surely mean ruin for our entire working class.
posted by Triplanetary at 1:28 PM on March 11, 2004

What factual error? He was quoting an Indian woman talking about the t-shirts.

/doesn't get it
posted by xmutex at 1:35 PM on March 11, 2004

Is funny sure. This joke appeared previously as a pair of chapters in the recent Franken book.
posted by damehex at 1:38 PM on March 11, 2004

Who's blaming India ?

"Outsourcing cannot be stopped, globalization is inevitable." - of course not. Among other things, the US is now much too deeply in hock to the rest of the World, especially to China.

"....Enter Blame India Watch. We question the rhetoric that "Indians take away" anything from the US at all, and more importantly the premise that US workers are any more entitled to IT jobs as anyone else.[ emphasis mine ] As such, we will critique news articles and other sites which promote scapegoating of India and Indians, and propagate disproportionate blame on India(ns) for the present job (or lack of job) situation in IT. We will also explore who actually benefits from this rhetoric, and what we as conscious, progressive, IT people can do about this situation." - Doing the same work for cheaper can be construed as "taking" or not, but at this point the trends all point towards the likelihood of real standard of living declines among probably at least the bottom 40% ( bottom 2 quintiles ) of American wage earners.

Now, I don't think Americans are more "entitled" to IT jobs than anyone else. But that's not the crucial point. This is : the US is still a big, powerful country which is absurdly well armed. If globalization is inevitable, then standard of living declines in the US are inevitable. There is no "special sauce" unless Americans as a group figure out how to tweak their collective genome for higher intelligence and creativity (unlikely, to say the least).

Overly rapid American standard of living declines which are denied and not mitigated by US government policy will surely set the stage for a sort of political extremism which will benefit neither US nor the world at large.

From "About India Watch" - ''....We aim to highlight this scapegoating, encourage IT workers to put a stop it, and redirect the anger to where it belongs." - I poked about on the blog but couldn't find anything at all which 1) either acknowledged that the US is actually losing jobs through outsourcing - to India, Ireland, Bulgaria, Russia, China, wherever. 2) either told angry unemployed US IT workers who to blame ( a rather unconstructive approach, I think ) or 3) Proposed or even mentioned the possibility of constructive solutions.

The critics of Globalization - or, specifically, how it is being carried out and - even more specifically - of US government policies which tend to increase rather than mitigate the effects of globalization on US workers - are currently being smeared as protectionists. But there are other possibilities in this debate than the protectionist "blame X" reactionary stance.

Maybe somebody else here will help me out so I don't have to spell them all out myself.

"And don't even get me started on that newfangled "steam engine" contraption that will surely mean ruin for our entire working class." - Ummm, what would be that "steam engine" you refer to, in terms of Globalization. Or is Globalization supposed to be the steam engine? The US standard of living - for the bottom quintile of wage earners - has - in real terms - declined in the last two or three decades. The next quintile up might be declining too, though this is harder to prove. But even the next quintile is running scared. This is due to a confluence of factors of which job outsourcing is just one. But is one reason which is easy to single out and understand and - for this - those who would deny the reality of the phenomenon do so at their peril.

To acknowledge that outsourcing has an effect on the availability of jobs in the US is not to automatically blame anyone.

Triplanetary - What is the "steam engine" here? Vague, sweeping charges of Luddism will not cut it. I think there are pluses and minuses to Globalization, but denial of it's minuses is dishonest and counterproductive ; the downsides of the process need to be acknowledged and addressed so they don't turn into the sort of festering sores which feed politically extremist movements.
posted by troutfishing at 2:03 PM on March 11, 2004

Also - I would fully support outsourcing Tom Friedman's job to India. He's a creative sort - he'll invent his way out of the problem.
posted by troutfishing at 2:05 PM on March 11, 2004

...and healthcare.
posted by drinkcoffee at 2:26 PM on March 11, 2004

trharlan - I suppose that depends on what you mean by "overhaul". If you actually mean that to mean "cut benefits", I wouldn't agree. But - in any case - that's a losing game in the long run until business cost differentials between the developing world and the US equalize : which means, of course, that the developing world will move to the US to an extent and conversely, to an extent, the current US high standards of living will also move to the developing world.
posted by troutfishing at 2:41 PM on March 11, 2004

We can start by overhauling OSHA, Worker's Comp, and Social Security.

Yeah: AgendaFilter. Why is the answer to this question that we need to make ourselves more like a 3rd world country by removing some of the devices we developed to bring our society to a higher standard of living since the industrial revolution? Why not bring back the 7 day work week, child labor, and the handlebar moustache, tophat and tails and monocle for management while we're at it?

IMO, the only way America can stay ahead and maintain a reasonably high standard of living in this day and age is continue to do what we've always done: improvise and innovate. That always takes hard work, and sacrifice, but at least there's impetus again to do so... that is if the fat cats at the top don't hamstring us with too much debt and too much outsourcing of core business activites.
posted by psmealey at 2:53 PM on March 11, 2004

Not that I have my finger on the pulse of the IT community, but everyone that I've heard grousing about outsourcing is angry at the large corporations doing the outsoursing, not the people taking the outsourced jobs.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 2:56 PM on March 11, 2004

Troutfishing, I agree with you that globalization is complicated, etc. etc. But I don't think that your argument -- that declining standards of living in America as a result of globalization will result in American "extremist movements" -- is necessary or true. Isn't it obviously bad that standards of living are declining, period? And what proof is there that lower standards of living in this country = "extremism"? And, furhter, what about the fact that globalization and rising living standards abroad probably help reduce "extremism" -- I would think that that dividend would outweigh the possibility of "extremist movements" in the U.S., which seems to me rather slim (to be fair, I'm not quite sure what you mean by the term 'extremist'---I'm assuming you mean *not* right-wing politicians or Ralph Nader, but Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber, or something of that sort).

I think it's a great point you're making, that a rhetoric of blame isn't the right response to globalization: people, especially in the U.S., should be capable of acknowledging the importance and advantage of a globalizaed economy while at the same time demanding government help, and instead of protectionism, we should have job training and investments in education. It was evident many years ago that IT was an overpopulated field in this country -- and it should be evident now that something ought to be done to hlep the unemployed in general.

That said, I think the worry should be not about what people *might* do, i.e., become 'extremists,' but about what they are doing right now -- being unemployed. I'm not sure that alarmist rhetoric is any better than a rhetoric of blame. I don't see that the thousands of unemployed industrial workers in America have become political extremists.
posted by josh at 2:57 PM on March 11, 2004

Eek -- outsoursing = outsourcing, obviously.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 2:57 PM on March 11, 2004

Of course I think that economic freedom is necessary condition for innovation. What I'm saying was that we didn't have to gut Social Security or roll back labor standards to: 1. transform the workforce from manufacturing and textiles to service in the 70s and 80s, 2. bring the American auto industry from the dead in the 80's 3. and launch the tech boom in the 90s.

I realize that these are gross oversimplications, but I doing it to make a point: having been through the chicken little stuff in the 70's, 80's and 90's, I don't see any reason we need to slash SS, and eliminate labor standards in order to enable another transformation now.
posted by psmealey at 3:22 PM on March 11, 2004

troutfishing: Triplanetary - What is the "steam engine" here? Vague, sweeping charges of Luddism will not cut it.

The steam engine stands for any innovation that enables us to get stuff done at a lower price. In the 1980s, word processing software enabled most big companies to drastically cut the number of secretaries they employed. How do you think we should have reacted:

a. Overhauled Social Security
b. Outlawed word processors
c. Prohibited government contractors from using word processors
d. Levied a special tax on word processors

I have yet to see anyone seriously proposing any of these measures. Not only that, I think word processing software has provided benefits to society.

However, when the innovation is called "offshoring", a lot of people want to take measures like the ones above. I don't see how it's OK for machines to "steal our jobs" but not for Indians.
posted by Triplanetary at 5:53 PM on March 11, 2004

Frankly, the USA could do with some lower living standards. It's #1 for greenhouse gas emissions, beating out even coal-burning mega-polluting China. #1 for energy use. #1 for per-capita automobile ownership. #1 for wood resource use. #1 for oil use.

It is, in short, the most wasteful, earth-damaging country on the face of the planet.

A little restraint would not be uncalled-for.

And even in the face of reducing all that resource consumption, it would continue to have an extremely high standard of living.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:55 PM on March 11, 2004

Which is, I suppose, my round-about way of suggesting that globalization has one benefit: it's going to eventually flatten the standards of living, bringing the earth's most impoverished people up a notch, and bringing the earth's most privileged people down a notch.

This will in turn lead to, I hope, a lot less suffering and a lot less anger. And perhaps, just perhaps, we'll end up with a bit of world peace.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:57 PM on March 11, 2004

Josh - ( re: "But I don't think that your argument -- that declining standards of living in America as a result of globalization will result in American "extremist movements" -- is necessary or true. Isn't it obviously bad that standards of living are declining, period?" )

I don't think that declining standards of living in the US will inevitably result in political extremism, but given that living standards, on average, have been declining, albeit slightly, over the past few decades - I have to wonder about a correlation between economic factors and the rise of political and religious extremism in the US during the 1980's and 1990's.

[David Neiwert, at Orcinus does a superb job of covering extremist political and religious movements in the US. ]

If you want to go into this subject exhaustively, here's one interesting source (risk factors for instability).

Here is the US CIA "World Factbook" listing of the GINI indexes of the nations of the world. Now, the GINI index is a measure of relative wealth inequality, not of absolute societal wealth. So, America is fairly high on the inequality index (and moving towards greater inequalty every deach day since around 1970, by the way) but since the US is so wealthy overall, even it's "peasants" - everyone earning less than about $200,000, more or less - are still wealthy by overall world standards.

There tends to be a correlation between 1) high levels of inequality, 2) extreme national poverty, and 3) poltical violence. Haiti - which is close to the poorest country in the Western hemisphere (if not the poorest), has close to the highest levels of wealth inequality (with a tiny rich elite) and has high levels of political violence - it conforms quite well with this theoretical profile.

Now, historians have long noticed a correlation between economic decline and political instability. But correlation is not causation.

Still, it's instructive to not that one of the epicenters of the US militia movement was around Flint, Michigan.

This hypothesis is simple enough yet - unfortunately - rather hard to prove in scientific terms. It's a messy, complex subject.

The correlation between poverty and extremism is recognized, oddly enough, in the new (as of 2002) Bush Administration National Security Policy of The United States :

"While the document does not typecast poverty as a cause of extremism, it does state that it makes people more vulnerable to extremist ideals. "Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murderers," it postulates. "Yet poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable…" The United States sees its own model of government as the best defense against the conditions most suitable to terrorists, which in turn justifies its global dominance. Because this is a universal risk, exercising global influence is necessary, especially in the economic realm. By opening markets and raising standards of living, according to Bush, the world will become more stable and orderly—which is clearly beneficial for the U.S. "

Even before the current Bush Administration, this connection was acknowledged, it would seem, by some at the US State Department : "As population grows, you see declining standards of living. I don't think governments want to see that happen to their citizens.

Second, the political instability that results is clearly reflected around the world, where you have large populations of unemployed and individuals with no opportunities for the future."

posted by troutfishing at 6:45 PM on March 11, 2004

Five Fresh Fish - "it's going to eventually flatten the standards of living, bringing the earth's most impoverished people up a notch, and bringing the earth's most privileged people down a notch." - Yes. Love it or hate it, Globalization WILL have that effect, and I rather doubt that it can be stopped. That's why I'm arguing for a "soft landing" approach to the inevitably declining developed world living standards. My rational : the faster the process happens, the less stable it will be. I'm open to counter arguments though.
posted by troutfishing at 6:49 PM on March 11, 2004

"I don't see how it's OK for machines to "steal our jobs" but not for Indians." - Triplanetary, I actually think that both technologically driven productivity gains and resorts to cheaper human labor wherever possible are inevitable, especially with the current ground rules.

And - even though Adam Smith argued that his "Invisible Hand" mechanism could not really work properly if only capital - and not labor as well - could migrate at will, I think it's unlikely that I will live to see any change in the basic ground rules underlying the relative mobility of capital and labor. So, yes - your "Steam Engine", as you define it, has unstoppable momentum. But it is far from clear that it's momentum will have an overall beneficial impact for the following factors - 1) increases in wealth inequality at the Global level (Global inequality has been increasing for, at least, the last decade) and 2) Massive environmental degradation and Global Climate Change, with Abrupt Climate Change as a wild card.
posted by troutfishing at 6:59 PM on March 11, 2004

Or, to put it rather bluntly, human economies exist within a larger natural system which is in fast decline if not, indeed, crashing.
posted by troutfishing at 7:00 PM on March 11, 2004

To see this rather smirkily as "America getting its comeuppance" is one thing, but it ignores the dependency of American business on American consumers with American spending patterns.

It's especially striking in the light of current outsourcing trends. One of India's strong selling point is that a lot of its educated citizens speak English to a fairly proficient degree, which has led to the current "Indian Miracle" being highly dependent on American and British customers. Those countries are also, not coincidentally, the most affected by outsourcing currently in terms of lost jobs.

Putting two and two together, jobs are being cut in America, leading (in the long run) to less consumer spending. This in turn leads to less business being done by said American and British firms. Also the level of investment by individuals will suffer, because people naturally tend to think first of putting food on the table before playing the stocks. US & UK firms start feeling a bit of a squeeze, because they no longer really have the consumer income that boosts share price or profits, nor can they benefit from as much speculative stock purchasing driving up share prices.

At the same time in India the very same conditions which have led the cost of labor to become high in the US previously are beginning to be felt. The level of investment is rising, but can by no means be assumed that the capacity for production and expansion remains constant, and so the costs of outsourcing contracts begin to rise steadily, to the point where India is no longer a low-cost development center. Indications are, incidentally, that this situation is beginning to emerge right now, fueled in no small part by very short-sighted policies by large multinational organizations, which essentially force at least a minimum of outsourcing in development and operations departments. This is happening now.

In short, the rush to outsourcing, and its promise of "get rich quick" solutions, is leading many very large corporations into a situation where they are basically screwing themselves in the long run.

But then, I guess that short-term profits look quite attractive, especially in an economic climate where CEOs tend to switch places every four or five years.
posted by clevershark at 7:31 PM on March 11, 2004

clevershark - that sort of perverse dynamic, whereby dropping wages undercut consumer spending which in turn hurt industry, was the problem which Fordism sought to address.

It was one dynamic which led some economist late last year - Krugman was one - to worry about a deflationary spiral. But the weakening US dollar, driven at least by the whopping US federal deficit and the historic trade deficit, is likely to kick up US interest rates and keep us up away from that "strange attractor" of deflation.

Or so I understand, as a student novice of these matters.
posted by troutfishing at 5:48 AM on March 12, 2004

Come on guys, there isn't a finite amount of work. At least half of us have jobs that no-one even imagined 20 years ago. If someone gets freed up from churning out code or answering phones to move on to more productive endeavors, it's a good thing for that person and for the economy as a whole. The government's job is to facilitate the transition, by encouraging life-long education.
posted by Triplanetary at 9:42 AM on March 12, 2004

Can someone please explain to me how educating everyone and "fostering innovation" is going to magically result in advances that will create enough jobs to offset what we are losing to offshoring / efficiency due to computers / etc? I mean, there's only so much "service" we can do for each other in this economy.

Where are these new jobs going to come from?

Are we going to have to start working as lackeys for the super-rich, or what? I mean, what need or desire does the American public have which is unfulfilled?

I see lots of people talk about how this is going to happen, but no one seems to give any details...
posted by beth at 12:10 PM on March 12, 2004

Needs job, moves to India
posted by homunculus at 1:08 PM on March 12, 2004

Can someone please explain to me how educating everyone and "fostering innovation" is going to magically result in advances that will create enough jobs to offset what we are losing [...]

Machines and offshoring have "destroyed" hundreds of millions of jobs over the last 250 years. Yet unemployment has remained roughly constant. So new jobs must have been created at about the same rate old ones were destroyed.
posted by Triplanetary at 2:07 PM on March 12, 2004

Triplanetary - while that maybe be true, it is important also to note that one can be "employed" as a rag picker.

My point? "Employment" statistics in isolation don't tell much - they have to be coupled to wage statistics over time (and in adjusted dollars) to have much meaning. That's why the picture I've mentioned - of a gradual (and recently speeding up quite significantly) decline in the affluence of at least the bottom 20% of Americans (and maybe the bottom 40% even) over the last two or three decades is significant. But that's another post.

"Are we going to have to start working as lackeys for the super-rich, or what? I mean, what need or desire does the American public have which is unfulfilled?" - beth, Virginia Postrel (in the NYT Magazine one or two weekends ago) suggests that we take up jobs as stonecutters and manicurists. She calls it "creative" work (and so it is, but that's irrelevant for me - for me, the point is pay, and benefits).
posted by troutfishing at 2:59 PM on March 12, 2004

Outsourcing cannot be stopped, globalization is inevitable.

eh... Just wait until the oil collapse...
posted by kaibutsu at 3:05 PM on March 12, 2004

"Employment" statistics in isolation don't tell much - they have to be coupled to wage statistics over time [...]

Troutfishing, that is true and I ignored that part in my post. But I do think that statistics would agree with me that wages and standards of living have risen quite a bit the last 250 years, for all income groups. Sure, some say that the rules of capitalism have changed and that we are in a unique situation right now, but people have been saying that since the dawn of capitalism.
posted by Triplanetary at 3:26 PM on March 12, 2004

Standards of living have improved for some, not all. You ignore a very sizable and timeless population of homeless and hungry when you say otherwise.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:31 PM on March 12, 2004

Triplanetary- at the global level I believe you are correct. But I am talking about a much more restricted boundary condition : the effect of Globalization on people in the US. And I am doing so not because I think Americans are somehow more deserving than people anywhere on the globe - they are not, insofar as all are the same in the eyes of God or existence itself. But, as I said and referenced earlier in this thread, America is currently the most heavily armed nation on earth by a factor of about 10 - and there is a general correlation between declining standards of living and the types of political destabilization and extremism which would bring those weapons to bear on the larger world - and in a very destructive way.

American standards of living began to drop approximately at that point (or perhaps with a slight time lag even) when the "guns and butter" policies of both the Johnson and Nixon Administrations led to a reversal of the US economic position vis-a-vis the rest of the world : from that of a net creditor to that of a net debtor. Things have been downhill since.

You can talk in terms of 250 year sweeps, sure - but that is not a time scale currently meaningful to human life. Even 50 years, for humans, is the "long run" - and in the long run we are all dead.

In the long run - as well - we may be looking at a general collapse of the biosphere (see the recent BBC piece about systemic changes in the Brazilian and maybe all the World's rainforests) which will render our discourse about the human economy quite moot. Environmental factors underlay many of the the civilizational collapses known to historians. Humans live in a biological matrix bigger than the currently acknowledged "economy". What do most humans - beyond a few disparaged scientists - know of the cycling of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and so on, between the Earth's atmosphere and living systems (forests, oceans, etc.) ? - little to nothing. And these are the crudest of the Global biological cyclings. Do not take my word on this though. Look into it.

But - in the short run - that Capitalism you seem to cleave to (and which may be farther than you think from the actual theory of Adam Smith) will result, without much doubt, in the sort of economic dislocation which has been associated throughout known human history with war and consequent terrible suffering.

In short - the behavior of human society, en masse, is somewhat predictable. The actions of individuals are, however, not. They can bend the vector of human society - sometimes dramatically so - away from potentially disastrous directions.

Nothing is written in stone. In relative terms, all is informed speculation. But there are certain predictable geographical features which are worth noticing.
posted by troutfishing at 8:56 PM on March 12, 2004

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