In fact, this [economic] unease reflects major shifts in our world – shifts that may be long-term but are certainly changing in perceptible ways our way of life and possibly the quality of our lives.
~ by Ron Hira and Anil Hira, in their novel “Outsourcing America: The True Cost of Shipping Jobs Overseas and What Can Be Done About It” (2008)
Hira and Hira use this quote as part of their novel’s preface. Resource extraction, material processing, and product manufacturing are important components of a given product’s life cycle. Collectively, they embody the primary and secondary sectors of the economy. These components were staples of the American economy and workforce in the many decades following the Industrial Revolution. In recent decades, the business practice of outsourcing has emerged and evolved to play an important (if not dominant) role in the supply chain. In the United States today, the primary and secondary economic sectors, along with Information Technology, have largely been outsourced to developed and developing countries.
Resource extraction, material processing, and product manufacturing were a significant contribution to the national workforce in past generations compared to people of the present day. This was especially true for immigrants. My maternal grandfather immigrated to the United States in 1952 and worked in a steel mill while my maternal grandmother took up work in a knitting mill upon her immigration in 1954. What brought about these drastic changes and contributed to the rise of outsourcing? A consideration of social, public policy, and environmental reforms in the United States provides insight.
“Money is the Root of all Evil…”
Corporate and business self-interest is a major, if not the primary, incentive and instigator to outsource. This self-interest is especially attributed to saving money. Reforms that have occurred in the areas of labor and the environment act as hindrances to a business model that revolves around cost-savings. It is expensive over both short and long terms to pay employees benefits, healthcare coverage, overtime, and salaries or wages that adequately support a particular standard of living. It is also expensive over both short and long terms to employ anti-pollution measures and best management practices that foster environmental and ecological protection and stewardship. It is cheaper to pay substandard salaries and wages and withhold benefits and healthcare coverage. Similarly, it is cheaper to pollute. Thus, corporations and businesses save money by outsourcing to countries whose labor and environmental laws and regulations are less stringent, if not nonexistent, than those of the United States. Thus, commodities are not extracted and products are not manufactured under the socially and environmentally responsible conditions of the United States. For example, a corporation outsources manufacturing to a country with weak air pollution regulations and labor laws. The intent is for manufacturing operations to evade minimum wage, healthcare benefits, and the Clean Air Act. Some corporations and businesses may advertise and market their products as authentic “American-made,” but that saying has no meaning beyond paper and a digital screen. While labor and environmental reforms were necessary to address problems and injustices in their time, reformists never intended nor envisioned them to instigate the outsourcing of American careers and jobs.
Actions Have Consequences
Outsourcing creates ramifications that are two-fold. Jobs and careers in the primary and secondary sectors of the economy (and increasingly those in Information Technology) are transplanted overseas, which imparts direct social, emotional, and financial hardships on those once worked in or hoped to work in those areas. These job losses contribute to the national unemployment rate. Given our country’s current environmental and labor laws and regulations, who and how is one to objectivity judge the quality and significance of one occupation and career over another? As the saying goes, “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.” So is the case with happiness.
The attitude behind outsourcing suffers from the “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” mentality. In other words, “what happens overseas stays overseas, has no effect on me, and I’ll make more money and purchase a second or third home.” Such a viewpoint disregards morals, ethics, and the scientific objectivity of environmental degradation and pollution. Although the effects of environmental degradation and pollution can be more pronounced and overt in a localized area, they are not limited to their source and immediate vicinity. Effects do not recognize nor obey political and natural boundaries.
Thus corporations and businesses, their stakeholders, shareholders, clients, vendors, and consumers, and people on the outside and in between will pay for them. Natural systems and processes do not operate in isolated voids as political and business systems do. Perhaps the most prominent example is global climate change. Greenhouse gas pollution from a particular country or geographic area affects the global climate and meteorological systems, whose effects are of global proportions.
Corporations and businesses these days are overly profit driven and focused. Every corporation and business must generate profits, but the difference is how. Aside from legality, there’s an ethical, a moral, and a socially and environmentally responsible way to do so. Continued outsourcing contributes to fears about career and job security, which jeopardizes the stability of individual and family economies. The cost-saving mania should never be the sole priority in any corporation and business. As globalization continues to bring access to foreign markets and commodities, we must also support truly American-made products and American-based services. Is your job at risk? How and will we hold corporations and businesses responsible and accountable?
~by Angelo Teachout
photo credit of greed: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist/5727282498 (License)
photo credit of layoffs: https://pixabay.com/en/termination-silhouettes-human-110302/ (License)
photo credit of U.S. flag: https://pixabay.com/en/flag-stamp-manufacturing-production-206886/ (License)