One of my fellow Nexus columnists, Joey Tartakovsky, did a piece last week on the migration of jobs overseas. He interviewed one of UCSB’s resident economists about this trend. Tartakovsky is a clever fellow, but he made one unforgivable flaw while researching his article: He asked an economist. Expecting an economist to be able to explain the migration of jobs is like asking a writing professor to explain anything – it’s futile. Sure, either one will give you an answer, but even they won’t understand what they’re talking about.
The proper person to ask about the migration of jobs, like the migration of any other species, is a biologist. So I have asked my roommate Jono Szalay, a biopsychology major, to explain this phenomenon. I started with the difficult questions, like why I should ask him instead of a genuine biologist. But my roommate assured me that instead of being a bastardization of sciences, as is often believed, biopsychology is actually a hybrid. It fuses the best traits of the two sciences into one creature superior to either of the parent breeds. Which, with psychology, is not really that hard.
What is your take on the migration of jobs?
To begin with, we should try to understand why these jobs are migrating. Jobs, like any other animal, don’t just pack up and leave unless they are under severe stress in their current habitat. Like when that job’s roommate won’t do laundry, ever, forcing that job to sleep over at his girlfriend’s house. There are at least three reasons why jobs have a better habitat in other countries right now.
Would you care to share those reasons with us?
Not really, no. But they do exist.
Are you sure you don’t want to share them?
How about now?
All right, I’ll tell you. Just put your clothes back on, for God’s sake. Like any other species, jobs are subject to survival of the fittest. The rise of instant communication and the adoption of English as the lingua franca has made location and nationality irrelevant for many American jobs. Secondly, the United States has the curious habit of taxing businesses. This is strange, because businesses will always pass the cost down to their consumers, so it is effectively a tax on consumers. These taxes raise the cost of American-made items, leaving American jobs poorly equipped to compete with their foreign counterparts. Finally, other countries have much lower standards of living than we do, so it doesn’t cost as much to pay a living wage over there. In theory, the movement of jobs to foreign countries would improve the standard of living over there while reducing costs for us.
Is that not the case?
Not quite. We’re neglecting the effects of predators that are constantly stalking American jobs. One overlooked part of the whole debate is that we are not just experiencing migration of jobs, but a net loss of jobs globally. Since many of the host countries to the new jobs have few if any labor laws, 12-hour days or worse are often imposed, resulting in one job out of every three that is moved being eliminated entirely. Packs of wild Indian graduates catch the scent of an old or weak American job that has strayed from the herd. Their mouths begin to water as they circle closer and closer to their unwary prey. They pounce and rend the job limb from limb, with the choice pieces of meat going to the dominant male.
Er… OK. So the movement of jobs overseas doesn’t help foreign economies?
It does, but only a little bit. It would help much more if we held foreign made products to the same environmental and labor standards as we expect from American products. Until we do this, American jobs will be under intense pressure to drop these standards or face extinction. A telling statistic is that while only 250,000 jobs migrated overseas last year, twice as many are expected to abandon ship this year. Without intervention, this may be just the tip of a very cold iceberg.
Loren Williams is a Daily Nexus columnist.