I had an “ah-ha!” moment last night. I was reading a book during the NBA Finals (no point really watching closely until the last three minutes) and it struck me:
Very often, I beat up on companies and CEO's for outsourcing and offshoring jobs. I realized that there have to be root causes deeper than I've been looking at. Shame on me, I thought, for not taking “5 Why's” thinking and applying it here. Why are companies outsourcing jobs? Keep asking “why” and you get closer to the root cause. I know that in manufacturing and healthcare settings, why don't I realize that in my own thought process? Again, shame on me. But, I'm learning.
The book that opened my eyes is Bringing the Jobs Home by economist Todd G. Buchholz. From the subtitle of the book, you can tell there is a political slant that might turn off some of you: “How the Left Creating the Outsourcing Crisis – and How We Can Fix It”.
The book is a quick read and I'm about halfway through it. But, it's early enough to share some thought starters here. It's only $6.99 on sale at Amazon if you want to read it for yourself.
His thesis is as follows (my paraphrasing):
- American companies are only outsourcing and offshoring jobs to other countries because they think it is the right economic decision given current conditions and circumstances.
My “ah-ha moment” was that instead of solely blaming CEO's for being stupid, greedy, short-sighted or unpatriotic, it makes sense to explore the systemic causes that lead them to make these decisions. I say “solely blaming” because there are some CEO's that are, undoubtedly, making stupid decisions (not factoring in intellectual property or supply chain distance issues) or greedy and short-sighted decisions (making Wall Street happy). But, the “respect for people” notion of lean kicks in and I challenge myself to respect CEO's and assume most of them are making the right economic decision.
To fix the problem, you have to fix the root causes. You can't just tell people “don't offshore your jobs.” The root causes cited in the book are many. What I have read so far:
- U.S. immigration policies put in place during the 1960's make it too difficult for smart, educated, entrepreneurial immigrants to come to the U.S. (policy usually favors older, less educated family members of those already here). This leads to reduced entrepreneurial opportunities as the current-day Andy Groves are more likely to stay in their home country instead of coming here to start businesses and to create jobs. Sidenote — the law did some positive things, such as reducing quotas that favored northern Europeans over people from other parts of the world. I agree we should not discriminate against people from certain parts of the world. But, I agree with Buchholz, that we should pick and choose the smartest and most talented from anywhere in the world, rather than prioritizing family members of those already here.
- Work visa policies send educated workers home after three or six years, where they often create jobs and are natural partners for Americans to outsource work to in their home countries. Keeping educated people away or sending them home once they've worked here leads to job creation in other countries — people, jobs and countries that would have otherwise been here in the U.S.
- Buchholz also finds fault with the U.S. education system and points out how the rest of the world has increased education while U.S. education standards have fallen. The author points out how before World War II that the U.S. gave its citizens (men and women) much more education than the rest of the world did. They caught up to us and our standards fell. Teachers unions are criticized, but Buchholz also points out how the smartest, most educated women mostly used to be “forced” into teaching, as other careers weren't open. Now that virtually all careers are open to women, schools can't possibly attract teachers that are as talented and as educated as they used to be. This is hurting our kids, he writes.
Upcoming chapters focus on taxes, regulation, and litigation as factors that more or less “force” companies to outsource and offshore jobs. Again, I disagree with taking all “blame” away from companies, but we have to talk about and debate root causes if we're going to fix things.
I'm not meaning to start a political argument here. But, my point is this… rather than moaning about job losses and corporate practices (myself included, obviously), let's spend that time fixing the root causes — improving education, lobbying our government to change their policies, etc.
I'll run a mini contest here — to help keep my inventory of books down. The person who leaves the most insightful or thoughtful comment on this post (by July 15) can have my copy of the book as a “hand me down” if you want it. If you want in on the contest, please email me in addition to posting a comment here.
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