October 21, 2012

Answers I Wish I Had Heard (part 5)

Another of the questions from last Tuesday's town hall debate on Long Island was the issue of outsourcing. 

Now, outsourcing is not a new concept, and companies do it for different reasons.  In some cases, it's cheaper for companies to pay a vendor or contractor to do specialized work, using specialized equipment, than it is for a company to make the investment in technology, equipment and staff and then keep going the work themselves.  These jobs don't necessarily leave the country; sometimes they don't even leave the neighborhood - they keep other Americans working, which is a good thing.

The other kind of outsourcing - American companies shipping jobs overseas, particularly manufacturing jobs - is the kind of outsourcing that was referred to on Tuesday. Here's Carol's question.
The outsourcing of American jobs overseas has taken a toll on our economy. What plans do you have to put back and keep jobs here in the United States?

Businessman Romney had the first crack at this one and noted that we need to make it more attractive for companies to bring those jobs back here. Label China a currency manipulator, lower the tax rate on everyone, kill regulations, kill Obamacare, get people hired (even women), and then sit back and watch the world change.

President Obama talked about lowering the corporate tax rates by closing loopholes, about increasing manufacturing, getting good trade deals and increasing our exports. Then they argued a little bit, and Candy Crowley got tired of them and moved onto the next question. 

Here's what I would have liked to hear.

How many of you right now are wearing any item of clothing made in America? How many of you drive a true American-made car, truck or SUV? How many of you even bother to check the labels on the products you buy to see if they're made here, by American workers?

And here's another question for you: How many of you were outraged that the clothes the Americans wore at the London Olympics were made in China? Remember when leaders in Congress said the Ralph Lauren uniforms should be burned? Remember how steamed everyone was about that, back in July? 

Well, if you are one of the people who fumed at the uniform thing, but don't check labels when you buy clothing, or toys, or electronics, or cars, or appliances, then you're a perfect illustration of our dilemma.

Listen, companies are in business to make money. We want them to make money, all of us do, not only because of the jobs, but because the profits that these companies make help fuel our pensions, our 401(k)s and our Roth IRAs and all of our other investments. They're paying for the e-trade baby in those commercials we all love so much.

So as Americans, we're torn by wanting the success that we get personally from the success that our businesses have, and by our desire to pay the lowest price possible for the products we can find. I mean come on, WalMart is the biggest dog in the pound for a reason, folks.

And while we talk about the loss of manufacturing jobs in America over the past several years, there are a few things to think about.  Yes, it's true that we have lost jobs overseas, but there are other contributing factors. We've lost union manufacturing jobs to non-union plants, particularly in the auto industry, because a non-union plant can pay lower salaries, and offer fewer benefits, than most unions are willing to accept. And these are jobs that are going to other Americans, folks, not just to people in other countries. 

We have also lost manufacturing jobs because we have learned how to be more efficient, how to manufacture the same number of widgets using better technology, better engineering, more efficient plants.  A lot of this we learned from the Japanese, global leaders in manufacturing quality.  When we build things better, and more efficiently, the price goes down. And we also lose jobs, because remember, Americans want the best quality product at the lowest possible price...

So we say to ourselves, sure I could buy that expensive high quality item or I can buy the same thing, same quality, for less. I can buy that Droid phone or i-whatever for the low prices I get today, or I can buy something for two or three times as much, maybe more, if I can find one made in America.  Our wallet is almost always going to win over our neighbor's job. 

So what do we do to fix this?  The government can continue to support educational programs that give us the skills to innovate; we can foster and encourage collaboration between businesses and our educational institutions to train the skills we need to compete (in manufacturing, science, medicine, and technology); we can continue negotiating trade agreements that help us sell our products and keep our businesses and investments profitable, and we have to work with our trading partners - including China - to move us to a level playing field.

We can implement fair tax policies, without a million loopholes. We might lose some accountant jobs in the process, but I think we can put many of them to work investigating fraud and waste in other programs, or we can put them to work coming up with a fair tax code.

To accomplish all of these things, we'll need some real leadership and hard work from the Congress - I mean seriously, setting fire to uniforms is not going to solve the problem, is it? Hand-wringing on the steps of the Captiol is not going to solve the problem, is it?

Businesses should continue striving to make the highest quality product at the best possible price. Americans, if they're truly concerned about the loss of American jobs to other countries, need to buy American products and services.  But we cannot force you to do that, any more than we can force businesses to bring jobs back.


  1. What is happening today is what happened to our once agricultural nation in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. We need to wake up and face the fact that this is a global economy. There's no turning back--the genie is out of the bottle.

    What we also need to do is incent, promote and support continued innovation and creativity--continue to lead the world in the creation and development of new technologies, cures and solutions. Therein lies our survival and growth.

    And we need to encourage our youth to develop the skills they need to thrive in today's economy. The American worker with less than a high school education is no longer entitled to $30 an hour jobs, when there are millions of people here and abroad who would do the same work at the same level of quality for $15 an hour or much less.

    That's what I would have liked to hear. Everyone is saying to the candidates, "What are you going to do for me?" I would ask them, "What are *you* doing to help make this country strong and vital once more?"

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mary Anne.

      I believe more strongly every day that we're having the wrong conversations in our country and with our candidates. People ask 'sound bite' questions, and then the candidates respond only with their canned speaking points, they're afraid to tell it like it is.

      Why? First, because as they say, we "can't handle the truth" and second, politicians figure they can't get elected if they tell the truth. Well, we aren't ever going to be able to handle the truth, if we never hear it.

      Where are the leaders? That's my question -- because I want to vote for one.