6.01.2004

The Selling of America
DigitalJournal.com (5/30)

Fans of political irony must have had a good time in late 2003 when Lou Dobbs, host of CNN's business show Moneyline, went on a rampage.

Dobbs, a flint-eyed patriot and a high-minded capitalist, took aim at those U.S. companies that had outsourced jobs overseas. Outraged, he asked viewers to help him create a rogues' gallery, which he called "Exporting America," and added to it every night for a week. By the end, he had listed more than 200 businesses -- some of them very large -- which had used "offshoring" as a business tactic. CNN then posted the list on its website.

[snip]

He touched a nerve. His populist ranting was rewarded with a flood of supportive letters, many of which CNN published on its website.

Dobbs' list is sobering because it shows how enthusiastically the high-tech sector has embraced the concept of outsourcing, especially offshoring. Handily, a third of the businesses Dobbs listed are exclusively high-tech operations; Dobbs doesn't break the offshoring statistics down, but many of the non-tech companies on the list got there because the divisions they chose to send offshore are either new technology divisions, or somehow handled through new technology.

The political irony lies in the fact that Dobbs, a tub-thumping right-winger brandishing a Harvard economics degree from his bully pulpit at CNN, was declaiming against the export of jobs, and thereby aligning himself with his traditional opponents: Democrats, unions, East-Coast intellectuals, anti globalists and left-leaning political science professors.

And thanks to this we officially have changed our opinion of Dobbs wholesale and now have a crush on him.
While Dobbs has been careful to limit his criticism to jobs shipped outside the country, he has not really done much to separate offshoring from its benign twin, "outsourcing," meaning the practice of contracting out labour within the United States. The problem lies in the fact that the idea and the motives behind each practice are identical: To cut off the corporate endeavour from the mainstream and ship it to a place where it can be done more cheaply. The only difference between outsourcing and offshoring is how much farther afield a company is willing to look to find cut-rate labour.

Uh, yeah... we've been meaning to discuss this with Lou (or 'Sweet Lou' as we refer to him), but we're still sorta in our honeymoon phase. Can't you leave us with our illusions for a little while longer?

But back to the "evil"...
The underlying message, tricked out in management jargon, is clear: Forrester will tell you exactly how to restructure your business so that it can be chopped into a series of discrete operations that can then be cut loose and farmed out.

"Layoffs" is not a word you'll hear in discussions of outsourcing, despite the fact that layoffs lie at the heart of the process. In fact, IBM was recently embarrassed when an internal memo was leaked to the Wall Street Journal, which sought to educate Big Blue managers on how to speak to employees who were about to be laid off. The managers were not, for instance, ever to use the words "layoff" or "offshore" or even "onshore."

As always, check it our for yourselves!

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