Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Work globally, unemployed locally

So now that I just made a hardline, right-wing, anti-worker, greedy, capitalistic point about where jobs come from in my last post, I'm going to change directions and potentially contradict myself. Politics and economics are complicated. Sue me. :)

I've been employed in the American economy permanently since I finished college in 1993, mainly as a software engineer. I've been through the tail end of the early 90's recession, the tech boom, the tech outsourcing/offshoring, the early 00's recession, and our most recent one.

One of the main things that complicates our economy now is that it is part of a truly global one. Jobs that were once good paying ones for the working class have been sent to parts of the world that do it much more cheaply. This has been going on for several decades now. The American lower and middle classes depended on this employment for their prosperity. Even many white collar jobs can be done cheaper elsewhere in the world.

Corporations, once the bedrock for American middle class prosperity, have systematically been shifting as much cost as possible to places on the globe that will allow it to be done. Many Americans have benefited from this - less expensive products, greater corporate profits, improved stock prices, better pay.  Many Americans have suffered from this as well. People that are less skilled and/or educated were hit first and hardest.

One of the things I've predicted is that this is ultimately a losing proposition for the United States, at least in the more immediate future. The decision makers at the top of the economic food chain have benefited greatly from the trend. What they seem to fail to understand is that as foreign countries become more and more capitalistic - similar to the environment that was the catalyst to American success - the less they will need American corporations and capital to do what is already being done in their country and in the global economy.

If an American corporation now exists primarily to leverage global resources to maximize shareholder value, eventually entrepreneurs and capitalists outside of the United States will figure out how to successfully and efficiently run local and global businesses as well as (or better) than their American counterparts. This tipping point could be devastating to the American economy.

So what can the U.S. do? Take an isolationist position? The U.S. is still the leading industrial power. Becoming an isolationist country would probably be more devastating than the current situation. Should we force U.S. corporations to manufacture in the U.S. and hire Americans? I'm not sure how many corporations can afford to do this and still compete with foreign firms. Is it possible to put some equivalent regulations on foreign and domestic firms doing business in the U.S.? This has had some success in the auto industry over the years, but can only work to a certain degree. Tax the heck out of people doing business in the U.S. and spreading the wealth? Who would want to start and/or maintain a business here in that sort of environment?

None of these appeal to my libertarian sensibilities, but it is clear that there is a problem that is only getting worse. I've met a few people in the last several years that were at the conceptual stage of starting companies. When the idea involves manufacturing anything, they immediately look to China. If they're trying to build software, it's an American "architect" and then hiring others in India. Driving this kind of business will do little to nothing for the average American worker.

Unfortunately, I have no conclusion to this ramble. Comments are always welcome and might help better direct the thoughts on this.

Where Jobs Come From, Part Deux

So, according to my more liberal friends, jobs apparently come from the people. The people generate demand, which causes businesses to need to expand, which creates jobs. Thus, it is not the business owners that create jobs. It is the consumers that create jobs.

I get what they're trying to say. There's a symbiotic relationship between the business and the public. Without consumers purchasing businesses' products and services, there are no businesses. This is true.

What they fail to understand is that without the risk takers and the driven, who's going to start these businesses even with massive demand? Without venture capital, who's going to fund the entrepreneurs who usually don't have the capital on their own? Without a friendly political/economic system, who's going to risk everything if the rewards are to be dispersed, but the risk isn't?

I've mostly done the "right" things in my life. I did well in school, have two college degrees, and have a good paying, white collar job. However, without the above scenario driving entrepreneurs and business, I have little to nothing. I have gotten to ride the coattails of some excellent capitalists. Don't get me wrong, I have provided them with more money than they pay me. However, I would not have near the amount of pay I do without their vision and drive.

If I'm making 50% of a solid revenue number driven by my labor, I'm much better off than making 95% of a tiny one. Free market capitalism provides incentive to the dynamic visionaries in business. It provides growth to an economy. It provides jobs for those that are the worker bees.

My liberal friends confuse free market capitalism with much of the crony capitalism that goes on in this country today. Buying influence with the government to fatten your wallet at the expense of others is not free market capitalism. However, free market capitalism probably breeds crony capitalism when the government becomes large, powerful, and pervasive within the economy. People chasing money will often do what it takes to make more. If "legally" influencing government in their favor is possible, the incentives are too strong to avoid.

If the left wants to hit those of the "1%" that are abusing the system, they need to look at Washington D.C. and not Wall Street.

If you want growth and jobs, empowering the entrepreneurial spirit is what's needed ... or at least just get out of their way.

(I will follow this with a bit of a devil's advocate argument with regard to outsourcing)