Trying To Answer The What's Next Question

from the important-debate dept

CNET’s has been publishing their well done series of articles on offshoring this week, and have concluded with two that are worth reading. The first isn’t really a part of the series, but goes well with it, explaining (again!) why protectionist plans don’t work. This has been explained over and over again, and there are countless examples of how protectionist policies cause many more problems than they solve, but apparently, it needs to be reviewed once more. The second piece is much more interesting. The question that anti-offshoring people always bring up is “what other jobs are there?” They’re afraid that all jobs will be offshored and then there will be nothing left (except, the example they love, flipping burgers). Of course, history has shown that’s not what happens at all. The US was an agricultural economy for a long time, and we shifted and it certainly made life very difficult for a lot of people – but we innovated and created new jobs and a higher standard of living. We’ve done so again and again and again. So is looking at what might be next. The problem, of course, is that it’s difficult to predict what really is next. So often disruptive advancements seem to come from unexpected places. Researchers working on one thing serendipitously discover a completely different breakthrough that leads to an entire new industry. Of course, to put that all together though, we need to support better education and push for more research and development (which often isn’t helped when companies only think in the short term thanks to Wall Street). However, to prepare for “what’s next” we need to create a culture that involves constant learning and education focused on useful areas of expertise – and not so much on specific tactical expertise. Understanding how to make a horse and buggy isn’t useful – but understanding the basic concepts concerning transportation is still useful no matter what mode of transportation is used. Having that base of knowledge, with constant additional training, let’s someone work on buggies, automobiles, trains, planes and whatever else comes next.

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Comments on “Trying To Answer The What's Next Question”

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bbay says:

Emotional issue

Offshoring is such an emotional issue.

I was recently involved in an argument with someone who was extremely angry and offended that I would argue against protectionism.

Their reasoning was that they didn’t want to lose their job.

My reasoning, as I tried to explain it, was that you can’t stop the kinds of changes in the economy that lead to some jobs being eliminated. And since you can’t really stop the change, the only effect of protectionist policies is to retard the economy and slow the creation of the new jobs that will replace the old ones. And I argued that the growth of the economy creates new wealth and jobs that are better than the old jobs, which creates a better standard of living.

That wasn’t really a good enough argument for them, because they were very emotionally attached to their job which is the best paid job they have ever had. They were afraid that if this class of job were eliminated, they wouldn’t be able to adapt to the new market.

I understand all of this, I really do. But even if we wanted to, we CAN’T stop jobs from changing, regardless of how invested in our current jobs we are.

The ultimate irony in my situation, is that I later found out that this person works for Kawasaki. Kawasaki is a Japanese company. This person is working for a foreign company, but had been so convinced by frightening emotional rhetoric about the loss of jobs to offshoring that they hadn’t been able to reason out that they were arguing for policies that would endanger their own personal job.

Anon says:

Re: Emotional issue

I tend to agree that protectionism is not going to help anybody, but having lived in the “rust belt” since the late 70s, the part of the story that nobody talks about is that fact that many people seemingly cannot adapt. It would be nice if the entire population were smart and educable and adaptable, but that does not seem to be the case and the direction of our technology is to first eliminate the jobs for the people least able to adapt. How far does it go and how do we/they adapt?
Just because we want there to always be a future at a “higher level” for us, for which we can retrain, does not mean that it must be so.

Greg says:

No Subject Given

Trying to put up a wall to keep jobs in the country will, in the end, backfire badly. However, there are things we can do to keep jobs in the country when offshoring is a close call – our tax code shouldn’t encourage offshoring b) prepare in advance for when jobs will be offshored with training programs and c) deal with the major disruptions in people’s lives that offshoring causes

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