The President’s Populist Pablum
Outsourcing has been successfully lowering costs, creating better jobs and spreading wealth since … well, since the Persians hired Greek mercenaries to do their pillaging. So why are we always knocking it?
After the nation’s intuitive comprehension of basic economics sank Barack Obama’s inane diatribe against investment banking, the administration has thrown a new ladleful of populist chum into the political swamp.
There it was, unexpectedly playing right into the hands of the Obama campaign, a Washington Post piece reporting that Mitt Romney, while head of Bain Capital in the mid-1990s, invested in companies that were not just outsourcing but also “pioneers” in the field of shipping jobs overseas (the same mid-’90s, you may recall, in which we saw rigidly low unemployment, healthy economic growth and a precipitous rise in the outsourcing of bank teller jobs to cash-dispensing automatons).
Obama’s campaign already has run an ad tagging Romney as the “outsourcer-in-chief.” Romney aides made the tactical error of trying to assert a factual distinction during a political campaign. (Trust me; to the average anxiety-ridden voter, “outsourcing” and “offshoring” sound exactly the same.) On cue, Obama joked that Romney “advisers tried to clear this up by telling us that there was a difference between ‘outsourcing’ and ‘offshoring.’ Seriously. You can’t make that up.” Actually, you can, Mr. President, because there is in fact a difference.
But this all raises several larger questions, for example: What does Barack Obama have against high-quality jobs in the United States? After all, by outsourcing, companies stay competitive, more productive and more profitable and often create higher-paying jobs here. This, despite the very real but temporary personal toll it takes on some, sounds like the sort of thing a recession-era president might be interested in pursuing rather than demonizing.
What about consumers, who benefit from the lower costs of products and services associated with outsourcing and who can spend that savings on products and services they value? Does that end of the equation not count? Or is job creation only a banal pursuit when it isn’t hitched to a progressive aspiration, a union pension or a solar cell? But let’s, for the sake of argument, concede that outsourcing is a quantifiable problem destroying the American worker who is watching his or her job be “shipped” to some Asian nation. What do Democrats — and many Republicans, who have, in the past, ridden this protectionist hobbyhorse — propose we do?
Of course, you can try to force companies to keep unsustainable jobs in the country. You can keep hiking the minimum wage until you put companies out of business. Or, as one of the planks of the president’s “jobs plan” proposes, you can punitively tax corporations that “ship jobs overseas.” But, as the United States is already one of the most aggressive nations in taxing profit earned abroad, that tack seems to have failed already. Though, it might tempt CEOs to pick up and head to Singapore.
There are better ways to slow the tide of outsourcing (if you think you must).
You could do away with unreasonable regulation and red tape (surely, we can all agree that somewhere it exists), which increase the cost of doing business. You might want to lower one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world and entice corporations to keep more jobs in the country. You might want to pass laws that allow companies and employees to free themselves from a union servitude that injects higher labor costs and lowers productivity, making it difficult to compete with other nations.
You could do those things. Or you could believe that policymakers in Washington actually believe their own isolationist rhetoric. And if that’s the case, we’re probably doomed anyway.