Yesterday's post about an outsourcing business started by a couple of my former Wonder Drug Factory colleagues prompted a complaint in the comments section, which I thought I'd bring up to the front here (since I know that not everyone reads the comments). Says reader Flanders:
Yeah, Great Big D! You're plugging a chem outsourcing business? I've never seen someone so much in denial as you. You lose your job to outsourcing yet you sponsor a group looking to exacerbate the process? You'd make a great spokes-person for the American Chemical Society!
My reply was:
My site's closure had nothing to do with India or China, as far as I can see. It was a flat-out reduction in head count - and I might add the the reductions are continuing outside the US as well. The jobs didn't move - they disappeared.
My opinions on outsourcing are on the record: demand is going to push costs up in those countries, and in the long run we (and the rest of the world) are better off with the resulting educated higher-wage work forces there. After all, they have to be able to afford what we want to sell them, too.
But if you're doing a job that someone in Montana, Maine, Mexico, India or China really can do just as well for less money, then you'd better keep your CV updated. That's been true for a long time. Neither the world nor the ACS owes any of us a living.
And I'm sticking to that. Long-time readers will know that I'm one of those lunatics who believes in free trade. I deeply dislike tariffs and other protectionist barriers, and that applies to services as well as goods. As transport and communication have improved, companies have larger markets to sell to, and more places to get their work done. The industrialized nations went through this (internally) some time ago, and now it's happening between nations. I persist in thinking that it's for everyone's good.
Connecticut, where I live, used to have a reasonably thriving ironworking industry, but it didn't survive the discovery of cheaper ore deposits. These days, when a Connecticut company finds that it can do better by moving to a cheaper part of the country (and there are many), that's what they'll do unless the local environment changes. No one expects any different, and why should they? I can't see why I should tell a company to not use chemistry services in India or China, if they can really get the job done. That's equivalent to saying "No, keep that work here, even though we cost more and don't give you anything more for the money". All this means is that if we're going to cost more here, then we'd damn well better have a reason for it. Deliver something that can't be had so easily in Hyderabad, is my advice.
Besides, the expansion of such work in low-cost markets is the best way to make sure that they don't remain low-cost forever. The standard of living rises in the countries involved, and we start over again. You'll see Indian chemists complaining about being undercut by Pakistanis or Bangladeshis before all this is over, mark my words.