President Bush’s acceptance speech contained a fascinating piece of rhetoric that equates the outsourcing of American jobs with the liberation of American workers:
“The story of America is the story of expanding liberty: an ever-widening circle, constantly growing to reach further and include more. Our nation’s founding commitment is still our deepest commitment: In our world, and here at home, we will extend the frontiers of freedom.
“The times in which we work and live are changing dramatically. The workers of our parents’ generation typically had one job, one skill, one career, often with one company that provided health care and a pension. And most of those workers were men.
“Today, workers change jobs, even careers, many times during their lives, and, in one of the most dramatic shifts our society has seen, two-thirds of all moms also work outside the home,” he said.
The usual reading of these established facts is that American workers acquire newly marketable skills and American moms acquire meaningless low-paying jobs because they have to, not because they want to. Workers change careers because employers can obtain their skills cheaper off shore. The president acknowledged this factor, saying, “We now compete in a global market that provides new buyers for our goods, but new competition for our workers.”
As to working moms, liberal economists have long pointed out that the combined income of two wage earners in a home now is not much greater in relative dollars that the single income of one wager earner in the old days. In other words, it now takes two to support a family.
“Many of our most fundamental systems – the tax code, health coverage, pension plans, worker training – were created for the world of yesterday, not tomorrow. We will transform these systems so that all citizens are equipped, prepared and thus truly free to make your (sic) own choices and pursue your own dreams,” the president said.
In other words, he wants to make the fundamentals more portable. This in turn shifts the burden from the employer to the individual (not, since he is a Republican, the government). And so Bush went on to promote the ideas of individual health savings accounts as alternatives to comprehensive health insurance and individual investment plans as alternatives to mandatory Social Security taxes.
The “worker training” part of his package was: “In this time of change, many workers want to go back to school to learn different or higher-level skills. So we will double the number of people served by our principal job training program and increase funding for our community colleges. I know that with the right skills American workers can compete with anyone, anywhere in the world.”
Further, “In this time of change, opportunity in some communities is more distant than in others. To stand with workers in poor communities and those that have lost manufacturing, textile and other jobs, we will create American opportunity zones.” He sounded here like a Democrat, complete with total disregard for the cost of the Op Zone program (Remember the old LBJ Office of Economic Opportunity?) to the taxpayers.
The Democrats did not immediately respond, and John Kerry might remain silent on the proposals, as he does on so many other issues in his disastrous campaign to shadow Bush. But there is hope with John Edwards, who made outsourcing his primary issue.
The Democratic team could, if they would, turn the rhetorical tables on the Republicans here. They could say the Bush proposals to ameliorate outsourcing are too “complicated,” too tax-and-spend expensive. They could say there is a simpler solution: Keep the damned jobs home!
But they won’t. And mid-Americans will continue to regard outsourcing as an issue that does not affect them directly — a complex mechanism that, for reasons known to conservative economists, actually is good for the American economy. They will continue to care more about the price of their new running shoes than where they were glued together. They will continue to presume that outsourcing involves really dumbass jobs that smart Americans don’t want anyway.
But mid-Americans are in for a rude awakening. I got that wakeup call just recently.
In late June after some intensive study of print-on-demand companies and several telephone conversations with a nice literary salesperson in Philadelphia, I signed with Xlibris to publish my novel about growing up in Colorado. I told a few friends to expect the book in September and turned to my next writing project, on New Mexico politics.
At the end of July, I received a surprise e-mail from Xlibris c.e.o. John Feldcamp announcing, in his words, the “exciting news” that the company was moving some of its operations to the Philippines. What? How can you do English-language publishing in a country where English is a second language? I e-mailed Feldcamp asking for more details and expressing my reluctance to be part of an enterprise that moves American jobs off shore. There was no response.
Two weeks later I called the number of my project contact at Xlibris. An operator said she no longer worked there. I called the number of the nice literary salesperson and left a voice message. I sent another email to Feldcamp. The call and the e-mail were never answered.
Eventually I found someone familiar with my project, by its serial number — a sincere and apparently college-educated young Filipina. We had several painfully halting conversations about the quality of the digital photograph on the back of the proposed book. At times I got the feeling she was reading from a script.
Eventually I sent another photo and, receiving no response, called her. She said that my project had moved to the next level and that someone else now had my case. I will call the new representative – she has a strange name – when I’m feeling rested and have a long afternoon free.
I went through this last spring with Dell computers. I had called Dell technical assistance with a problem installing a new Dell hard drive, and after about eight cumulative hours, a lost weekend of attempting to communicate with India, I gave up and bought 90 days of upgraded Dell tech assistance. It cost me $50, but I got a guy in Austin who solved the problem in five minutes.
Subsequently I bought a new computer – from Gateway. I doubt that I’ll ever go back to Dell. And that’s what I’ll do with my next book – switch to a company that does not outsource. But that might be hard to do. See, I’m a slow writer, and by then Bush will be well into his second term.