Time to hit the books
July 13, 2005
Suketu Mehta -- the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist "Maximum City" -- has a smart and provocative take on outsourcing in the New York Times. Here are some high points:
When I moved to Queens, in New York City, at the age of 14, I found myself, for the first time in my life, considered good at math. In Bombay, math was my worst subject, and I regularly found my place near the bottom of the class rankings in that rigorous subject. But in my American school, so low were their standards that I was - to my parents' disbelief - near the top of the class. It was the same in English and, unexpectedly, in American history, for my school in Bombay included a detailed study of the American Revolution. My American school curriculum had, of course, almost nothing on the subcontinent's freedom struggle. I was mercilessly bullied during the 1979-80 hostage crisis, because my classmates couldn't tell the difference between Iran and India. If I were now to move with my family to India, my children - who go to one of the best private schools in New York - would have to take remedial math and science courses to get into a good school in Bombay. ...
The rich countries can't have it both ways. They can't provide huge subsidies for their agricultural conglomerates and complain when Indians who can't make a living on their farms then go to the cities and study computers and take away their jobs. Why are Indians willing to write code for a tenth of what Americans make for the same work? It's not by choice; it's because they're still struggling to stand on their feet after 200 years of colonial rule. The day will soon come when Indian companies will find that it's cheaper to hire computer programmers in Sri Lanka, and then it's there that the Indian jobs will go.
Of course, it's heart-wrenching to see American programmers - many of whom are of Indian origin - lose their jobs and have to worry about how they'll pay the mortgage. But they are ill served by politicians who promise to bring their jobs back by the facile tactic of banning them from leaving. This strategy will ensure only that our schools stay terrible; it'll be an entire country run like the dairy industry, feasible only because of price controls and subsidies.