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Is Setting Up an Offshore IT Help Desk Ethical? 826

Posted by Soulskill
from the food-on-the-table dept.
theodp writes "Except for a few odd jobs,' wrote an advice seeker to The Ethicist (NYT, reg. may be required), 'I had been out of work for nine months when I was offered a job setting up an [IT] offshore help desk. Would it be ethical to accept the offer?' Randy Cohen, who pens The Ethicist column for the Times, not only advised the job seeker that it was indeed okay to help co-workers lose their jobs, but also seemed to suggest that it would be unethical for him not to offshore the jobs, saying: 'Some people feel we have a greater ethical duty to those closest to us — our neighbors — but in an era of global trade and travel, that is a recipe for tribalism and its attendant ills.' The job seeker, who noted his father's auto-industry job was outsourced, chose to ignore Cohen's ethics advice — as well as his own wife's — and declined the job out of principle. He continues to seek work. Comments?"
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Is Setting Up an Offshore IT Help Desk Ethical?

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  • by MadMike32 (1361741) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:32PM (#35112788)
    ...then the answer is no.
    • by artor3 (1344997) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:38PM (#35112828)
      Indeed, that was actually part of the NYT's writer's response:

      You may of course reject this offer simply because it makes you uneasy, guided by Pliny’s dictum quod dubitas ne feceris. When in doubt, don’t.

      • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:47PM (#35113346) Journal

        I disagree.

        We should ask questions of ourselves ALL the time, rather than just blindly push forward. Now of course I don't mean trivial junk like, "Should I go to the bathroom?" but more serious issues like, "Do I have a right to take cash-for-clunkers, when the $3000 I'm getting comes from my neighbors' wallets? They probably need the money more than I do."

        Or: "Do I have a right to take a job that involves laying-off my neighbors?" For me the answer is not a simple one. The pros are that Indians overseas get to be employed, instead of being penniless and hungry. The cons are that I'm laying-off my neighbors, and most likely, laying off myself in the future (when my engineering job is also outsourced).

        Another consideration: In the long term, oil prices will rise, and shipping goods from China or India will no longer be as cheap as building here at home. Offshore call centers probably won't be affected, but I think it wiser to keep the factories for physical goods HERE, so we will be prepared for that coming Oil Shock (circa 2020) rather than have to rebuild from scratch.

        • by ShakaUVM (157947)

          >>Do I have a right to take cash-for-clunkers, when the $3000 I'm getting comes from my neighbors' wallets?

          You do know you can donate money to the IRS, don't you? If you feel guilty about a particular tax deduction or credit, you can always donate an equivalent amount to the IRS.

          But people never do that. Weird, isn't it?

          To me, those sorts of issues have never bothered me. I don't think the mortgage interest deduction should exist, but I'll take it anyway. Our taxes are high enough that refusing to tak

    • by CapOblivious2010 (1731402) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:42PM (#35112866)
      Any time you ask Randy Cohen, the answer is questionable.

      He's a total sleaze who will use lofty-sounding logic to support his whatever position he happens to prefer today, even if it completely contradicts the position he took yesterday.

      If you're talking about doing something illegal that he favors (say, hiring an illegal immigrant as a maid), he'll take the "higher calling" route, and tell you that you have a moral duty to ignore bad laws. Just like the nazis should have ignored their laws.

      But if it happens to be something he's opposed to, he'll tell you that following the law is the foundation of ethics. You can try to change the law, of course, but if everyone were to simply ignore laws they don't like, the result would be total anarchy and the collapse of society - so of course any action leading in that direction would be completely unethical.
      • by nbauman (624611) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @04:39PM (#35113716) Homepage Journal

        One of my pet peeves since Randy Cohen started the column is that he's calling himself an ethicist when he really isn't. It's like calling yourself a doctor or lawyer when you're not, and giving people medical or legal advice that gets them into trouble.

        It's part of the old newspaper mindset, "A good reporter can cover X even if he doesn't know anything about it, he'll just pick it up when he goes along," when X is a country where he doesn't speak the language, technology, politics, the drug war, health care, etc.

        There actually is such a thing as an ethicist. I'm most familiar with medical ethicists, who are often employed by hospitals and academic medical centers. I've taken courses and gone to lectures on medical ethics, and I learned a few important non-obvious things.

        An ethicist isn't like a doctor or rabbi who tells you what's right (according to God). The job of an ethicist (at least a medical ethicist) is to get the facts, figure out the logic of the situation, clarify the problem for you, and let you make your own decision. They also have to point out to you that different people would have different values and opinions, and you have to decide for yourself.

        For example, back in the 1950s, when a pregnant unmarried woman went to a doctor, depending on who she went to, the doctor would tell her (1) you have to deliver the child and give it up for adoption or (2) You have to get an abortion so you can continue with your education/career. Later on, some doctors came up with the innovative idea that you should lay out the facts and options, and let the woman make her own decision what she wanted to do.

        Today, medical ethicists help people decide a lot of Terry Schiavo-type questions about when a patient is hopeless enough to let the patient die, or whether to take a dangerous, unpleasant treatment like cancer chemotherapy when there's a very low chance it will do any good.

        (There are corrupt ethicists, too http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/pharma-buys-a-conscience.html. [globalhealingcenter.com])

        The job of an ethicist is to clarify ideas

        But Randy Cohen was answering ethical questions usually on the basis of nothing more than his own personal opinion or gut feeling. Up to the point where I stopped reading his column, I never saw a thoughtful consideration of the different viewpoints and options. Cohen just delivered his own opinion, as if he had a direct line to God.

        What really annoyed me about Cohen was that he was taking a field with a lot of good, thoughtful logical and even scientific analysis behind it (for example, doctors did studies of how patients felt a year after deciding to let relatives die; for example, doctors recorded conversations between doctors and patients about fatal diseases and found out that the patients didn't usually appreciate the seriousness of their condition) and treating it as if it were just a matter of opinion, and entertainment, and his opinion was better than yours. It's like applying creationism to ethics. He's just a liberal version of those conservative Christians (or extremists of every religion) who think that they have all the answers and everybody should do what they say because they have a direct line to God. It's scientific ignorance applied to ethics.

    • by thrillseeker (518224) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:10PM (#35113114)
      Ah, so *forcing* others (whether through legislation or submitting or enforcing peer pressure) to have fewer options and so to pay more of their own hard-earned money for higher priced on-shore services and products is ethical, but creating choice for others where they can use and decide on the quality vs. price of a service all on their own is unethical.
    • by Urkki (668283) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:39PM (#35113294)

      ...then the answer is no.

      So what's "ethical" is not only fixed, but something everybody must intuitively know. As soon as something isn't intuitively known to be ethical, but raises question "is this ethical", then it automatically isn't?

      Intriguing point of view, I must say.

      Does it extend to "as long as you don't question it, it's ethical"?

  • Hey! (Score:5, Funny)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:32PM (#35112790) Journal

    I saw that movie. You'll get to nail a really beautiful Indian girl. Ethics smethics.

  • Ethical? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) *
    Of course it's not "ethical", but that's not the point. It's legal, and that's all that matters.

    And this "Randy Cohen" individual is an ass, or a shill, and I hope he gets outsourced by his employer at the earliest opportunity.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Of course it's not "ethical"

      Then of course you can explain your reasoning? I fail to see what is unethical about it. "I don't agree" != "unethical".

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      On what basis is it unethical?

      The potential employer is starting a business. He is seeking help doing so. The business happens to be overseas.

      Is any of those things - starting business, hiring people, or doing business abroad unethical? I don't think so.

      What we're really talking about is not ethics. It's our feelings - we are unhappy about facing competition. We're particularly unhappy because the competition can work for much cheaper than we can, because we are used to a very high standard of living. Th

    • Of course it's not "ethical", but that's not the point. It's legal, and that's all that matters.

      Are you saying that all one should consider, in general, is what's legal rather than ethical?

      Or are just just saying that in this particular case?

    • Couldn't agree with you more. While it is legal to offshore the work, with a 9-10% unemployment rate in this country, it's not ethical or moral. Sadly, when you deal with stockholders and what is right for them, it's about the almighty dollar (or whatever your currency is) and their returns. Nobody ever said capitalism is necessarily or moral. But, once upon a time, people trusted the companies they worked for - companies very often took great care of their employees - now, we have to look out for oursel

      • Re:Ethical? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cetialphav (246516) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:23PM (#35113198)

        While it is legal to offshore the work, with a 9-10% unemployment rate in this country, it's not ethical or moral.

        What if the country that gets the jobs has a 25% unemployment rate? What if the country has vast amounts of starvation and extreme poverty? What makes it ethical to say that the lives in this country are more important than the lives in other countries?

        People talk like outsourcing jobs is equivalent to stealing. That is not so. No one owns a job; no one deserves a job. My country has no more right to a job than any other country. We all have to compete. What could possibly be unethical about fair competition?

        But, once upon a time, people trusted the companies they worked for - companies very often took great care of their employees - now, we have to look out for ourselves.

        What time was that exactly? Was that at the time when companies used child labor? Was that at the time when no one worried about worker safety and many jobs had appalling mortality rates? You have a fantasy view of the past. You have always had to look out and fight for yourselves. You have always had to compete. Some groups (e.g. auto workers in Detroit) were able to gain some insulation from market forces in the past, but that couldn't last. The market will always catch up to you.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Fair competition would be fine, but competing against child labor or with people happy to poison their own water and air is not far competition.

    • Of course it's not "ethical",

      Excuse me, why?

      • Re:Ethical? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Gonoff (88518) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:04PM (#35113062)

        Perhaps because he feels that "his country" is superior to all others and so helping a different ones economy is helping something inferior.

        This is also known as Nationalism or Tribalism. I would be interested in hearing a different possible reason.

    • Re:Ethical? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by RyanFenton (230700) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:09PM (#35113100)

      Indeed - the point Cohen seems to completely ignore is the morality of engaging in a race to the bottom [wikipedia.org].

      True - rampant outsourcing has, and will definitely help a lot of professionals get their start in India - and that IS a good thing - but the net effect is to minimize the value of human workers in any role of employment. Your function will be to further shape the role of "support" into a set of blind scripts, minimizing the actual help provided to a voice reading a small set of webpages to someone.

      This wouldn't be such a bad thing if money weren't such a critical divider between people - rich and poor, death and survival. But it is - and your function would be, at least in subtle way, to inconvenience everyone so that a small rich group didn't have to spend as much money on professionals, diminishing the value of your own profession along with it. You'd be tearing down tools used to help people so that there is a cheaper replacement that does less.

      The whole thing is a bit of a red herring before larger issues though. Not too long from now, creatively programmed automation will take even more of these roles - and jobs might not be something everyone can be expected to have in order just to make things work anymore. Due to economies of scale, the cheapest automated tools will still be cheaper than the cheapest people eventually.

      What will happen to those without the means to sustain their wealth without access to jobs? What happens when companies simply don't need large masses of people, and most people don't have access to methods of gaining money? How much longer can we run our economy this way? How valuable is the role of a human, in a society ostensibly built for human freedom?

      Ryan Fenton

      • Re:Ethical? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Chuck Chunder (21021) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @05:25PM (#35114068) Homepage Journal

        Indeed - the point Cohen seems to completely ignore is the morality of engaging in a race to the bottom [wikipedia.org]. True - rampant outsourcing has, and will definitely help a lot of professionals get their start in India - and that IS a good thing

        As you almost point out, it isn't just a race to the bottom. For the folks in the country you are outsourcing to it's part of a race to the top.

    • by loteck (533317)
      As chance would have it, Randy Cohen has been removed from the NYT magazine as of yesterday. A new writer will take over The Ethicist in March. Your wish, granted, to some degree or another.
    • So, helping set up an offshore call center is unethical. What about patronizing companies that have recently offshored a lot of their capabilities? Try going a day without giving business to such a company...pass up on the cheaper prices at Walmart, Target, etc. and buy only from local, American suppliers with no operations abroad that were set up as a cost savings measure. While you're at it, don't drive a car, ride a motorcycle or get on a bike.

      I just find it unsettling that there's so much outcry abou

  • by desertfool (21262) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:34PM (#35112802) Homepage

    at least he has principles. I wish there were more people like him in IT.

    • by petes_PoV (912422)
      So how about the "ethics" of setting up a helpdesk in another state? Or another town. Just where do these "ethical" people draw the line?
  • practicality (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:37PM (#35112822) Homepage

    If the ethics are bothering you, perhaps you should look at practicality instead; what you see may eliminate your ethical quandary. Offshore support desks may be less expensive per call received, but the total expense difference is a smaller gap, as people have to call back when they don't receive proper care, or have to be transferred to 2nd and 3rd level techs in the US. You also have to worry about losing customers who get angry at having to deal with foreign techs. Overseas tech support quality is a long-standing joke, and the joke is firmly based on reality. I recommend you do some more due-diligence before considering this move.

    • Yesterday while I was in the car, I heard an auto insurance commercial where the entire premise was on the customer service being outsourced to a gentleman in India named "Hank". Clearly, it's becoming a visibile issue, and if you're an intelligent person on the business side, you'll realize that the gains in goodwill you'll see by not offshoring support is much greater than the additional margin you may see by offshoring.

  • Amusing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:39PM (#35112836)
    I find it amusing that people are in favor of giving poor people in foreign countries food and money, but are horrified at the prospect of giving them jobs.
    • That's an asinine comparison. Giving another person your job means you have none. Giving that person your surplus food means you still have enough. If there was more work to be done here than people to do it, no-one would bat an eyelash at paying a person in another country to do the work. Imagine saying to someone, "We're going to give all your food to this person in Hyderabad. So sorry."
  • Prove it... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DarkOx (621550) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:41PM (#35112860) Journal

    I see this tribalism is wrong argument popping up quite often but really what is this based on philosophically. I don't know them and they don't know me. I can only assume they are going to look out for their best interests, I therefore must do the same. This does not hold true for my friends and neighbors who I can expect to consider my interests, at least to a degree.

    I don't turn on the even news and see a whole lot of evidence the rest of the world is filled with altruists, who only want what is best for everyone. The other issue with this argument for outsourcing is, I think its users should be required to prove its not a zero sum game. "Because they deserve to benefit from technology and have good jobs too", is only a sound argument if those jobs are not being taken from people here. Where countries like India are concerned they are competitors, it might be a mostly friendly competition right now.

    I don't know what I would have done in this guys shoes, I suspect I would have been even more tribal and decided to do what is best for MY family, and taken the job. I applaud him for standing on principles though which I feel are sound.

    • Re:Prove it... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by hduff (570443) <hoytduff&gmail,com> on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:59PM (#35113008) Homepage Journal

      I see this tribalism is wrong argument popping up quite often

      Pretty much any time you have to resort to playing the -ism card in a debate, you're admitting your argument is weak.

    • by snowgirl (978879)

      I see this tribalism is wrong argument popping up quite often but really what is this based on philosophically. I don't know them and they don't know me. I can only assume they are going to look out for their best interests, I therefore must do the same. This does not hold true for my friends and neighbors who I can expect to consider my interests, at least to a degree.

      Welcome to the Prisoner's Dilemma... the reason why the world is going to hell in a handbasket even though if everyone were to work together, everything would work out fine.

  • It is ethical (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mangu (126918) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:42PM (#35112868)

    If he's doing a better job than somebody else for the same or less pay, then it is ethical.

    What is NOT ethical is what the current worldwide corporate managers do. They get paid more than anybody else in the company to produce absolutely nothing. What they call "leadership" is worth nothing, do they think it requires any talent to say "hey, you! make this thing work!"

    I believe in Leadership as it was in the old days, the leaders were the people who had worked in the factory floor and had showed their talent there. They understood the processes, the technical details that made the company create the products people would buy.

    Today, the MBAs know nothing about that, all they do is bullshit.

    • "If he's doing a better job than somebody else for the same or less pay, then it is ethical."

      Wow. Way to oversimplify the issue. It's not that simple at all.

      I don't necessarily disagree with you about the MBAs, but let's get back to the issue at hand: whether outsourcing is ethical.

      Let's say your next-door neighbor, who you have known for 15 years, is an experienced IT help desk operator whose wife is recovering from a bout with cancer. He is desperately in need of a good job. One option is to hire him; another option is to outsource the services. Assume that if you outsource, you will get sl

      • Talk about a strawman. What about the workers in the country the help center is outsourced? Do their wives/children not get sick too?

    • Re:It is ethical (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @08:06PM (#35115174)

      ...in the old days, the leaders were the people who had worked in the factory floor and had showed their talent there. They understood the processes,...

      I remember a time, about 10 years ago, when it dawned on me that for the first time in my very large, very old organization, the guy at the top was from the outside. And everyone that reported to him had been hired from the outside. And everyone that reported to them. For the first time in our history, the head guy and the next two levels of executives on the org chart had all come from outside the organization. Not one of them had worked their way up from the inside. Not one of them had lived the processes by which our mission is accomplished. Not one truly understood what we did.

      At about that time, all sorts of plans started flowing from the top down about how the organization should be changed to make it more efficient. Those of us who had been around for 20 years saw potential problems in some of the proposals but, for the most part, we were willing to try to make the organization better.

      A decade later, one of the best organizations to work for has become a hell-hole where flashy fast-talkers routinely make decisions that shock the hell out of those of us who understand the mission of the organization. Us oldsters look back on the time when working your way up through the ranks changed from a badge of honor to the mark of someone who didn't understand how to leverage an advanced degree and some strategic ass-kissing to get ahead.

      Is there a top-level executive in the U.S. today, working for a sizable company (say, 100k or more employees), who worked their way up through the ranks of that organization?

  • Capitalism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:43PM (#35112874) Journal
    One of the beautiful aspects of capitalism is that it assumes everyone is inherently greedy and therefore the system is constructed so that even the greediest of society's members cannot abuse the system.

    One of the horrible aspects of capitalism is that if someone is not greedy or negatively greedy (like the man in the example) and looks out for others, they're eaten like a sheep among wolves. Of course it is not society that is harmed but merely the perceptually insane individual.

    In an age where lawmakers are trying to strike down healthcare for all of your fellow citizens [slashdot.org] and Social Security is just a cookie jar to be raped by fiscally careless politicians it's unfortunately pointless to pass up this job. You're just ensuring that you're the victim instead of someone else. Sadly, in a capitalistic society, that's not a sound plan to ensure your future and survival.

    I respect the man for his decision but as someone who has watched my father go on and off unemployment, I implore him to adjust his attitude to just consider legality and not ethics. We live in a world today where all politicians and businesses lead by example in this department and playing the game optimally means that capitalism rewards them.
  • Ethical? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mage66 (732291) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:45PM (#35112890)
    Ethics isn't an issue here. Life isn't set in stone. Things evolve and change. People who helped install electric lamps and put gaslight lighters out of work weren't unethical. People who built cars and put buggy whip makers out of work weren't unethical. Progress happens. I find off-shore call centers to be substandard. I am always having problems with them. Companies will realize the false savings in them and bring back home-based centers. Customer support is a form of sales and advertising. Savings in off-shoring them is penny-wise and pound foolish. I wouldn't give it a second thought. I trust cream to rise to the top.
    • Re:Ethical? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:11PM (#35113120) Journal

      It's not about technological progress and buggy whips because sufficient new jobs are not replacing the ones that go overseas. That's why our wages and/or jobs have been slumping for a decade.

      Other nations "adjust" their currency and laws to create jobs at the expense of consumerism. We do the opposite in the US. It's great that you can afford a China-made iPod with an unemployment check, isn't it?

      It's a lobbyist lie that we can maximize BOTH consumerism and jobs, and Asian countries know this.

  • by Frequency Domain (601421) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:48PM (#35112920)
    It doesn't matter that somebody else will take the job, at the end of the day we all have to answer to ourselves. I admire somebody who knows what it takes to be able to look at himself in the mirror the next day.
  • and Bangladeshi. Even with illegal Visa
  • Nonsensical... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kr3m3Puff (413047) <(me) (at) (kitsonkelly.com)> on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:50PM (#35112932) Homepage Journal

    I think the gentleman made a bad decision. Either we adapt or fail.

    On the other hand, I happen to be a senior IT manager in a company, where I know personally in my department we will be replacing about 30 jobs over the next 12 months that had been outsourced with direct employees of the company. We are learning that it doesn't give us the quality or the flexibility that we were really looking for. In addition, our customers services is going through a process of insourcing large parts of its contact centre, because at the end of the day, direct employees have a greater stake in the satisfaction of the customer and we manage our people better than our partners.

    But eliminating yourself from the mix ensures that your views and thoughts will never be heard. If you really wanted to change things, you would jump in with both feet and see where it goes.

    • by sethstorm (512897)


      I think the gentleman made a bad decision. Either we adapt or fail.

      Then adapt the legal framework to remove the incentive to defraud people with offshoring.

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:53PM (#35112958) Homepage

    To me, the answer depends quite a bit on the labor and political conditions in the country to which the work is being outsourced.

    If this was a factory job being outsourced to a country that's politically repressive, then outsourcing could mean forcing US workers to compete with workers in a country where there are no child labor laws, workers put in 16 hours day and sleep in a shack on the factory grounds, or where trying to organize a labor union means that the police come, shoot you in the head, and throw you in a ditch.

    However, this is an IT job, so most likely it's not going to be done by child labor or under sweatshop conditions. Is it being outsourced to Ireland or India, both of which are democracies with real labor laws? If so, then I'd agree with Cohen, with the caveat that a lot of India's problems are caused by Malthusian issues, and no matter how many jobs you send there, it won't do jack for the vast majority of the population.

    In fact, a lot of the world's problems have lack of birth control as their underlying cause. Global warming is an overpopulation issue. Poverty in places like Mexico and Egypt is an overpopulation issue. Deforestation is an overpopulation issue. Air pollution in the US is an overpopulation issue. India's inability to provide education at the same level as China is an overpopulation issue.

  • It's your obligation (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Punto (100573)

    If the people in another country are willing to do the same job for less money, that means they are using less resources than you to have basically the same life. Is it ethical to go out of your way to maintain your wasteful life?

  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:54PM (#35112970)

    Personally, I dont see how this could be a question of ethics. It is, however, a question of economic nationalism. We are quickly removing ourselves from economic competitiveness. Most of our industry and manufacturing jobs have already left the country, to the point where we are primarily a service economy. And now even services are beginning to be exported as well. We consume more and more, but except for our agricultural industry and military-industrial complex, we really do not produce anything. Competitive advantage says that states will inevitably focus on those industries they are best suited to (stones/minerals/oil in Africa, manufacturing in China and SE Asia). It seems what we do best is consume. The problem is, manufacturing brings in money, consuming loses it. Even if these companies are based in America, their profits are not being recirculated into the US economy. The dividends are going into the stock market, and we all know what a mess and drain that is, and what wages and infrastructure/construction they contribute to is invested not in the US, but in whatever state their suppliers are located in. While this drives the costs down and increases profits, it gets to the point where more and more people in the US are unable to afford to purchase these goods. It's a cycle. People are forced to buy cheaper and cheaper goods, so companies reduce US jobs that cost more to drive down costs to keep or improve their profit margins. This causes more people to be able to afford less, meaning an increased demand for cheaper goods. If we want to improve our economic situation, we have to bring industry back to this country, to become competitive again. There is a reason why it's called "making money". The best way to make money is to make something. Until then, more and more of our money is going to go oversees or in corporate coffers, and states like China and Saudi Arabia will have more and more control over us.

    So, the question isn't is it ethical to help your fellow employees get laid off. The question is it ethical for a company to bleed a state dry all in the name of profit? We said no when it came to states bleeding dry colonies. How is it any different now, except now it's companies doing the bleeding?

  • ...but his premises are suspect. If one accepts that an American should have no more or less concern for the job-seeker in Mumbai than the one in Seattle, then it is certainly not wrong to help set up an offshore help desk.

    However, the idea that the only reason one would have more concern for the American than the Indian is "tribalism" is suspect. Consider the end result of offshoring helpdesk jobs. We'd end up with no such jobs in America. Then where would this job-seeker be? Unemployed and with no pr

  • by trout007 (975317) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:57PM (#35112996)

    I worked for years as a mechanical engineer in the automation industry. All we did was put people out of work by automating routine tasks. That is how we become more productive. Engineering is all about using your mind to improve the way things are done. This inevitably means putting some people out of work. The beauty of a free market system is that labor can move to where it is needed the most. For example.

    I helped build a machine that assembled carburetors for Briggs and Stratton. Before there was an assembly line that ran 2 shifts with 12 people each shift. The machine allowed 2 technicians to build the same number of carburetors with less scrap in one shift. So 24 people were out of a job. How can this be good? Because it frees up those peoples labor so other things can be done. When someone first starts making something it usually isn't beneficial to automate because of the capital costs. But if the product is successful and the demand it there it makes sense to automate. Then free up the labor to go to where it is needed more.

    • by xleeko (551231) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @04:07PM (#35113478)
      Nice use of euphemisms. You speak of "labor" as if it some mythical, fungible pixie dust instead of twenty two people with mortgages, car payments, food and diapers to buy, kids who are going to need braces in a year or two, tires that need to be replaced before the car will pass inspection, and one hundred different things.

      Douche.
      • by RajivSLK (398494) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @05:37PM (#35114136)

        Yeah the kids will need braces and guess what? Braces are available as a direct result of the exact process described. How much do think a tire would cost if it was made by hand instead of in a largely automated factory? How much do you think an automobile would cost if every process that currently takes two people actually took 24? Without automation poor mom and dad wouldn't be able to afford food much less a car.

        In fact there is a name for a society without automation. It's called subsistance farming. A world where close to 100% of the population works as farmers because we wouldn't dare automate anything because it would put people out of business.

      • by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquiet@hotmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Sunday February 06, 2011 @12:40AM (#35116326) Journal

        Nice use of euphemisms. You speak of "labor" as if it some mythical, fungible pixie dust instead of twenty two people with mortgages, car payments, food and diapers to buy...

        Does that mean that once a person has been trained and hired, their employers (and ultimately, all of society) should be compelled to continue to employ them forever in the same line of work doing the same tasks, however useless or irrelevant those jobs might now be?

        If a company performs a task one way, is it compelled to perform it in the same way with the same number of employees for the remainder of its existence? Is the automation only unethical for existing companies, or can a new competitor starting from scratch use new methods and techniques and drive the old assembly line out of business?

      • And everything you buy costs more as a result. Look back at the quality of life 70 years ago when we didn't have the automation or nearly as much trade with other countries. Then look at the lavish life you have in comparison as a result of automation and large amounts of trade. Which one do you prefer?
    • The flaw in your argument is that people still have to pay their mortgage and buy food, etc. The labor, at the moment, is free now to starve, because the banks have enslaved everybody and the jobs are not within walking or driving distance. Is the labor supposed to move overseas?

      If the automation process allowed people to work less, then you'd have a point, but they still need to put in as many hours to get paid in order to survive.

      Put another way. . .

      Are cars getting cheaper because labor costs have dropp

      • Are cars getting cheaper because labor costs have dropped? No, they aren't.

        Um, actually, yes, they are. The car of today is cheaper (after adjusting for inflation), more efficient and more reliable then it has ever been.

        The thing people are forgetting is that industry was invented to serve the population, not the other way around.

        Exactly. I couldn't have put it better myself. And intentionally perpetuating inefficiencies in order to create makework jobs is trying to make the population at large serve ind

        • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @05:43PM (#35114178)

          Um, actually, yes, they are. The car of today is cheaper (after adjusting for inflation), more efficient and more reliable then it has ever been.

          "Um" yourself. You're just plain wrong.

          1989 average car price was around $15,000

          1999 average was around $21,000

          2009 average is closer to $27,000

          Adjusting for inflation doesn't cover that by a long shot. Why? Because the number of hours the average family needs to work has nearly doubled since the 80's.

          In the 80's, it was quite possible for a middle class family to have a stay at home parent and still maintain a comfortable lifestyle. Today, that's a fantasy. And even with that, people *still* don't have enough left over income. That's the result of industry feeding on people, not the other way around.

          Exactly. I couldn't have put it better myself. And intentionally perpetuating inefficiencies in order to create makework jobs is trying to make the population at large serve industry.

          Don't put words into my mouth, please. I'm not talking about makework jobs. I'm talking about banks fucking off and stopping the practice of usery which is destroying us all. I'm talking about preventing the psychopathic executives, the top 5% of the population taking home 75% of the national income.

          And also. . , there is nothing wrong with tribalism. Why? Because it's just another word for "Neighborliness". Taking care of the people in your immediate community is the *point* of this wonderful industry; to allow people more time and free energy to explore and grow in spirit.

          If people far away need better lives, then what we need to do is leave them alone rather than poison them and corrupt their systems for our benefit.

          -FL

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      I worked for years as a mechanical engineer in the automation industry. All we did was put people out of work by automating routine tasks.

      My dad did the same kind of work. However, when manufacturing drifted overseas, he was out of a job. He eventually became a hospital efficiency analyst, but it never paid as much.

      Many studies show that the "replacement jobs" typically don't pay as well as those shipped overseas.

      And you are mixing up job loss due to technology versus job loss due to cheap overseas labor.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You argument that people can shift to a different workforce makes the assumption that there are at least as many jobs (if not more) as there are people, which we all know isn't the case. It also ignores the costs incurred of retraining for a new field, which in the US falls solely on the individual unless they're somehow particularly spectacular and can get someone else to foot the bill for education.

      I'm a little indignant about the subject, as I used to be college student whose database administration job

    • by SimonInOz (579741) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @04:55PM (#35113838)

      I worked as a process automation specialist. I was automating the processes that ran a last furnace. Yes I put people out of work, but the jobs I was replacing were just about intolerable. No question there.
      Sadly, I didn't manage to automate the rather heavily clad bloke who had to wander about sweeping up the spilt piles of coal and iron ore. I always wanted to manage that, but failed.

      And what did these people do, these people I put out of work? I don't know, but I do know that a similar blast furnace eventually closed down, unable to compete with cheaper steel from overseas. So I staved that off a bit, and kept lots of other people in employment. Overall, it was a good result.

      Basically, what automation does is to replace people with - effectively - robots. This should reduce costs, and improve quality. Economics says this is a good thing. It improves the return on capital. Economics is less good about what happens to the replaced people, it simply sees them as "labour". It's true that displaced people usually go on to do something else, though whether it is as satisfying to them is well outside the realm of economics (not known for its kind heart).
      Outsourcing is a little different. It simply moves work to where labour is cheaper. It doesn't make the product (a help desk) better, indeed it's usually worse in my experience, all it does is save money. Saving money isn't a bad thing, it means it might be spent better elsewhere. Unfortunately, with the dreadfully short-sighted management we seem to be beset with at the moment, this isn't what happens. The money gets siphoned off into managers and shareholder pockets.

      We need a better approach. When Ford opened his Model-T factory, he wanted his workers to be able to afford a Model T. He paid them well. The results speak for themselves.
      Let's find a better approach!

    • by Sir_Sri (199544)

      Well if you didn't improve efficiency, and someone else did, eventually your costs would be so prohibitively high that you become uncompetitive.

      That's what's happening now. Training offshore replacements is short term pain for long term gain. Yes, they're (at least theoretically) taking a potential job here, but right now there's not much of an IT market for us to sell to in india or pakistan etc.. If we want to sell them 500 dollar 'smart' phones they need to have skills and money to pay for them.

      If you

  • It is ethical for someone to take an offered job - if they agree that the output of the potential employer is ehtical.

    In Other words, I feel it woule ethical for me to take a job in another country for a company that made low power lightbulbs, but I would not feel it ethical for me to take a job with a company in my own town that made its money from gambling. (Examples picked randomly)

    There are, of course, other matters to consider. Would it be ethical for me to move my kids education to another country?

  • by shoehornjob (1632387) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:10PM (#35113110)
    I would do it because I have a family and taking care of my daughter is more important than anything else. Of course it would be different if I was single with no dependants but everything changes when you have kids.
  • Fairness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animats (122034) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:12PM (#35113134) Homepage

    Just make sure that when the CEO has trouble with his laptop, he has to call the call center in Mumbai.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:47PM (#35113344)
    There's more to the world than 1 country. So when a helpdesk serves a worldwide user base, most of the calls will NOT come from the country the operation is based in.

    So unless you are prepared to bear the overheads of your favourite software company running a helpdesk in every country int he world, the question is moot.

  • by Thumper_SVX (239525) on Sunday February 06, 2011 @09:59AM (#35118064) Homepage

    This is probably an unpopular idea around here, but some people here really have to embrace the inevitable. Globalization is inevitable, it's just rather challenging for individuals at the moment because of the draconian ideals of the world governments. The future of work in IT, and probably in most industries is dependent on the individual's ability to be mobile and flexible. Instead of tying oneself to a single place in a single country we must as individuals be willing to move to where the work is. Just as the idea that we could start working at 18 for a company that we would then retire from at 65 with a full pension went by the wayside, so must this idea that we can expect the jobs to follow us. Get over yourself; you are not the only person in the world who can do the job and you're not the center of the universe.

    So you might think from the above that I have been untouched by outsourcing, that I have stood apart from it all this time and have some agenda. No. I have had my job outsourced and lost it. I have a house with a mortgage and kids... all things that I did when I too was selfish and self-centered enough to think that there would always be work where I am looking for it; in my own back yard. Even recently in my full-time job I've seen parts of my job handed to third-party outsourced vendors, though I continue to keep ahead of the wave of outsourcing enough that I have been able to "surf" so far. However, I don't expect this to last and within 10 years my ability to get a job will be partly dependent upon my ability and willingness to uproot myself and move to where the jobs actually are. The funny thing is; I've done it before when I moved myself from the UK to the US, 16 years ago.

    I am already preparing. I have paid off all my credit cards, I have just purchased a car with cash and am getting ready to sell my big fancy BMW that I purchased in hubris. I have already budgeted to take the saved money and use it to fix up my house over the next 18 months, and market-willing I will be able to flip my house for at least what I owe in about 2-3 years. Once I do that, I will stay roughly where I am for a few more years living in more transient housing... apartments for now, though I do feel that even a 1 year lease severely limits my options. However, my son by that point will be 14 and getting closer to the point that he can get out on his own... and I'm not having any more kids. Once he is independent I will be free to follow the work, and since I already have dual citizenship of UK and Ireland (and therefore Europe) and am a legal permanent resident in the USA I already have some modicum of flexibility there.

    The only down side to what I foresee is that the current draconian and "tribalist" ideals of world governments mean that there are hoops to jump through in order to work in these other countries. However, even these are not impossible to overcome... all it takes in most countries is to make yourself valuable enough to companies already embedded in those countries that they will do most of the leg work for you.

    If this scares you, it probably should... but change is always scary. We as a species will overcome and survive, we always have. However, the notion of national identity will one day be viewed as a rather quaint notion. Worlds without borders is the way of the future, and we either embrace it or perish.

    My 2c. No change given.

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