Kenton in The Crosshairs

Readers take our columnist to the woodshed for his recent decision to hire an offshore programmer

Columnist Christopher Kenton stirred a hornets' nest with his columns about hiring an offshore programmer (see BW Online, 4/25/03, "Grasping, Greedy, Unpatriotic? Not Me" and, 4/11/03 "The Woman Behind the Code"). Some readers questioned his patriotism, others lectured him on what they claim is the economic folly of a borderless world. A frothing few contented themselves with simply heaping abuse on the BusinessWeek Online Small Biz columnist. Here is a small selection of their responses.

I READ your two articles above with great sadness. You see, I am a U.S. contract software engineer. I did not become so by taking a class in programming and hanging a shingle on my door, but by returning to school, borrowing $25,000 and spending it and more over three years on high level mathematics, computer science, and engineering courses. Why? Because my country claimed a massive shortage of high-tech workers. Now my debt is over $50,000 and in default, because those who run companies in the U.S. want to hire foreign workers who live in countries with a cost of living 1/10th or less of the U.S.

You live in the U.S., not Argentina. You want the quality of life and political stability that America offers, but you do not want to hire Americans. What you fail to realize is that as more Americans are replaced by foreign workers -- whether that worker be a laborer, skilled craftsman, or professional -- the quality of life in the U.S. will degenerate and cause massive political instability. The growing poverty class will insure that any quality of life the wealthy class possesses, will come at such a high price that even they -- and by that I mean you, Chris -- can't afford to stay here.

Your business sells "application design and development." You are obviously either incapable or unwilling to perform the knowledge work yourself, else you would not need to "hire" it. If you cannot afford the cost of knowledge labor in your own country, then you should consider moving to a cheaper country, or changing your business. I also run my own business, but I do not expect to hire others to do the work for me, then expect them to work for nothing. Nor will I cheat my fellow countrymen by hiring foreigners. If I cannot do the work myself and I cannot afford to hire it out, then I will study until I can do it. Any other option is unpatriotic, lazy, and ignorant.

I seek contract work in order to build capital to run my own business in automation and robotic research. Because of people like you, I am unable to derive the resources necessary to build tomorrow's technology. You and those like you are the problem, the reason our economy is today in shambles and the tech boom is bust. At your next neighborhood party, when your neighbors talk about how their children, fresh out of college, can't find work, will you speak up and tell them you hire only foreigners, as Americans are not worth the cost. From my reading of the above articles, I seriously doubt it. -- R.V.

YOU just don't get it, do you? It ain't about patriotism. It ain't about xenophobia. It ain't about free trade. It ain't about blossoming Third World markets. It ain't about exploiting foreign workers. It ain't about lending a hand to foreign workers.

Rather, it's about economics 101 and a precariously balanced US society propped up by consumer confidence and earnings expectations. Please remember that our economy is fully dependent on consumer confidence now that the gold standard is gone. We are a highly democratic society whose voter loyalties can shift with the wind at every level -- especially in times of economic chaos.

Most capitalists are never satiated. It isn't enough that you were able to shift the entire governmental tax burden onto the backs of the common man via payroll taxes. It wasn't enough that our common-man funded government afforded you every imaginable tax loophole at the same time. It's NEVER enough for ya'll, is it?

As your supply-side windfalls barely trickle down to impoverished Third World folk, who would as soon see you dead, you are about to get a lesson in modern-era economics. People earning $2 an hour won't be buying your big screen TVs, or ATVs, or DVD systems. They will be happy just to be able to have meat with their meals twice a week. You are inadvertently killing your golden goose -- the American middle class. We are the ones who pay our country's taxes and buy those big-screen TVs.

Crash! This is what will happen. It has already started. These aren't factory jobs you are exploiting this time around. There is no burgeoning tech boom on our horizon, like there was after the blue-collar union busting of the 1980s. Nothing is there to save us. Obviously war is not the answer. The market gained barely a blip after this spectacular war -- and the rebuilding bills haven't even started coming in yet.

Globalism won't work the way you want it to. You can't have your cake and eat it too. Our neosocialism is fueled by a complex tax system with various strata at state and local levels, virtually all of which depends on payroll tax revenues. It is pure naiveté to yearn for a free market with zero tax penalty. This would only work in a system with zero social services -- zero public education, zero social security, and even zero military. Doesn't it sound like a childish notion? Please note that I didn't debate whether it was patriotic. It is only the logic, under our current system, that I debate.

It must be fun to chuckle about American software engineers taking jobs as janitors while teeing-off at your country club. Ain't that funny? It's so funny that you forgot to do the math again. That American-engineer-turned-janitor now pays about one tenth as much in combined payroll taxes -- even less in sales and property taxes. Is it any wonder that the county government in Silicon Valley has gone bankrupt overnight?

You will have to pay all the taxes now. Sure, slap each other on the backs one last time as your pal, President Bush, gives you one more supply-side freebie. It will only help speed the demise of American funding, since most of you will likely invest in foreign workers rather than US workers. Eventually, once all the blood is sucked out of the middle class, there will be nobody left to tax except you wealthy. This is assuming that your fortunes haven't already been zapped by stagnant consumerism.

Laugh, clown, laugh. Your new-era colonialism might just spawn a new-era Bastille Day -- wrought at the voting booth. -- Unemployed Software Engineer YOU and other people like you live in some fantasy world of global transnationals who owe no allegiance to anyone but bottom line. The USA is losing information technology, engineering and now even accounting and financial career fields to younger, cheaper foreigners. Wake up and grow up asshole! It's limp-wristed, mommy's boys like you who usually have never served in the armed forces, never had to sweat and sacrifice for their country and now stick your nose up at all the Americans out of work in these fields and the younger Americans now in school who are studying computer science. Why bother when there will be no more jobs in it anymore? -- R.S.G.

YOU WROTE: "In the long run, however, even the best plans for protecting U.S. jobs strike me a recipe for disaster. If I don't have to worry about my job, I don't need to be the best I can be. I don't need to waste time learning new skills. I don't need to work harder to make my company succeed. In short, I don't need to compete."

I think that you are badly misinformed. In the world of computer programming one must continuously spend time learning the latest technologies. As companies strive to improve their computer processes, new technologies are implemented, and that improvement cycle requires new knowledge. The sheer volume of tech schools and university continuing-education classes serve as proof of that fact.

The idea of protecting American jobs is not about being able to sit on one's laurels and skate through a career. Instead, it is about being able to ensure that people who take the initiative to learn new skill sets will be able to find jobs to use them. The current trend of exporting programming tasks to Third World nations has created a technology glut in the U.S. We now have more programmers and more programming students than we will ever be able to employ. These people have invested the time and money needed to compete, only to find that their best job prospects are waxing floors or stocking shelves.

Ultimately exporting jobs of any sort only serves to make matters worse by removing billions of dollars from the economy. Capitalism is in fact a cycle of spending. That which is paid out in salaries is in turn used to make consumer purchases, and that is the revenue that once again pays salaries. Offshore programming is a major breech of that cycle, and that is the primary reason American jobs must be protected. -- V.G.

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