The eternal syndrome of ‘to be or not to be’ has emerged once again before mankind in the form of sourcing workers or outsourcing works. Many of us had earlier thought that world will shrunk to a global village with the advent of internet and mobile phones. Manmade borders and colour barriers were expected to disappear in a highly connected world. But that is not to be, at least for the time being. Even if the geographical boundaries disappear, mankind will remain divided as different cultures, nations and economies for some more time. Movement of population from the less developed to more developed economies is inevitable in such a scenario. Until we have a level playing field among world economies, the less developed need to be protected and encouraged to close the gap. Socio-economic entropy is least in a world of equal nations and our aim must be to reach such a stable state at the earliest. It is worth remembering that agitations & unrests are least in developed economies and our planet would be a safer place only if the economic disparities between individuals (and nations) are within reasonable limits. Cost of any war on terrorism can be decimated by spending more on development of lesser economies than on military hardware. It is always better to prevent the need of war than preventing war. Global bodies driving for globalisation and liberalisation must formulate ways & means to achieve a New Economic Order among world nations in order to achieve this.
The current trend of outsourcing jobs to places where human resources are located (instead of other way around) is presenting a tremendous opportunity to work in this direction. Though protests can always be expected from marginalised sections of society in developed nations, the world leaders must seize the opportunity and enforce the flow of employment opportunities to developing economies. History will not pardon us if we fail yet again in utilising another opportunity to build a more just and equitable world order. It is time we realised that the returns from developing one’s own brethren in a lesser developed economy far outweigh the apparent benefits out of an advantageous gap in balance of trade.
It was different then
The last time we got a major chance for ‘globalisation of common wealth’ was during the Industrial Revolution that swept through large parts of Europe and Asia during eighteenth century. Instead of encouraging the active participation of colonies in the development process for overall benefit, the imperialists literally used the colonies to develop only their own societies. It won’t be an exaggeration to state that the wealth and well being we notice in today’s Europe owe a lot to the sweat (and blood) of people in their colonies in Asia and Africa. Most of the raw materials & manpower were in the colonies and Europe had the distinct advantage in terms of technology and military power. While many of the European countries attained unprecedented levels of growth by successfully utilising the cheap labour to exploit the equally abundant mineral wealth in their own nations, the poor colonies became poorer. Entire population in the colonising nations flourished but only a few in the colonies benefited from this organised exploitation. The fact that even a fraction of the benefit was not canalised back for the welfare of the poor in those colonies remains a permanent blot on the colonisers. Another chance, though of a minor scale, presented itself during the oil boom in the Middle East during seventies and eighties. The initial tendency of the privileged was once again one of mindless exploitation for one’s own benefit. Outsiders came with men & machinery and left with the exploits leaving the locals with little. But the world had changed and at least some of the affected nations could rise to the occasion by building facilities for value addition in their own soil is part of history now. Though not of desired levels, most of the Gulf countries could benefit out of their own natural wealth speak volumes about the changed times.
The consequences of unbridled migration from under developed and developing nations to rich destinations is in front of us to see. If 9/11 has opened the eyes of an indifferent international conscience to the ill effects of immigration, it is a welcome development out of a human tragedy. Miserable stories about qualified professionals from poor families ‘escaping’ to US/UK and consequent national loss to poor countries from brain drain are well known. Though some relief comes to those poor countries when a few of their successful emigrant sons bring in foreign direct investment, the social losses on account of brain drain far outweigh the economic gains. Moreover, such successful emigrants always serve as undesirable role models to the upcoming generation in such poor countries.
It is different now
But the scenario is completely different this time round. Twenty first century belongs to services sector and we are standing right at the threshold of an era of possibilities towards employment for all. Small has become beautiful again and we need only smaller facilities to provide employment to a greater number of people. Time has taught us that providing education and employment is far better than millions in grant and aid. The multiplier effect of providing employment to just one member in a poor family is well known. The developed nations can keep their money but should voluntarily outsource the jobs that can be done in less developed locations anywhere in the world. If that comes to be accepted as an official policy of governance in all the developed countries, we are definitely heading for a developed planet itself in another fifty years.
Outsourcing of employment to countries in Asia and Africa has been found to make economic sense too. A recent report from McKinsey Global Institute estimated every dollar of costs the US moves offshore brings America a net benefit of $1.12 to $1.14 and projects net savings of $390 billion by 2010 to the American economy due to outsourcing. McKinsey reasons that as low value-added jobs go abroad, labour and investment can switch jobs that generate more economic value. Taking jobs to where qualified people can work in their own environment is one of the most logical things to do for any business unit. Individuals excel in work in their own natural environment and what better can be done than to allow an Indian to work in India or a Chinese to work in China? The other option of allowing immigrants has always led to development of cultural conflicts and divisive undercurrents in the society of host countries. Differences on account of colour and culture are deep rooted with much more implications than what ordinary social analyses can fathom. It has always proved futile to integrate ethnic immigrants fully into any foreign society. The wisdom of spending millions to showcase an integrated society makes little business sense when we can get the same work done by outsourcing.
IT has changed the world
Information Technology (IT) and IT enabled Services (ITeS) are changing our world every minute. Even our best economists are struggling to arrive at any conclusion regarding its employment or wealth generation potential. If handled properly, these neo-technologies have the potential to bring in development at a tremendous pace to vast sections of population in developing countries. The concept of virtual offices and remote operations opens up vast potential for offering a livelihood to millions without any displacement of population. Miles of high speed data transfer cables being laid under sea and scores of communication satellites launched every year are cementing the theoretical possibility of impoverished Asians and Africans taking part in world development. But the virtual reality of a developed world will become a reality only if the powers that be agree to a systematic use of third world talent by outsourcing jobs.
It is a fact that within the third world itself the digital divide is widening. Direct operations of large multi national corporations are inadvertently contributing to this. These corporations are setting up hi-tech offices amidst prevailing levels of low technology in these countries. The resultant effect on a section of the local populace in terms of income and digital access results in widening of the divide. Only a minute section of local people get exposed to higher technologies and facilities. The better option in front of these corporations is to outsource only the low technology jobs to these countries and utilise the technological advances in running virtual offices. The slow and calibrated exposure of developing countries to latest technology can also result in healthy development climates in these countries.
It will make a better world
A world devoid of hunger and violence is what all of us desire. The current war on terrorism is half won if we can address the reasons that breed violence. Inequalities will always exist in a world where 20% of people keep 80% of the wealth. But hunger and abject poverty anywhere in the world is definitely not acceptable whatever be the reasons or explanations. As an example, we still have a third of the world’s poor (with less than $ 2 income per day) in a single country like India. If this is not leading to large scale uprisings and revolutions drawing in the whole international community, we can only thank the ancient culture and religion that is keeping the millions passive. Unless opportunities are made available to sustain a dignified life for each and every individual living anywhere in the world the apparent calmness may not hold for ever. The number of human beings interested in charity food and money are coming down drastically in present day world. Everyone is looking for dignified employment and decent living preferably in their own environment. What better option do we have than allowing smooth transfer of employment opportunities through the broad band to the talented lot living far away from development? Export the jobs and restrict the import of workers. A world in which we find only tourists feeling the need to go out of their own countries is definitely better and safer.