"Victoria Through Outsourcing"
March 22, 2004
Greetings. A recent serious commentary of mine, Outsourced and Out of Control about the scourge of job outsourcing -- or "offshoring" as it's sometimes called -- generated a thought-provoking call a few days ago from reader Bantom Mildoue...
"Lauren, I think you're coming down way too hard on job outsourcing. It's a tremendous revenue opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking right here in the U.S.," said Bantom, "with plenty of jobs to go around."
"You have some sort of retraining program?" I asked.
"Retraining? Naw, that doesn't get you anywhere. What are you going to retrain people to do in this economy -- stack merchandise at Wal-Mart? How many people do we need doing that?"
"You do have a point."
"OK, here's my plan. We set up outsourcing service companies right here in the States but convince everyone that they're actually in India, China, Togo, or some other cheap labor market."
"Gee, I don't know about that," I said. "Wouldn't people calling catch on pretty fast?"
"Not at all! You know how those outsourcing firms overseas train their customer service reps to try make them sound more American? Well, we can train our American outsourcing employees to speak like they're natives of those other countries! We'll give our firms names like 'Balaharijenkoni New Dawn Sunrise Ventures' and stuff like that. Route the incoming calls around the world and back to the U.S. via the Internet for good effect and appropriate time delays, and nobody will be the wiser."
"Let me get this straight," I said. "You're going to train American English speakers in the United States to sound like foreign speakers in other countries pretending to be U.S.-based American English speakers?"
"You've got it. Exactly!"
"Sort of reminds me of that movie 'Victor/Victoria' with Julie Andrews," I said. "Remember? A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman..."
"Victoria! I love it! What a title to put on the business methods patent!" said Bantom.
"Never mind. So ya' think the concept will fly?"
"I'm still not sure," I said. "What are you going to pay the American workers pretending to be foreign workers?"
"Obviously the same low wages the foreign workers would be paid," said Bantom, "minus expenses for all the overhead of pulling this whole thing off, of course. Gotta watch the bottom line or this scheme won't fly!"
"And just how will U.S. workers live on wages that are just a fraction of what they'd normally be paid over here?" I asked.
"I thought we'd model it on the old mining 'company towns' and such. Build barracks so our workers don't have to worry about living in expensive apartments or houses -- and they buy everything they need in the official company stores right on the company premises," said Bantom.
"Sounds pretty dismal to me. Almost like indentured servitude or something," I said. "This is your model for the new American economy?"
"Hey, Lauren -- it's not like I'm proposing white slavery or something. Hmmm... white slavery... but anyway, like they say, it's a global economy, and since we can't win the race to the top we might as well win the race to the bottom!"
"With your help, I'm sure the bottom is one goal we'll be able to reach in short order," I said.
"Thanks!" said Bantom. "It's all a matter of turning your lemons into
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