Hasty Outsourcing Tales

Yesterday, it felt as if everyone and his mother was emailing me an op-ed in the New York Times by Thomas Friedman titled
What Goes Around …. I am sure that you have read it.

A nice chatty piece as usual from Tom. He argues against putting up protectionist walls with folk wisdom as his major tool. The bit of folk wisdom which goes what goes around, comes around. It boils down to argument by anecdotes, really.

Argument by anecdotes is great expect for the fact that your adversary could also use the same tactics and then it can only end in a shouting match with the winner being the one who can shout the loudest. Demagogues — that tribe which Tom has a special disdain for — use anecdotes all the time.

I am not saying that Friedman should have written an academic paper citing published sources on the costs and benefits of outsourcing for the US economy. It is just that he starts off by admitting that the matter of outsourcing is a complex issue and that it requires reference to reality for one to comprehend it. Then he descends into a trap that he himself cautions others about. My gripe is that his reference to reality is too selective, the sample size too small for the conclusion that he wishes to support.

For instance, many other commentators stand on the other side of the issue and support their position by re-telling heart-wrenching tales of yuppy programmers in the Silicon Valley being unable to make their SUV payments because their jobs have been stolen by Indian programmers making less than $3 an hour.

Folk wisdom: one swallow does not a summer make. Or as we sophisticated people like to call it: the logical fallacy of the hasty generalization.