Disgusted with Born Again and Stupidity

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Our chief weapons are fear and …

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This one is too good to pass up. Myke sent me Jim Kunstler’s column about Pentecostals and evangelicals. The post is worth reading, including the many comments. For the record, here are the first and the last paragraphs of the post.

Last month media elder statesman Bill Moyers made a speech after receiving an award at Harvard in which he said that “born again” members of the Bush regime couldn’t possibly believe in the future if they truly subscribed to the doctrines of Pentecostal Christianity — since its theology includes the notion that the world has entered an “end times” scenario as described in the the Book of Revelations. Moyers went further, implying that people who explicitly and programmatically don’t believe in the future have no business running a government, the chief task of which is safeguarding the future.

Soon, the problems this nation faces will be so obvious and grave that George W. Bush and the Republicans and the WalMartians, and all the moneygrubbing TV preachers, and the people who can’t imagine an hour of leisure without engines ringing in their ears, and the offspring of all the bug-eyed lynch-mob cretins of yore will stand naked in discredit. The rest of the nation, the non-stupid, non-selfish, non-childish, non-believers in the idea that it is possible to get something for nothing will take a stand. It won’t be the end of the world, but it will be a political convulsion against a background of fire, proving that the future belongs to those who believe in the future.

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Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Our chief weapons are surprise and fear …

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The Seattle Times of Feb 20th, 2005 reports that Indians see Bush as good for peace.

In the poll, 62 percent of 1,005 Indians described Bush’s re-election as positive for peace and security. Only 27 percent said it was negative.

In France, 75 percent viewed Bush’s re-election as negative for peace and security, as did 77 percent in Germany.

Bush is good for peace? Hmm. That’s a new one. I used to think that the average Indian was better informed than that. But I guess I am wrong. Why do they like Bush?

Chief among the reasons Indians cited for liking Bush is his stance against terrorism. Indians, who have long faced terrorist attacks from separatists in Kashmir and other regions, welcome Bush’s pressure on India’s longtime nemesis, Pakistan, to crack down on Islamic militants trying to cross to the Indian side of Kashmir.

Good grief! Which planet do these morons live on? Bush considers the military dictator General Musharraf a frontline ally against global terrorism. It is like calling the fox who feasts in the hen-house every night as the greatest protector of chicken. Bush has his reasons to trust the General because the General asks how high when Bush says jump. But these Indian cretins should know that Musharraf is the butcher who masterminded Kargil and has been funding the terrorists in Kashmir and the rest of India. And much of that terrorism is funded from the military aid that Bush sends the General. At last count the aid was of the order of a billion and a half dollars. That buys a lot of jihadis in Kashmir and in the rest of India.

Why do some like Bush? Because he did not say that he was against outsourcing and therefore he is better for business, never mind that we have to live in a bloody dangerous world because of Bush.

The booming outsourcing industry also appreciates Bush’s pro-business, hands-off policy toward the shift of U.S. software, back-office and call-center jobs to India.

Ajay Lavakare, co-founder and head of a company that provides computerized mapping services, is a self-described liberal who abhors Bush’s stance on abortion, gun control and the death penalty.

Yet from his perch in Noida, a corporate center outside Delhi, he worried last fall about Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s rhetoric against the offshoring of U.S. jobs.

“We all sort of heaved a bit of a sigh of relief when Bush won, at least from the individual business perspective,” said Lavakare, who developed the business plan for his company while he was a Stanford University graduate student in 1991.

“From a purely selfish Indian point of view, Bush’s re-election was good for India,” he said. The Indian results in the BBC survey may have been skewed somewhat in favor of Bush because the poll was conducted in urban centers, where most of the beneficiaries of offshoring live. Polling in rural India remains difficult because of limited telephone service and resources.

Damn right it is a selfish attitude. Not just that, it is ignorant, short-sighted and morally abhorrant.

I have this cynical attitude that Indians are stupid. I am sorry but they are friggin’ lobotomized retarded myopic money-grubbing semi-literate slobbering morons who deserve all the shit they get if that gobal survey is an indication of their analytical skills and moral sense.

I am seriously disgusted.

Pondering Outsourcing: Part Duh

I was pondering outsourcing yesterday and ran out of pondering time. Now that I have some pondering time, I thought I would continue with my pondering of outsourcing. {“ponder”: interesting word, isn’t it? Perhaps I should look it up… Here is what one source on the web says:

To weigh in the mind; to view with deliberation; to examine carefully; to consider attentively.

Syn: To Ponder, Consider, Muse.

Usage: To consider means to view or contemplate with fixed thought. To ponder is to dwell upon with long and anxious attention, with a view to some practical result or decision. To muse is simply to think upon continuously with no definite object, or for the pleasure it gives. We consider any subject which is fairly brought before us; we ponder a concern involving great interests; we muse on the events of childhood.

End of digression.}

First one point of clarification. Yesterday I wrote

Fun fact #2: Trade occurs only among two dissimilar entities. If I have an excess of peanut butter and you have an excess of bread, then we can trade and both end up enjoying peanut butter sandwiches. But if both of us have exactly the same ratio of peanut butter to bread to start off with, then we could not trade.

The point was that the two trading entities have to be dissimilar. That dissimilarity could be intrinsic or extrinsic. If they are intrinsically dissimilar, then even if their endowments are the same, trade can still take place. For instance, we may start off with the same ratio of peanut butter and bread, but you may have a strong preference for only bread and I may have a strong preference for only peanut butter. In that case, we can trade and end up happier. If we are instrinsically similar — our preferences match — then we cannot trade unless our endowments are different. End of digression number two.

Continuing with the list of fun facts, here is another. Fun fact #5: The world is moving towards increasing specialization since the stone age. Speciation is what happens in the natural world where life evolved in some primal soup and since then from the earliest protozoan to the present day different species have emerged. Evolution is a fact. The theory which explains the mechanism of evolution was given credence through the diligent and brilliant work of Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Darwin got the germ of his idea upon reading Thomas Malthus’ (1766-1834) Essay on the Principle of Population. No doubt Darwin pondered that issue long and hard and then it struck him that speciation occurs through competition for resources and those that are less fit are doomed and this process he called “natural selection”. Darwin explained the mechanism that underlies the question how did all the diversity of life originate.

It is easy to see that specialization in the economic world is a close analog of speciation in the natural world. Once upon a time you used to have people who were jacks of all trades and masters of none. Now you have programmers and playwrites, prostitutes and politicians (ok, I repeat myself), pharmacists and paleontologists. The more advanced the society, the more specialization of its work force.

Hand in hand with the specialization of the work force, we have the specialization of the firms that operate in the society. Firms that used to do all things in a particular sphere (vertically integrated firms) no longer do so. They ‘outsource’. For instance, take a car manufacterer. Once upon a time, at one end steel, rubber, and glass would go in and at the other end of the factory you would have cars rolling out of the assembly lines. All the raw materials would be transformed inside that one plant into cars. That was then. Now a car manufacturer assembles cars from components that are manufactured by other firms. So a firm that manufactures engines will supply these intermediate goods to a host of firms.

{Advanced industrialized countries (or developed countries) trade a lot amongst themselves. Much of that trade is in intermediate goods. Given that, it is hard to tell where something is really manufactured these days. For instance, ponder a complex creature such as a Boeing 777. Engines could come from Europe, parts of the fuselage from Japan, avionics from the US, … by the time you are done enumerating, you would find that practically the whole world was somehow involved in the manufacture of the plane. End of aside #18.}

That is what outsourcing is all about. You don’t do all the stuff that needs to be done. Get someone else to do it because they have a comparative advantage in doing that bit. I outsource ‘jhadu-pocha-bartan’. American firms outsource much of what they need done and a part of that outsourcing happens to be done abroad and of that work done abroad, India has a small share.

So now let’s ponder outsourcing and India. I will ponder outsourcing and the US later because I am fast running out of pondering time.

India appears to be a destination for a specific kind of outsourcing. Business processes and software development. The sort of work that does not require hard infrastructure such as roads and ports and water and power. You just need some kind of connectivity, a bunch of English-speaking graduates who can be easily trained, and a bunch of entreprenuers who would start BPO and software firms to do the ‘jhadu-pocha-bartan’ equivalent for the US firms.

From all indications, the whole business works quite well. India has a huge population. Out of that billion+ population, India graduates around a million every year. Some of these graduates can speak English and of them some are trainable. Firms that initially went into the BPO and software business had an easy time. Lots of unemployed and underemployed graduates to choose from and they had a party. Will the party continue? As more and more firms get into the game, it will become increasingly difficult to find graduates that are trainable and can speak English. Given increase in demand without significant changes in the supply, prices will get bid up. That will drive up the costs of BPO and software in India. India’s competitive advantage in the sector will deteriorate.

So how does one go about avoiding the fate that I just outlined? Simple: increase the supply. India should see that more of the million graduates it produces are capable of being trained and speak English.

For the record, I should state that while I feel happy for the people who get the BPO and software jobs, I do not feel very happy about the fact that India has to be the preferred provider of ‘jhadu-pocha-bartan’ to the Americans.

Is Outsourcing Good for the Universe

Via Rajesh Jain, I came to know of NY Times report on Paul Samuelson’s essay in an upcoming issue of JEP. I am probably one of the very few who have not read Samuelson’s celebrated book on introductory economics. That is so because I never studied undergraduate economics. My introduction to economics was at the graduate level and the first books on economics I read were Hal Varian’s Microeconomic Analysis and Bhagwati and Srinivasan’s Lectures on International Trade. I learnt undergraduate economics later while teaching undergraduate classes. OK, enough of this biographical aside.

The issue of outsourcing appears to be a very hot topic. Here is how I think about it. I go back to the basic facts.

Fun fact #1: Trade is good. Whether between two people on eBay or between two countries across an ocean, trade increases welfare. While that is true in general, there are well-known conditions under which trade can be harmful and decreases welfare. If any of those conditions exist, then you need to take corrective measures which may include the extreme measure of banning the trade.

Fun fact #2: Trade occurs only among two dissimilar entities. If I have an excess of peanut butter and you have an excess of bread, then we can trade and both end up enjoying peanut butter sandwiches. But if both of us have exactly the same ratio of peanut butter to bread to start off with, then we could not trade.

Fun fact #3: Increasing the supply of any good or service (all other things being equal) reduces its price. This is not rocket science but the ignorance of this fact is as widespread as the ignorance of rocket science.

Fun fact #4: Most change gives rise to winners and losers. Walmart in your neighborhood helps you and hurts the little stores in your neighborhood. Imported Chinese junk helps the consumers of junk but hurts the domestic manufacturers of junk. Basically, lower prices help those who consume the good or service but hurt those who produce it.

OK, so here is the story about outsourcing, the US, and India. India and US are dissimilar. Wages are lower in India as compared to the US. Why? Because wages depend on the average productivity of the country. India is a low productivity country. Why that is so is another story that we will not go into right now. Because Indian labor is cheap, producers who can use Indian labor will have an incentive to use them. If you are producing goods, you can get the goods produced abroad and sell them in the home country. Winner: the domestic consumers. Losers: the domestic workers who were replaced by cheaper labor. While labor is immobile internationally (immigration laws and all that), labor is said to be embodied in the goods that are produced abroad. Think of it as if the worker is virtually present in the US and is working for a wage much lower than the domestic worker would demand.

In the past, India supplied some goods to the US, mostly commodities. Then when communications technology improved, services could be exported. It was as if a couple of million Indians moved to the US. Increased supply immediately translates into lower prices. Basic economic logic, not rocket science at all. Lower prices help the consumers and hurt those who worked in that sector before the supply of labor increased. Globally, that movement of labor (virtual movement, of course) is welfare improving. It is undoubtedly good for India because the average wage of those workers increases and since Indians are in general not consumers of the stuff these workers produce, Indian consumers are not hurt. But is it good for the US?

What is good for GM is good for America is only true if all Americans work for GM, otherwise it is an open question. So also, if the US workers displaced by the virtual migration of Indian labor move on to more productive jobs, then the change is an unmitigated good for the US. Then of course, one has to consider the question from the temporal angle as well and distinguish between the short- and long-term impact of the change.

In the long-term (not the real long term, of course, in which we are all dead as Keynes astutely observed), Heckscher-Ohlin’s factor price equalization theorem takes effect. Here is a definition from About.com:

Factor price equalization is an effect observed in models of international trade — that the prices of inputs to (“factors of”) production in different countries, like wages, are driven towards equality in the absence of barriers to trade. This happens among other reasons because price incentives cause countries to choose to specialize in the production of goods whose factors of production are abundant there, which raises the prices of the factors towards equality with the prices in countries where those factors are not abundant. Shocks to factor availability in a country would cause only a temporary departure from factor price equality.

The basic theorem of this kind is attributed to Samuelson (1948) by Hanson and Slaughter (1999) who also cite Blackorby, Schworm, and Venables (1993). The context of the theorem is a Heckscher-Ohlin model.

Programmers and call center operators are a factor in the production of many goods and services in today’s global economy. Since barriers to trade have come down both due to free trade agreements and to technological advances in telecommunications, it has led to a “mobile” labor market for those workers. Increased supply implies lower prices for that sort of labor. Lower prices implies winners and losers, as argued earlier.

So is it good for the US and if not, could the US do something about it and if it could, should the US do something about it? Good question. The answer is forthcoming. What we have to remember when it comes to change is the good old theory of the second best which Bhagwati had written about years ago and which I believe throws light on the present debate.

A Unique View on Outsourcing

I usually reserve my political views for my other weblog at Berkeley Life is a Random Draw (sadly no longer existent.) I am calling a time-out and I will post one personal opinion on a matter that is not directly related to economic development. I received a heads-up from Prakash Swaminathan about a rediff.com article Outsource to India, without compromising US interests by one Mr. John Laxmi.
Continue reading “A Unique View on Outsourcing”

The Logic of Outsourcing

In the Feb 24th edition of BusinessWeek Online, Russell Roberts comments on the benefits of outsourcing for the American economy. The article simply points out that the benefits of free trade — and the transition of an economy from an agricultural to manufacturing to a post-industrial economy — follow a logicalprogression that leads to a richer economy. Of course, politicians are often inclined to cater to the perceived anxieties of the voters and I am sure that the candidates in the race for the US presidential elections will fiercely compete on who can reassure the “American people” that they will stop all this outsourcing of jobs. Here is Roberts for the record.


If the U.S. had insisted on making all its own cars, watches, TVs, radios, or shoes, resources wouldn’t have been available to channel into creating the jobs of the last 50 years in telecommunications, software, and biotech. People wouldn’t have been available to work in those industries, and the American standard of living would be dramatically lower.

PROTECTED BUT POORER. But what if India gets all the software jobs? I doubt that will happen. I suspect that for most information-technology jobs, Americans will still be more effective than foreign workers. But suppose Indians decided to work for free and give away the software, the ultimate competitive threat. If outsourcing work to low-wage Indians is bad, surely free software from zero-wage Indians is even worse.

Free software would be hard for the U.S. workers in the software industry to compete with. But it would be a boon for America — plenty of U.S. outfits would expand. Having free software would let a lot of new companies come into existence that couldn’t have been profitable before. Programs at no cost would mean lower prices across the board. That would liberate resources to do new things all over the economy. Many of those out-of-work American programmers would find new jobs. The same effect occurs when the software is merely cheaper, rather than free.

The hardship that results from economic change always tempts politicians to limit individuals’ freedom to buy what they want and businesses to hire whom they desire. Such political restraints will make life more secure — but poorer and less dynamic. Ultimately, it will have no effect on the number of jobs in the U.S. but only make the ones that survive pay less.

BPO and Kuznet’s Curves

These days one of the dangers of reading newspapers is that one is faced with yet another article on business process outsourcing (BPO) and how there is a backlash from specific sectors in the developed countries. It makes for breathless copy and many of these articles are mere regurgitation of rehashed articles on the same subject. What is the broader context in which to locate all this talk of BPO?

Let’s step back a bit and look at an economy from a macro viewpoint. Economies are usually subdivided into three sectors: agricultural, manufacturing, and services. At the earliest stages of an economy’s development, agriculture is the dominant sector. It is low productivity initially and therefore low wages prevail. Since most of the population is engaged in low wage agriculture, income inequality is low.

Then manufacturing starts to grow, which is high productivity relative to agriculture. Manufacturing wages are therefore high relative to agricultural wages. Income inequality grows in the economy. The mechanism for this income inequality was first explained by Kuznets in 1955 in his paper Economic growth and income inequality. Here is an introduction to the paper from a World Bank site:

The process of industrialization engenders increasing income inequality as the labor force shifts from low-income agriculture to the high income sectors. On more advanced levels of development inequality starts decreasing and industrialized countries are again characterized by low inequality due to the smaller weight of agriculture in production (and income generation).

In other words, there is an “inverted-U” relationship between income inequality and per capita income. At the two extremes of very low and very high per capita incomes, income inequality is low; at intermediate per capita incomes, income inequality peaks.

There is a fractal nature to this “inverted-U” phenomenon in that this relationship holds at different scales of organization. It is definitely true for the rural and urban regions of an economy. The income inequality exists not just at level of an economy, it exists at the global level as well. Early on in the history of the world economy, various parts of the globe had similar income levels, since all were pretty much in subsistence agriculture. Then, as some regions industrialized before others, income inequality grew. In some future time, all regions will become industrialized and once again income inequality will fall. So also, urban regions of a country will initially have higher incomes relative to rural regions. But in time, rural areas will become urbanized and income inequality will fall.

In the long run, income inequality will eventually decrease to zero. But, as John Maynard Keynes observed, in the long run we are all dead. What I understand from that is that the ‘long run’ is really very uninteresting. Interesting things happen in the short- and medium-run time frames. And that’s where we are today — in the intermediate stages where income inequality is high in the global arena.

I will not go into the reason for the differential emergence of industrialization in some regions of the globe. For now, I will take that as a given and thus also take as given the income inequality. It is interesting to ask what accounts for the maintenance of that inequality. Primarily it is the cost of population migration from low income regions to high income regions. By ‘cost’ we mean barriers both natural such as distance, and man-made such as laws against migration. The natural barriers can be lumped together as ‘transportation costs.’ With technological advances, transportation costs come down. However, man-made barriers continue to exist and therefore labor migration is still not possible.

However, since transportation costs have come down, it makes possible what I would call virtual labor migration which is achieved through trade between the various regions. Virtual migration takes place because labor is embodied in the goods that are traded. A Chinese laborer virtually migrates when the goods produced in China are sold in the US. This virtual migration of labor is a factor that puts pressure on wages so as to equalize them across the two regions. To use a mechanical analogy, if the income levels in the two regions were seen as two containers with different levels of liquid in them, then the lowering of transportation costs can be seen as a pipe connecting the two containers: the pipe allows equalization of the fluid levels.

The trade in goods is just a way for labor in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors of low income countries to be available to high income countries. What about the services sector? Services are categorised as tradeable and non-tradeables. In the latter category is included services such as haircuts and house-cleaning and transportation: the production and consumption of which is local. For these, transportation costs are so high that they can almost never be ‘traded’: the cost of haircut in NY is $20 but the cost of a trip to Mumbai is $1000 where a haircut is only $1. Unless transportation costs (and times) come down to $5 (and half hour), haircuts will continue to retain their price differentials.

For those services whose transportation costs have dramatically reduced, trade becomes possible. With the advances in information and communications technologies (ICT), certain services have become tradeable and thus the phenomenon of business process outsourcing. Income inequality between regions is what drives the BPO phenomenon and one can no more wish away the BPO phenomenon than wish away the income inequality underlying it.

Just like the trade in goods, trade in services will tend to equilibrate wage levels across the trading regions. Programmers in the US are paid multiples of wages earned by Indian programmers. With fewer H1-B visas and lower costs of transporting bits, instead of physical movement of Indian programmers to the US, you will have Indian programmers doing work for US firms off-site for lower wages. With perfect substitutability between American and Indian programming skills, the wages will tend to “equalize” after adjusting for average wage levels in the two countries. This adjustment will always keep Indian programming wages lower than American wages and therefore at least in the medium run, programming will continue to get done in India, just as manufacturing will be done in China.

Time to conclude this one. BPO is a consequence of income inequality just as much as off-shore manufacturing is. Both are here to stay until the other end of the Kuznet’s curve is reached.