Magnifying Reality

At the recently-concluded ITeS—BPO seminar organized by Nasscom, almost
every speaker in the inaugural session touched on the backlash issue. The
message was common–It is not very big. It will die down. It is media hype.

That there’s some backlash is not surprising. When you occupy centerstage,
you get bouquets. You also get brickbats. People on the sidelines do not get
either. The debate is about the magnitude and the likely impact.

Interestingly enough, the subject has more coverage in India rather than the
countries it is supposed to impact–mainly the US. Maybe because any challenge
to India’s pride–as measured by the software success story–becomes a bit
of an emotional issue. After all, we have a few rocks of pride to stand on. The
Taj Mahal, Sachin Tendulkar and Software. So is this reality magnified?

“Numbers and feelings do not share a common language. All logic dissolves in the face of joblessness…”

Here are a few cuts from conversations that one has had over the last few

  • Many feel the backlash will go
    away. After all, of the 700,000 IT-related jobs that have been lost not too
    many could be because of offshoring. India never sent that many people over
    nor have so many people been employed here. Most of the job losses have been
    due to the economic recession and not offshoring of jobs.

  • There are analysts like Forrester
    Research who predict that over the next 10-odd years, 3.3 million
    white-collar service jobs would move offshore taking with them $136 billion
    in wages. That sounds scary to the average worker. The counter argument is
    that in any case economies like the US are going to have a shortage of
    working population to the order of 4-5 million over the next 15 years. So
    what is the problem? There will be no people to work so jobs will emigrate.
    And now that we talk of globalization, how does it matter where on the globe
    are the jobs located? Maybe Americans can come to India to take up jobs if
    they have too few in their own country. After all, if Indians can go work in
    the US, why not the reverse?

  • If the backlash dies down, will
    it leave scars? Like lower rates, longer gestation periods for
    decision-making, outsourcing only the essential, setting up of captive units
    in India rather than giving out jobs… Not really, goes the counter.

  • Those in touch with political
    establishments say outsourcing bills being introduced will never see the
    light of day. Plus, they apply only to government contracts. A majority of
    offshored work doesn’t come from there. So it is safe. These’re political
    gimmicks. Politicians in India and the US are the same. Believe anyone but
    not the US politician, says someone. Why does that sound familiar?

  • Actually, this debate is useless,
    argues an analyst. Offshoring helps the economy grow by saving costs. That
    creates investment and new job opportunities in the long run. The counter is–Sure
    does, but what do I do today? In the long run, all of us are dead.

The arguments–and counter-arguments–are endless. There is a more than
even chance that the issue will down and leave only superficial scars. There’s
a huge economic benefit involved and that’ll eventually override other
concerns. The longer working hours due to different time zones, labor arbitrage,
the two heads for one that you get in India are compelling arguments.

There’s one problem with all these compelling arguments.

Commercial logic is being used at the macro-level. That doesn’t solve the
real issue–emotional trauma at the micro level. The individual who loses a job
and faces the trauma because of that is unlikely to buy logic easily. Numbers
and feelings do not share a common language. All logic dissolves in the face of

Mind you–emotional issues are not the exclusive preserve of the Americans.
Logic did not demand that KFC shut down in India because there was a fly in
their kitchen. Logic does not demand farmers commit suicide because of new types
of cotton. Let’s face it–we have had our emotional issues. The Americans are
having their’s. The only way to handle problems at the individual level is
with compassion and care. Not logic. Of course, time is always a great healer.

Shyam Malhotra
The author is Editor-in-Chief of Cyber Media, the publishers of Dataquest.

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