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Becoming a Steelworker Liberated Her, Then Her Job Moved to Mexico (nytimes.com)
118 points by wallflower on Oct 14, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 146 comments

At a factory where black and white workers bowled together on Tuesday nights, where at least two romances crossed racial lines, a subtle divide emerged: Many white men like John refused to train and shunned those who did; many black men like Mark openly volunteered.

The white workers who did agree to train tended to do so quietly, and kept it a secret as long as they could, said Jim Swain, Shannon’s supervisor.

Some white men complained that they’d watched their economic prospects decline for decades. They had shared their jobs with black men, then with women. Now that blacks and women were welcomed in every facet of factory life, the jobs were moving to Mexico. It seemed like proof that their best days were behind them.

This has to be one of the most concise, insightful summaries of the roots of things like racism and sexism that I have ever seen. And it is surprisingly evenhanded and sympathetic to the white men that are so often maligned.

I don't know how we solve this. But, I think you have to start with having compassion for the fact that many "overprivileged assholes" are scared of losing the security they have worked so hard for, that they thought would be relatively permanent if they did the right things.

How do we create a society in which all people can expect some baseline security instead of squabbling over who to leave out? This is perhaps a strange question to ask in a discussion about a factory closing in the US and moving to Mexico. Or perhaps not.

I especially appreciated the part of the article that elucidated that the Mexicans had not realized they were taking the jobs of the Americans who were training them. The ending is perhaps supposed to be a downer. The headline certainly is. But the last paragraphs indicate her daughter got scholarship money and many of the workers went on to get other jobs.

That isn't to downplay what a big problem this is for Shannon, nor to dismiss the very real issue the plant closure represents across the US.

The problem is that even if you provide security, people are unhappy with living on the cost of others. People need to feel useful, having a job is about more then just getting a roof and food.

>People need to feel useful, having a job is about more then just getting a roof and food.

Unfortunately for people, having a job is not even about that.

Jobs are for you, an employee, to provide value to a company in exchange for whatever the market determines your labor is worth. Not to provide you with a sense of satisfaction, or dignity, or even enough money to afford a roof and food.

If your job can provide you with those things, then you're lucky. But as the global economy moves beyond the need to sustain itself on human labor, it makes less and less sense to expect employment to fulfill societal needs, or even basic human needs.

I would like to see universal basic healthcare in the US and genuinely affordable housing. I am not for basic income. I don't think it provides any kind of security. I think basic income amounts to a big fat fuck you to the little people.

I am for viewing our current crisis as The Second Industrial Revolution and trying to find a way to better distribute work, not welfare checks under the name of basic income.

I talk about that fairly often. I try to not harp on it. I didn't really see any reason to state it in the above comment.

Your concept of security and mine are not the same.

I’m on board as long as we remember that the victims of that behavior have to deal with a double whammy- the economic precarity plus the racist and sexist discrimination aimed at them. They never even got to the point of having the stability that others had and are losing.

You seem to be talking about revenge. I am talking about solutions. These two things are not compatible.

Hmm, I was thinking more along the lines of not misplacing our sympathies. People who lash out because they’re losing their jobs deserve sympathy, people who are losing their jobs and being lashed out against deserve even more sympathy.

As far as solutions, the problem must be stated correctly before it can be solved.

I see our current economic pains in terms of The Second Industrial Revolution. The first created the 40 hour work week (among other things). The second needs to make the burden of work for the masses even lighter. I don't see UBI as having a role here.

We also need to build enough affordable housing and provide universal basic healthcare. Shannon is stressing in part because her adult son and his child live with her. The child -- Shannon's grandchild -- has serious health issues. This is part of why she says "I'm not rich. I got bills to pay."

She could more readily afford to take a pay cut if she didn't have to worry about the high cost of medical care in America.

The American Dream has been for many years to own a nice piece of property and work your way up the corporate chain at a single company until you die. Both of which have been radically shifting as technology improves productivity and global competition becomes more of a major factor. We see people stuck in this mindset that a job will last you forever (and in many cases there are still towns where there is only One Company and One Job) and as a result have been put in a lose-lose situation.

Meanwhile, other nations have a more flexible workforce that are cheaper to pay for roughly the same productivity in many cases.

Unfortunately there is no easy solution for this problem. For the people located in areas where jobs have entirely vanished you would have to relocate the population but that goes against the dream. You could cut regulations in order to entice companies to come back, but then you're selling the lives and well-being of the American people for jobs that Americans might not even do (see: labor shortages in the farm industries).

America will need to find a way to handle this and fast as automated cars enter the market and cut another huge swathe out of the market. The difference there though is that you can't blame other races or countries for taking your jobs.

> For the people located in areas where jobs have entirely vanished you would have to relocate the population but that goes against the dream.

Relocate them where? American's are incredibly mobile in my experience, from going to college in another state, to having families sprawled across different states. If it were as simple as moving, people would be doing it.

> You could cut regulations in order to entice companies to come back...

Times have changed and we need to adjust to it. USA Inc makes a huge amount of money. In the past that required a lot of people in the workforce. Today it doesn't require nearly as many but we're making even more money! So the solution is not to remove regulation to have more people taken advantage of in dangerous factories and so we can pollute our environment. That does not benefit the Americans who live here who do not have jobs.

We need to come to an acceptance of the changing times and decide what it means to still have a society. Either we agree that we (USA Inc) make more than enough money for everyone in the country to have a good life (which we do), and work out the redistribution problem (which could take many forms), or we continue as we are with a whole lot of fellow citizens suffering needlessly.

"We need to come to an acceptance of the changing times and decide what it means to still have a society. Either we agree that we (USA Inc) make more than enough money for everyone in the country to have a good life (which we do), and work out the redistribution problem (which could take many forms), or we continue as we are with a whole lot of fellow citizens suffering needlessly."

As a foreigner living in the USA I'm sad to say that I both agree wholeheartedly with this comment and realise that it can never come to pass.

The entire political landscape of the US is built on ideological caricatures like the strong, independent, free American and the demon of socialism (or anything that even vaguely represents it).

The unfortunate consequence of this is a society sorely lacking in social concern with massive impediments to developing core infrastructure. Of course this benefits the ruling class who don't have to spend money on developing facilities that could benefit the lives of Americans.

The percentage of people moving even relatively short distances has actually gone down significantly in the past several decades.


While there's definitely signs of geographic stickiness nowadays, I wish someone would age-adjust those statistics — above a certain age people tend not to move at all, and we have way more people above a certain age nowadays.

As a young person, I refuse to move to a bigger city than where I'm at. I've got a wife who has a career, which makes moving incredibly difficult. I also don't want to move farther away from my family and go to a high cost-of-living city just so that major corporations can take advantage of the population density to have a deleveraged work force.

> other nations have a more flexible workforce

That story seems to be told to every nation's workforce, and so I'd be suspicious about that.

Specially more family-oriented cultures where it's rare to move far from your relatives.

I suspect that "flexibility" and "precarity" are effectively the same thing here, especially if more flexibility results in less pay. If everything else was equal, flexible employees would be more expensive - like contractors and flexible plane tickets.

I'm not old certainly, but it did take me longer than I'd like to admit to rid myself of The American Dream as you define. Now I hold no shame in having a grocery list of employment history, but the mental gymnastics to get there was not going to earn me a gold medal on aesthetics points.

Indeed. the "American Dream" happened only for as far as I can tell, from the 60's and 70's. before that was war-torn, and after that was republican-destroyed.

What we saw in 2000 and 2006 was a revival in the tech industry. It was big if you were in those areas, but minuscule outside. And the downturn in 2001 and 2008 was bad for all.

The cycle of boom/bust is only going to get quicker as capitalism goes on. Marx saw that in when, the 1850's? Not that Marxist Communism is good but his major contribution is that of critic. According to the boom/bust cycles, we should be starting one shortly, if not already in one.

>Unfortunately there is no easy solution for this problem.

* Stop doing trade deals with countries that have poor environmental and labor standards.

* Ramp up fiscal spending and hire hundreds of thousands people to fix and build infrastructure. If the automation revolution really is coming it will be overwhelmingly deflationary, so loosening the purse strings is the most prudent course of action.

The problem isn't that there aren't straightforward solutions. The problem is that those solutions are threatening to American oligarchs.

> at a single company

I often wonder if this was actually true, or something invented by nostalgia. For example, I often hear that in the good ole' days a college degree was a guarantee of a good job, but this was never true. You still had to get a degree in something useful, and you had to pass a job interview, etc.

For example, when I went to college in the 70's, it was common knowledge that you could not get a job with an AY (Astronomy) degree. The AY students tended to be double majors - AY for fun, and EE to get a job. I as well selected courses that I hoped would maximize my job prospects and flexibility.

Some of my fellow students were fairly unemployable, despite having a degree.

Furthermore, the job market, demographics, locations, everything about jobs, has been constantly shifting throughout American history. Constant upheaval is the norm.

The job was important for this woman who needed to pay for her daughter's college and granddaughter's disease. Now the job goes to someone in Mexico who might also need it to pay for their daughter's college or granddaughter's rare disease. Is there a plan to help these Americans? People like Trump or Sanders seem to want some sort of forced reshoring, which is essentially taking the job away from the Mexican worker to give it back to the American one. But how is that fair?

Well I guess it will depend on where you draw the empathy line. Some people care only about themselves, they will look after themselves, if they have to choose they will always pick the option that benefits them.

Then you have the people who only care about themselves and their family, I guess a good percentage of the population will choose in favor of their family rather than someone's else.

Then people empathize with those who share things in common with them (culture, ideology, social status, race, nationality, religion) a kind of extended family.

Then you have people who think we should empathize with everyone around the world, but do they really?, if there was a chance where they have to decide between their children or some random dude in the other side of the world, who would they choose to help?

Is it fair? I don't think so. Would I rather help people who I empathize with? I would lie if I say no. I'm not a monster , I don't want a random guy to suffer, but there's something inside me that makes me look after my family first.

P.S. I'm from Mexico, and I live in a city whose economy depends on foreign manufacturing companies.

There's also this:

If every country has its own economy, there will be far more companies and jobs than if only a few multinational companies exist in the entire world.

Why country? Why not state, county, city, neighborhood, or block? If subdividing the economy creates good jobs, then we should do it as much as possible.

National protectionism has the same problems as state or city level import restrictions would, just at a different scale: you're throwing away comparative advantage, wasting time and capital duplicating others' work (so this time and capital is no longer available to unsolved problems), etc.

National protectionism has the same problems as state or city level import restrictions would

No, it usually doesn't. There are benefits of scale but there are also diminishing returns.

Having, say, a steel mill in every town would be a huge waste but centralizing all steel production in one place on the globe would provide only a very minor, if any, benefit over doing it in fifty countries at the massive hidden cost of now world-wide fragility of steel supply. (This almost happened with hard drives.)

The world's countries have drastically different scale. If we are concerned with the point of diminishing returns on industrial economies of scale, aren't those the same everywhere? Shouldn't large countries be partitioning into several economic zones, while small countries unify, into groups of about the same size?

> Why country? Why not state, county, city, neighborhood, or block?

You joke, but that's exactly what antitrust is about. When AT&T was broken up, dozens of flowers bloomed almost overnight. Unfortunately that was the also the apex of antitrust enforcement (certainly in the US and possibly worldwide).

In many ways, the ugly side of globalisation is often a failure to enforce real antitrust legislation: if a market has so few players that abandoning a location means losing a factory, then there should be space for antitrust action. You want a market so rabid that competitors would jump at the chance to take over an existing factory and already-skilled workforce.

Unfortunately it's also the sort of thing where nation-states rear their ugly heads, as they compete to establish their own champions. If I break my companies into smaller ones and you don't, your companies now have a powerful advantage when playing in my market, because they can exploit economies of scale that mine cannot. This has no solution unless we give more teeth to supranational bodies like the WTO, which nobody really wants to do, but it's probably the only way to save globalist capitalism from itself.

Lesser divisions of government don't run militaries that might prefer autarky in the event of large conflict.

Which is a little ironic, given how much of the large global conflict in history has been fought over access to markets.

Independence in case of war is a good reason for governments to "overpay" domestic suppliers for defense contracts. It doesn't require them to isolate the general public from trade in peacetime.

>Why not state, county, city, neighborhood, or block?

Because nobody is arguing that. You're inventing an absurd position to argue against a pretty reasonable one.

>you're throwing away comparative advantage, wasting time and capital duplicating others' work (so this time and capital is no longer available to unsolved problems), etc.

Is this supposed to be a problem? Efficiency gains have simply gone into ballooning corporate cash stockpiles rather than demonstrably better purchasing power for consumers. Paradoxically, this is weakening the economy as more capital concentrates in fewer hands and consumer demand begins to falter.

> You're inventing an absurd position

Why is country less absurd than any other level of government?

On top of that: not all countries are the same size. Why should Luxembourg be autarkic but Cleveland should not be? You're completely right that "country" is an arbitrary level to say "autarky is ok at this level."

Why do you think? National boundaries tend to be relatively homogeneous in terms of human development, which prevents corporations from engaging in labor arbitrage. Comparative advantage is beneficial in capital terms only, and harmful if it is used as a means to deny people basic human dignity in their working conditions. It enables for as wide of a market as possible without labor arbitrage.

The US is nowhere near homogeneous. At best, it's bimodal (coastal megacities vs. interior). There are labor arbitrage opportunities of more than 2x between i.e. Mississippi and DC [0]. Discussions about Silicon Valley's housing crisis routinely beg tech companies to engage in labor arbitrage by opening satellite offices or permitting remote workers in cheaper parts of the country.

The chasm between human development in a country's cities vs. its countryside is even wider around the world.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_income

>The US is nowhere near homogeneous.

Ah yes, that would be the definition of relatively.

Or are you implying that the difference in development between SF and Mobile, AL is bigger than the difference between the United States and Bangladesh? Because I would be highly suspect of that implication...

This is just not true. Interconnection creates a far more dynamic economy. Look at any country that has tried to be economically self-sufficient. The siren of autarky is deadly to all her victims.

There's a false dichotomy between hyperglobalization and complete autarky.

Tariffs were common US policy when they served the interests of the elite. They only became ideologically unthinkable when they might have been used to protect the interests of the common people.

Trade deals could have been written to lift up working standards and environmental protections in foreign countries and to limit the effect on the American workforce. Instead they were written to facilitate wage, labor and environmental protection regulatory arbitrage and undermine the position of the American working class.

Nailed it. Americans are asked to swallow lower and lower opportunities for long term work potential (and continuing education) while being expected to continue spending cause its the patriotic thing to do. Only the C-suite and elite win. But we still haven't awakened from the nightmare.

Fair enough. But there is a distinction between country-agnostic labor/environmental protections and tariffs which benefit one country over another.

I agree that interconnection makes the economy more dynamic. Part of that dynamism, unfortunately, is the death of local companies. Good for those who have money, but costly for those who lose their jobs.

This is a fair point. Perhaps we can have a common-sense regulation regime that protects workers and the environment without sacrificing the benefits of comparative advantage?

This sounds like a broken window fallacy to me. Inefficiency can manifest as more jobs, but that doesn't mean people are better off.

Soviet Union was a prime example of that: constant lack of people to do work, third-world living standards, and colossal inefficiency.

It ceased to exist mere 26 years ago.

And then you have the people, and it's a lot of people, most of whom seem to be young, well educated and politically engaged, who congregate in online communities and insist that it literally makes no difference if a job goes to Mexico (or wherever) or not.

Personally, I think if we got rid of even 50% of the stupidity and corruption in our respective societies, there would be so much to go around for everyone it would be a utopia. But if we don't do this, and soon, I'm very worried that everything is increasingly going to flow up to the top x% who own the machines, and the survival of the rest will literally be at the whim of them, their government officials, and their security forces.

I think the premise here is a false dichotomy. Consider why many U.S. companies have moved to mexico--the domestic economy since 2008 has been significant factor.

I think that its in everyone's best interest to consider yourself first; then when you're secure & able, help your neighbor. There's nothing keeping some companies from having establishments in both countries.

When do people have a chance to directly choose between stranger on another continent and their children?

If I refuse to buy something made in a distant sweat shop and pay more for a product from a company that treats its foreign labourers fairly, I'm putting a stranger over my children in that I could have spent that extra money on the kids instead. That kind of decision making is not unheard of or unrealistic.

> But how is that fair?

Who said it was fair?

Trump and Sanders both campaigned on doing things for the benefit of American and its citizens. Prioritizing the welfare of steelworkers here rather than in Mexico is pretty much what their supporters wanted.

Is it their job to be fair to the world, or to support the interests of the citizens that they represent? If the government isn't fighting for their interests, then what good is it?

Well, that's the question, isn't it? If your citizens are paying for expensive locally made steel while the rest of the world can buy cheap steel from Mexico are you supporting your citizens or one tiny section of them?

To make it clearer, imagine if an iPhone were built in the US. People have speculated that it would cost over $2000 for the $600 iPhone 5. Now, are Americans better off that 200 million can't buy iPhones but that 60,000 of them have jobs? In fact, _would_ the 200 million buy iPhones to keep the 60,000 employed? Or would they just buy the Samsung that costs $600? Then you'd lose the employment of the 60,000 too.

Subsidies aren't free. Tariffs aren't free. They are a tax twice over on every fellow citizen who isn't subsidized or protected by tariff.

>To make it clearer, imagine if an iPhone were built in the US. People have speculated that it would cost over $2000 for the $600 iPhone 5.

I'd rather have a job than a cheap iPhone.

I also seriously doubt that build costs would rocket from $200 to $2000 simply by moving production to the US.

Are you a believer that letting jobs freely flow to the cheapest place in the world, and products to flow tariff free across borders, is the optimum approach for all people and across all time frames (short/medium/long)?

Long term, this will happen no matter what. There is no way to have wages in US 5-10 times bigger than in other countries only because politicians can do such a thing (if they would). If John Doe is creating X value in country Y or Z, John's wage should be linked to X and nothing else, especially politicians and location. What makes country Y more special than country Z?

Exactly this, long term the cost of living and GDP across the world is going to normalize. As it is now, someone living in a western country could take a month's salary and live like a king in many less developed countries, that is rapidly changing.

Yet the system can be rigged. China's currency is artificially being kept cheap so that manufacturing stays there. Mexico and many Asian countries have terrible labor or environmental protection laws.

It seems like maintaining a free market in such a market would lead to a race to the bottom with regards to wages and quality of life. Why should we allow that to happen just to maximize profits?

I don't think it is a race to the bottom. China is doing that because they are still developing so it makes sense to push their currency down to boost manufacturing. But at some point Chinese workers will be able to demand similar wages and quality of life to western countries. This is when things will get interesting in my opinion.

Maybe at this point China will be the ones exporting manufacturing to poorer less industrialized countries.

No. Just look inside European Union, where the legislation is about the same and differences in wages are 5x. What can you blame here?

I don't think trade with advanced countries is the problem. You don't hear many people complain about trade with Canada or the UK because they have good environmental protection and labor laws. Globalization is a net positive for the poor there because it optimizes capital flows without deleveraging the worker too much.

The issue really is just with countries that don't provide a quality of life that the US offers, like Mexico.

Still jobs from France move to Bulgaria. In the light of the article, that is exactly the same problem.

You guys are the ones telling us it has to normalize, it's been quite some time now and there's still a massive gap, isn't this an impossible outcome?

> Long term, this will happen no matter what.

"letting jobs freely flow to the cheapest place in the world, and products to flow tariff free across borders" will happen, no matter what? Does the free will of human beings to choose and pursue their own destiny have something to do with it?

> There is no way to have wages in US 5-10 times bigger than in other countries only because politicians can do such a thing (if they would).

Not higher than everyone of course, but this assumption that everything is going to even out across all countries perfectly evenly seems like a rather extraordinary belief that at least ignores the ability and willingness of humans to go collectively insane periodically.

Does the human nature/culture aspect of this situation not bother you at all? For example, I hope we can agree that certain cultures are better than others at certain things, for whatever reason. For example, the US at innovation, the Japanese at perfecting things, the Chinese at mass production and working incredibly hard (so far, what's next we shall see). Do you think it is absolutely not possible at all that some cultures on earth might lack certain strengths required to compete on a tariff-free global marketplace, or the social cohesion to govern society successfully under these new conditions?

Is it their job to be fair to the world, or to support the interests of the citizens that they represent?

The latter, which includes American steel consumers.

A few decades ago some people were seriously arguing that open source software was bad for the software industry because it made it harder to have a business selling compilers or web servers.

Jane Kim is elected to represent SOMA's interests; should she install a border fence to force me to eat at SOMA restaurants instead of going a few blocks to the places I like better in the Financial District?

> Is there a plan to help these Americans? People like Trump or Sanders seem to want some sort of forced reshoring, which is essentially taking the job away from the Mexican worker to give it back to the American one. But how is that fair?

There is no plan to help these Americans. They will either take lower paying jobs, or be subjected to poverty for the rest of their lives [1].

I'm unsure what the problem with "forced reshoring" is. In the beginning of your argument, you ask if there is a plan to help these people. If globalization allows for entire factories to be moved across borders to arbitrage lower wages, you must use tariffs to prevent that arbitrage if you want well paying jobs to remain in your country.

Most importantly, you address fairness "How is this that fair?" about who gets the job. Economics and market forces are not fair. They are about who has the most leverage. The American economy has an enormous amount of leverage due to our size, and we should be using it to our advantage.

So, when you hear a Trump supporter (or any American regardless of politics, depending on the job) concerned that Mexicans are going to take their jobs, you might be able to see how its a very legitimate concern for someone who isn't going to be able to retrain into another profession that maintains their middle class quality of life for the remainder of their career.

If you care, get involved in politics. It is the only solution that doesn't involve violent revolution.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/12/beattyville-...

A counterargument would be that the US government's job is to represent the people who pay taxes to it. Mexicans don't pay US taxes.

That and every major growth story involves some protectionism. China is very protectionist with the great firewall (protectionism for domestic tech) and capital controls. When the US industrialized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries we had protectionist policies.

The US may need a return to protectionist developing nation style policies for a period of time to reindustrialize. We have effectively third worlded our interior.

The US doesn't need to reindustrialize. Its industry is bigger than ever, and exports of manufactured goods have grown by more than 400% since the 80s. What's happening with the US industry is what happened with US agriculture before: tremendous productivity growth, which led to much reduced employment.

Which is why "reshoring" would probably be a short term fix, lasting only until new machines could be developed. You can just compare how many people are employed to make something like a steel ring when you have cheap workers [1] or expensive workers [2].

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWXFhdeOjMY

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEF2erBBVZ4

> Its industry is bigger than ever, and exports of manufactured goods have grown by more than 400% since the 80s.

Why does this matter if only the top 10% are benefiting from this growth? Quality of life for the lower class is declining, not increasing.

That's my point :)

The parent poster was saying the US needs to "reindustrialize". I'm saying that not only it never de-industrialized, but if you were to pull in more industries (using tariffs and such), it wouldn't matter in the long term since - as you correctly point out - increasing the size of the industry doesn't increase the qualify of life for the lower class.

Ah, I see what you're saying, but I disagree with you. A lot of the kinds of manufacturing that was shipped to Mexico was the kind that couldn't easily be automated or demands in some way some form of manual labor. Some manufacturing processes are simply too complex to currently be done by machine, from what I understand. If we bring manufacturing back, those jobs would likely end up in smaller cities where the cost of living is lower so they could save money, thus driving up wages in the exact kind of areas that have been hurting.

Would it be a net positive with regards to wealth generation? Absolutely not. There are massive capital flow optimizations available with globalization. I just don't see any other way of increasing quality of life for our lower class in a way that's politically attainable.

GDP / Population is not always a fantastic metric for well being of a nation's citizens.

In no way did I say or imply it is.

"In no way"? The US doesn't need to reindustrialize because its industry is bigger than ever, exports are strong, etc?

How is that meaningfully different than GDP being high? They all completely ignore wealth distribution.

Apparently my writing was terrible, since two people misunderstood my point, for which I apologize, although I still struggle to say how else I could have written it.

My points are that you can't re-industrialized if you never de-industrialized, and also that any employment gains from "pulling back" some industries (using tariffs or similar) would be short lived for the same reason that the current US industry is shrinking employment despite continuing to grow. Like the videos I posted show, there's a big difference between the number of employees you hire when you have to pay them 1x or just 1/16x. I'd be surprise if most "recovered" jobs lasted a decade.

> A counterargument would be that the US government's job is to represent the people who pay taxes to it. Mexicans don't pay US taxes.

Why are you invoking tax payment to explain the relationship of a government to its citizen? Citizens' rights, and the government's interest in their well-being are not a service offered in exchange for money.

Of course it is. The expectation for the majority of people is that their taxes are going towards improving themselves, their-country, and their needy neighbors. The government "representing" the people is a proxy for letting the tax-payer "pick" where, how, and to what extent that obligation gets fulfilled.

How is it fair? It's not fair that "Our" President puts "Our" needs first?

I have no issue with other Presidents or leaders putting their citizens first either.

What's not fair, IMO, is uneven playing fields: Unionized, 40 day work week, safe conditions, etc... vs countries where children work, 12 hour work days, unsanitary/unsafe conditions, etc...

Or, what's not fair, is government backed advantages - IE: Under-priced steel to drive American Businesses out of business... or solar panels... or... etc.

At the end of the day... not everything in life is fair. Some people are born into money. Some are born lucky enough to be Americans (or other "First" world countries)... Some are born with innate skill/talent. Plenty of people aren't.

We can try to keep the "world" moving forward together... but taking care of "Our" country - to protect people from losing their jobs to unfair competition - is "fair" and should be expected of our leadership. We should also try to include other countries and raise them up as well but that's no reason to not take care of #1 first: Us.

What about the larger numbers of people that can afford stuff made with Mexican steel that will no longer be able to get the stuff they need after on-shoring?

Economics is not zero-sum. We don't forcibly on-shore, we take care of the people who need help.

The problem is "we take care of people that need help" kind of ignores all of the jobs that were lost by off-shoring...

How many manufacturing jobs has the US lost due to competition in an open market with countries that don't have basic human rights (IE: Kids in sweat shops in various countries. The US doesn't make clothes anymore because we can't compete with those conditions.)

You say "those people need jobs too"... but then ignore all the lost American jobs, reduction in American competitiveness (due to closed factories, outsourced skills, etc) and the various human rights issues that take place around the world.

Am I simplifying things? Sure... but so are you...

It is a greatly complicated problem - and, as you said, not a zero sum... but at the end of the day, I don't think it's "unfair" to care more about "us" than "them" as long as "they" don't have the same standards we do.

I think there should be barriers that keep competition on a level playing field. 40 hour work week vs 40 hour work week. Basic human rights vs basic human rights.

Pipe dream? of course... but I think that countries would improve themselves to have entry to our markets (and to have us allowed into theirs).

And isn't that what you really want? Improvements all around?

I'm just focused on different improvements (Here at home and then abroad) instead of your improvements (Improvements abroad and maybe someday improvements here)

>You say "those people need jobs too"

No I didn't, the US taxpayer on aggregate saves more than enough to pay those people to live for the rest of their lives.

>I don't think it's "unfair" to care more about "us" than "them" as long as "they" don't have the same standards we do.

I don't. The US on aggregate gets as much, or more, benefits from off-shoring as the country who takes it on does.

>Improvements abroad and maybe someday improvements here

The sole reason there aren't an equal number of improvements here in the United States is due to regressive thinking that assumes that bringing the jobs back would be a net positive while simultaneously blaming anybody who's been left behind for not working hard enough. Like I said, this isn't zero sum.

I don't think there are many people arguing that bringing jobs back would be a net positive. It's obvious that the rich are making tons of money off of this situation. I think the people arguing for bringing jobs back is so that quality of life can stop decreasing for the lower class and rural areas of the country that have been massively affected by globalization.

This is the complicated part, and in a sane society it requires education, discussion, and compromise. But in our insane, dishonest, political partisan societies, both sides pretend the other side of the argument has zero merit, if they even acknowledge it.

I would take it a step further... the "other side" pretends that if you disagree on anything you are a "Traitor" (RINO! DINO! TREASON!!!).

Can you be a Republican that's Pro-Gun Control and Pro-PP? Can you be a Democrat that's Pro Life and Anti-Illegal Immigration?

If you are, you are a pariah and banned from both sides...

How can you have a middle ground when two sides care more about the other side losing than they do about moving forward as a country/human race?

If we only pretended the other side had no merit, we'd be able to actually have rational discussions and move forward...

Well said, and "If you are, you are a pariah and banned from both sides..." is where I lie. The depressing part to me is that I get the sense the majority of HN commenters believe they are above all this. (Furthermore, the HN comment frequency throttle seems to become suspiciously aggressive depending on one's political persuasion. All in my mind though I'm sure.)

In the US? I would say there are far fewer families as a percentage of the US population who can afford stuff made of steel (say new cars) today than 40 years ago.

Toasters? Pans? Shaving blades? All the small daily things? Also, a lot of steel is used in construction; a road or a bridge upgrade can be feasible or not, and everyone would use it (or not, if it's too expensive to build).

I find it difficult to believe toasters and pans would be unaffordable if the manufacturers used US steel. Also, shaving blades are massively marked up by Gillette. The generic blades cost pennies.

It's like minimum wage increases; the benefits of higher employment/higher wages almost always outweigh the benefits of cheaper goods.

The problem is "higher employment/higher wages" with increased minimum wages aren't a given.

Plenty of studies (and real world examples) show that higher minimum wages means fewer jobs - why pay a cashier when you can install a touch screen kiosk?

There could be an argument that it's because of unbalanced minimum wages (one city, state, etc)... but I think that even a national minimum wage increase to $15... or even a smaller one like $10... would do more damage to unskilled labor than would be beneficial.

Personally? I could see an inflation based auto-increase... but just doubling the minimum wage in a short time frame is going to be damaging. IMO.

It is nothing about fairness here; as long as an American worker costs $25 per hour and a Mexican (or Indian, Chinese, pick any country) earns $6 the difference will move business that can move towards lower costs until you close the gap enough to not matter anymore. When a consumer buys a product, he pays a price for the product. You want it cheap, then you have to minimize costs and all is fair as long as it is legal (no sweatshops, child labor, conflict minerals etc). If one wonders why the American worker wants $25/hour and the Mexican one is fine with $6, I would like to see the answer here. But an intelligent one, not "a burito is 5 times more expensive in US than in Mexico", because that is part of the effect as much as part of the cause.

Asset inflation is part of that answer.

It's not the American's job to care for the welfare of a foreigner and it's not the foreigner's job to care for the American's welfare.

I would say if we're consuming the product then it's "fair" that that work necessary for the making of the product go to a local citizen (Foreign if foreign or domestic if domestic).

Foreign nations have control of their economy and how it runs, whether they allow corruption, nepotism, off-shoring, etc., just as we do. But they can't tell us how to run our economy and we can't tell them how to run theirs.

In that case, it's not my (an American) job to care for the welfare of any other American. Why bother drawing the empathy line outside my own family? I want cheaper access for steel and iPhones, and I don't care if this woman has a job or not; I'll be fine either way.

I think that's an awful way to feel about another human, but that's what you're suggesting we do with foreign citizens. Why not, instead, try to build a better society for everyone?

If you think you have unfairly much resources, you can always donate some! There are excellent charities that operate in worse-off countries.

I do, frequently. Are you arguing that all taxation is theft, or are you arguing that it's okay to tax us as long as it's for what you want and not for what I want?

It's how we organize ourselves politically. Yes, mostly we owe allegiance to family. Then the rest of citizens who operate under the same laws and regulations we do.

Now, we have to draw the line some place and that tends to be national governments which is where our direct influence ends.

While we can empathize with N Koreans, for example, we are not the ones who decided upon their government. They are responsible for their self-determination.

When we felt oppression, as a country we fought a war for independence. When we opposed slavery, we fought a civil war. It's a bloody crucible, but you have to forge your own destiny as a nation, unless you're proposing internationalization, which is imperialism by another name.

>It's how we organize ourselves politically.

You're trying to re-install economic partitions at the national level which currently aren't there; "that's how we do things" isn't an argument. "How we organize ourselves politically" with respect to economics has been as an integrated global civilization since the mid to late 20th century.

If economic partitioning is an unqualified good, why not go much smaller than country scale? If it's not an unqualified good, what makes national borders optimal? Doesn't it seem a little bit suspicious that a country grown over hundreds of years of political wrangling just happens to the mathematically optimal economy size?

Basically we do not have political influence on foreign economies and governments, that's why. If they want to become a territory or protectorate, then, sure, we can share.

As it stands, we have vast amounts of our own poor we underserve, but it's less sexy to say you support our own poor, functionally illiterate than say you support some people in a country where people made different political and economic decisions.

>we do not have political influence on foreign economies and governments

Through trade (and the threat of trade sanctions) we have enormous influence on foreign governments. The US in aggregate has more leverage over China than (say) Idaho does over California. Why should the citizens of Idaho accept competition from Californians?

If it's because CA and ID both roll up into the federal government, then don't we all roll up into the UN?

>we have vast amounts of our own poor we underserve

We do. The welfare state is too weak, we don't do nearly enough redistribution, it's unconscionable that we lack national health insurance, it's unconscionable that we let neighborhood wealth determine school quality and make college cost so much, etc. But raising the price of goods by locking out foreign competition is regressive: the made-in-America premium hurts most when you have the least to spend.

Through congress we have great influence on ID via fed laws. We have a very predictable political and economic system. We can enforce contracts, etc., very ably within our political borders.

Japan would speak to your position otherwise. Some people say it's foolhardy for them to have expensive fruit and vegetables, when they could import cheaper. On the other hand those farmers are self sustaining within their system.

I'm with Seattle anti WTO spirit of '99.

Who is "we"? Idaho can only make laws binding on Californians if it's in concert with other states. Just as the United States can control just about any country it trades with if it's in concert with other UN/WTO members.

So that's why were so effective at combating product dumping and counterfeit goods?

> raising the price of goods by locking out foreign competition is regressive: the made-in-America premium hurts most when you have the least to spend

you could always lower sales tax and raise income tax

That would be great! I don't see why we couldn't do both.

> what makes national borders optimal?

That's where democratic influence stops, beyond which we can't control. Before globalization became a thing, workers commonly had a union, bargaining rights, and a political wing that fought for them. Now that we've entered a global economy, we can't get that leverage anymore.

It's not fair either way, but the company probably makes most of it's money selling to the US market, and benefits from the US court system, so there's that.

I think the Sanders position towards this is universal health care and education. I think the Trump position towards this is "we had the biggest inauguration turnout in history".

An argument for reshoring, however, might go something like this: America has laws that ostensibly give employees more bargaining power than they have by default. We also have laws regulating how much pollution, and effects analogous to pollution, companies are allowed to produce. In order for any of that to be meaningful, however, we need to force companies to operate under our jurisdiction, and penalize them for competing via slave labor and dirty industry through tariffs.

In your analogy, they were both paying for their granddaughter's medicine, but the one in Mexico was still being paid an order of magnitude less. If you reshore that job, and the new worker pays 10% of her salary to the mexican worker, their needs are both 90% filled. Surely this means that it is better.

One thing I picked up on was that the plan to move production to Mexico was to save 30 million dollars. The CEO's compensation was 40 million

It took him 6 years to make that $40 million. It's not clear the timeline on that $30 million. For all we know it could have saved the company $30 million a year.

The old CFO at my firm was awarded the first year of annual cost-cutting savings as his bonus. Executive comp can be weird, but at a public company it's probably not a loss-leader.

1) Bravo to the Times for dressing up rural realities in terms that urban elites can understand. It's cool to care about gender equality and all, but it don't make much difference if nobody has any work.

2) Computer people complaining about efforts to repatriate factory work is pretty hilarious. You do realize where this whole industry is headed don't you? I mean no other industry is better suited for it, as tooling gets better, and links around the world get faster, it will be _the_ fastest sector to fly to the cheapest place on earth to do it.

>it will be _the_ fastest sector to fly to the cheapest place on earth to do it.

Software outsourcing has been a thing for decades now and if anything seems past its peak as people find their programmers in Bangalore don't actually do as well as they hoped.

> their programmers in Bangalore don't actually do as well as they hoped.

Which is because they went to the rock bottom bidder and that came at a price: you got the newbies, and the outsourcing company was training them on the job (ie _your_ project).

I heard stories that some companies rotated out their folks into higher paying projects (which existed) once they gained sufficient experience, replacing them with the next batch of newcomers - making the cheapest customers pay for "intro classes" (also known as amateur errors) during the entire project's lifetime. If true that would be a shining example of "you get what you pay for".

Companies have been burned by outsourcing production to India where they didn’t get the quality they wanted and cultural differences are difficult. However, companies have gradually had more and more countries to outsource to, and Eastern Europe with its large young, “westernized” or “americanized”, well-educated and English-speaking population is, if anything, more and more popular for companies looking to relocate production or acquire staff.

I think you’re looking at the wrong factor — Eastern European outsourcing has plenty of the same failures, and for the same reasons. Most of the companies which jumped on outsourcing did so because their internal processes were failing and then spent the next few years learning that adding communications overhead and conflicting incentives doesn’t improve that situation. That’s a hard lesson for many companies since it means accepting that the root cause was management rather than the workers.

One of the biggest difficulties with outsourcing is also one of the biggest difficulties with software in general: sufficient specifications.

Hardware production outsourcing works well. You design the product, prototype it, create a specification that describes every necessary detail, and find a company to make your device. This engineering design process is expensive but does work well. Your onshore workers are the engineers, designers, and the like. Your offshore workers are the production staff.

Software production outsourcing works poorly. Creating a thorough enough specification for production is exactly as difficult as creating the program. You have all the same types of onshore workers, but there's no production staff!

I don't know about that, microphones and cameras are universally available but it doesn't look like the hotspots of the creative industry changing that much - despite local successes like Bollywood or the Turkish TV series.

I think the troubles caused by the decline of the old industries are largely due to the culture of investing your life in a company and only getting a salary out of it.

The software industry is closer to the creative industry where you try to extract as much as value possible and move on. Blockbusters and failures, agism, giants becoming outdated and loosing value like ageing milk and more culturally appropriate ones taking the scenes is not something that you can outsource.

My kids were watching Tinkerbell movies on Netflix. Then I saw the credits.

Check out the Animation Department:


Some animations are even outsourced to North Korea. My argument isn't that jobs won't be outsourced but that the impact is different.

The idea is that the industry will stay where the innovation happens and for innovation to happen well understood part of the work will be outsourced to a place that is willing to do the hard work for cheaper.

> You do realize where this whole industry is headed don't you?

Maybe. But people have already tried this with off-shoring and it hasn't worked as well as people had hoped. I don't think the issue has been internet links being too slow.

I've outsourced some software development on Upwork and it's not as easy as it sounds to outsource work, you still need to be very engaged to make sure the people you hire are doing what you actually want. With a bearing factory, the process may be complicated, but evaluating quality is much simpler and completely standardized.

Software is not immune to labor market forces, but there is no clear outsourcing trend that I can see, so something would need to change for that trend to start.

> you still need to be very engaged to make sure the people you hire are doing what you actually want.

how much and how well does the customer (in the US) know what they want in advance (as opposed to knowing what they want in reaction to the initial versions of the product)?

in other words: are US customers typically able to spec out the product well ahead of time -- or are they relying on a tight, iteration/feedback loop to help define the product?

You do realize where this whole industry is headed don't you?

Ed Yourdon said the same thing about thirty years ago (“Death of the American Programmer”). I’m still staying employed at a healthy salary. Turns out, apparently, when all things are considered, maybe the U. S. is the “cheapest place on Earth”.


Your #2 is predicated on Strong AI. At the current time there's no real evidence that that's forthcoming any time soon. (Hype notwithstanding.)

Currently, the most difficult problem with programming is understanding the problem. Absent Strong AI there's no shortcuts here.

... and while we're at it: IF the problem were to be solved -- even if by magic -- then I'd be the happiest person alive. The flaw in your thinking is that everything else would stay the same. It wouldn't. A culture with access to "solve-my-problem-X" on demand would be vastly different and it's not even clear if e.g. "money" or "job" would make any sense in such a world. (Ditto for any number of other concepts we take for granted, but which are ultimately driven by scarcity of resources or the fight against entropy.)

In response to 2) I am one of those people you think is hilarious I guess. I fully support letting work be done wherever it is cheapest in an economic sense, which often means not in the USA. If and when that transformation happens to my own industry I expect I'll support it in principle, while still being a little dismayed on a personal level at the bad turn. But that isn't a contradiction, I think.

You'll quickly change your mind when you can't pay rent, or support your family. Principles go out the window when bills are due and there is no money coming in.

> it will be _the_ fastest sector to fly to the cheapest place on earth to do it

isn't that idea about 20 years old?

Not really, especially considering we're only fairly recently getting really fast global connections.

Also, shrewd programmers have been keeping the ball moving with a never ending stream of new ways (libraries/frameworks/platforms) to reinvent the wheel which has created a massive number of jobs for a long time. Some day this may come to an end as well, and I think the cloud might do it.

The high-end computer work is largely design-based, which depends on high-end talent. Meanwhile, the US still has the best universities in the world, guaranteeing dominance of the industry. As long as that continues (which itself isn't guaranteed) then the US will dominate. If other countries wise-up, and decide to improve their universities, then you can start to worry.

The universities are central to our economy. It's what defines this country.

And this will matter in any field, not just computer-science. It could be movies, agriculture, engineering, music, physics, photography, literature, fashion, medicine, business, whatever.. the universities help dominate an economy.

At the very least, we have to fight the right-wing conservative forces that are trying to cut our universities.

1) Yes, the idea of tech jobs going overseas has been around for a long time and in the past has seen varying degrees of failure... but c'mon now, if you've been in this industry long enough, you know that it's all about timing. Just because the world wasn't ready for music streaming in 1995 doesn't mean Spotify is a bad idea today.

2) AI has nothing to do with this. Past outsourcing attempts have failed due to skill gaps and cultural differences.

3) The Internet is very good at superseding local culture with global Internet culture. Over time, past cultural differences will dissolve, especially considering that there is money involved.

4) The Internet is very good at making reference and learning materials available globally on the cheap as well as community support which can and likely will supersede a lot of what today's universities do. Over time I suspect that proximity to universities will have waning importance for all but the most specialized and advanced fields.

It’s not the reference and learning materials. It’s the PhD researchers that advance the state-of-the art.

This is why American universities dominate.

"Over time I suspect that proximity to universities will have waning importance for all but the most specialized and advanced fields."

Every field has their PhDs, from Physics to Fashion Design.

What is the endgame of all of this? If a nation is composed of rich people who live off wealth created in other countries, and a great many very poor people, for how long do those other countries continue to send the wealth they generate to foreign rich people? And advances in wealth creation; those will happen in foreign countries. The rich people in the country that no longer generates wealth will only survive by buying into those new wealth generators.

Eventually, will there be a leftover country composed of rich people who own some wealth generation in foreign countries and a great many poor people? I suppose eventually, Mexicans will be complaining that their jobs are going north to people who will work for much less money.

Wealth inequality is the end game. Even within the united states the divide only gets bigger. This state can be maintained indefinitely as long as the ones on the bottom aren't suffering enough to the point where they decide to just stop working or raise pitchforks.

It won't even matter in a generation or less, when robots do most of the labour and the rich have autonomous robotic armies to protect them from the revolutionary masses...

...the crusade against computers, thinking machines, and conscious robots begun in 201 B.G. and concluded in 108 B.G. Its chief commandment remains in the O.C. Bible as "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind."

Seems like few of the masses will want to rebel anyway if they too have robots freeing them from the realities of classical poverty just as today's poor do. There's no fundamental need to work if your base needs of survival are met, working becomes needed only to get extra. Though for some they might go stir crazy without work, while others' base needs will be met simply by food, shelter, opiates, and video games.

Just look at China, all the local co ownership rules are there to prevent wealth drain by international corporations.

This is a heart breaking read. And it is about the sort of people who hoped that Trump was going to make things better. In my opinion, Trump spoke to their pain, Hillary did not. So they voted him in and he's doing nothing to help them.

The only positive, if you will, is her daughter got into Purdue and will maybe have a better chance in life.

The american dream, for working class people, seems pretty darn dead. It's super depressing.

the article is worth reading. it really makes you feel for the workers at these plants. they're on the front lines of globalization, unlike workers in certain other sectors, whose jobs are protected by law.

a good deal of US politics is about classes of workers (and entire corporations) trying to either maintain their current barriers against globalization, or trying to build new barriers against globalization.

I read a comment elsewhere that the strife is between the people on the left side of the iq bell curve, and those on the right.

Steelworkers and blue collar jobs, left side, mostly, while those in upper management that ship the jobs elsewhere in search of arbitrage are on the right side. Lobbyists and pols, right side, that rejiggered the export and import laws to benefit the right side.

Wondering what others think of this explanation...

Appallingly simplistic (if not entirely wrong).

And I've never met someone in management that belonged on the right side of an IQ bell curve.

You accuse the other person of being "entirely wrong" and then you go and claim that all management you've ever worked with is effectively on the left-side of the IQ bell curve? I.e. Saying they are all unintelligent.

Good, you understood me. Well done.

Clearly some in American society benefit directly from the outsourcing and others do not.

And, it seems to be the same set of classes benefiting or losing, each time.

So what patterns do you perceive?

I think people on the left side of the IQ bell curve shouldn't experience a declining quality of life just because they weren't genetically and/or financially blessed as a child.

Maybe they should just learn to code. That's the magic job these days right?

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