Blogs > Cliopatria > Outsourcing from the local perspective

Sep 15, 2004 4:55 pm

Outsourcing from the local perspective

Does it matter how we conceptualize globalization and its sorrows? Despite daily reports about low-tech jobs going to China and southeast Asia and hi-tech jobs going to India, globalization as an issue lacks valency--it moves the American public to anger, but not to action. There appear to be too many benefits to globalization that cannot be dismissed--is it not better to adapt as the benefits will come someday?

America is not the only nation that feels the pain of globalization. In France, offices and factories close up and move east, some to China and India, others to Eastern Europe and Morocco. This issue, however, has become more volatile in daily political discourse, and the French government has been compelled to act more quickly. Economic minister Nicolas Sarkozy and an inter-ministerial committee announced an 750 million euro investment plan to create"poles of competitiveness":
These poles, technological or industrial, are associated with enterprise, centers of education and research organizations that are synergistic.

In essence, rather than throwing money at the social problem in a general sense, the committee also defined the problem in term defining the relationship between industry and local resources. I believe that this proposal draws from the model of the European Spatial Development Perspective, which promotes creating access to the European market (and by extension, the global economy).

How the French public conceptualizes globalization may reveal why action was taken so quickly. Indeed, the problem of globalization is not as pressing as the public fears: it is estimated that about 5%-6% of jobs lost were due to globalization. What concerns the public is délocalisation--the flight of industry and employment from the local and the privation that it causes by displacing the local from the global. Job creation is insufficient if it requires people to relocate (especially to large cities where cheap housing is in short supply), if it disturbs the balance between urban and rural sectors, or if it disturbs the local culture. It's one thing to fear losing one's job if another may be around the corner; it is another to say that one's hometown will lose access to any future economic boom.

Leshanah tovah tikateivu v'tikhateimu.
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Jonathan Dresner - 9/17/2004


You're right and you're wrong. As you point out, Japanese corporate culture has managed to be pretty vital while including ideas of community and broader responsibility. And American companies have managed to respond to some of the stresses of modern economics by drawing on the expertise of their workers, building esprit and shared purpose; employee-owned businesses have a long, but overlooked, history in this country, as well. Cooperatives are now more of a health-food alternative than the farm community centers they used to be, but they still exist and often thrive.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/16/2004

Nice that you prefer BIG stores. That "horrid" store had a very steady community of customers who liked to be able to walk to the grocery. The problem with the malls and big boxes, as Oscar has pointed out, is that in small town after small town across the country, they have planted themselves on the outskirts and driven out small, local competition. When the mall or big box is no longer sufficiently profitable, it is abandoned. It's a whole lot harder to identify a next function for a mall or a big box than it is to identify a next function for a brick storefront. Our brick storefront grocery looks like a generic drug store, but it was forced to lease space to a fine butcher and stock small grocery items.

Michael C Tinkler - 9/16/2004

Serves the community interest? That Kroger was a horrid LITTLE store with a tiny selection of every possible produce and a nasty meat department which needed to be cleaned with a flame thrower! It's not even a very large drugstore by contemporary standards.

I know people who regret the fall of the corner store, but I'll take arugula and fresh buffalo mozarella over running around the corner to Mr. Smith's for a loaf of American white bread and iceberg easy-ship lettuce. I grew up with that mess (and a corner store near my parents that now is a deli) and prefer the heartless variety of post-modernity.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/16/2004

I'm not sure that you are saying much that differs from what Oscar said, Michael, except to point out that the American proclivity for mobility and quick replacement has a long history. We had to fight like the dickens to get that former Kroger's to continue to be a store which served the community interest.

Michael C Tinkler - 9/16/2004

Not to snarkily complicate your worldview, but the horror of North American (the Canadians share our bad habit here - it's all about the wood) construction is a byword in non-North American architectural criticism.

And have you ever wondered why restaurants come and go so quickly? A big part of it is aesthetic overhead. Eveyrone wants to spend so much on beauty that they can't afford the second month's bill for produce and then away they go....

Big box stores are, in fact, neither more nor less sturdy than the tiny little grocery store (formerly a Kroger) within a stone's throw of Ralph's house that is now a largish (but not huge) drug store.

Are they less sturdy than the corner stores of some older people's youths? Not much. Two of those are under renovation down the block from me (one becomeing a hairstylist, the other supposedly to be a coffee shop). The walls are one brick thick. Not high quality construction - classic pre-WWII corner store, though. Very community oriented, too - walking distance to their entire clientele.

You see, even construction in America has a story -- and that story has much more to do with mobility and quick replacement, even back before the Civil War, than it does with imagined narratives of community stability.

Oscar Chamberlain - 9/16/2004

Large corporations cannot be made more aware of their community roles without either (1) considerable incentives or (2) some fundamental restructuring. Right now the willingness of investors--institutional and individual--to shift investments to capture even small changes in profit forces corporations to be very short term in their thinking. Such thinking simply cannot include community. Indeed, the ideal community for them is disposable.

Think of current corporate architecture. The strip malls, big boxes, and even small corporate buildings are made cheap and for a reason. They don't want to create things that tie them to communites more than is essential for business (with the possible exception of home offices, when the egos of the leaders get mixed into the equation.)

In short the architecture is disposable, packaging for content that they want as mobile as possible.

Also the long-standing assumption that workers have no rights to the fruits of the labor they perform, aside from wages, separates them in a fundamental way from management. A rare corporate leaders sees his or her company as a family. Most do not. And it is telling that the reforms that the United States and other corporate dominated nations have pushed on Japanese corporations strike precisely at institutions--e.g. life time employment--that most supported the ideal of community

Jonathan Dresner - 9/15/2004

Oscar's formulation reminds me of the Confucian Great Teaching, but in a sort of reverse.

But I don't think the long-term goal should be stability: it should be sustainable healthy adaptability. Stable families are all well and good, unless they are unhealthy relationships. Stable jobs are fine, until the world does change. Communities should be able to absorb losing and gaining members, else they stagnate and collapse.

I do think that companies need to be aware of the extent to which they are themselves communities, and members of communities, not just profit-making abstractions. I also think that communities, and employees, need to be aware of the extent to which companies are not just neighbors, but are profit-making abstractions....

Michael C Tinkler - 9/15/2004

So how far are you ready to go for stabile civic life, families, and communities?

Oscar Chamberlain - 9/15/2004

Precisely the problem. And it is not limited to outsourcing. There is among some conservatives (or at least some Reupblicans and, alas, some Democrats) the assumption that we can maintain stable families in a context of a rapidly changing job world.

I would posit that without stable jobs there can be no stable communities. And without stable communities, stable families (and a stable civic life) is darned near impossible.

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