This 2 Million Minutes blog post is right on the money. It contains a clip of the middle-class protest song “Mad in America,” and explains why the ideas embodied in the song are false. (I didn’t know there even was such a thing as a middle-class protest song. If you want to learn more, the lyrics, as well as commentary from activists, are here.)
“Mad in America” tells the story of a hardworking baker who moved to the United States for employment opportunities several decades ago. Now, his grandchildren are losing their jobs because businesses are hiring Asians who will work for less.
Bob Compton of 2 Million Minutes reacts:
Lacking an understanding of how competitive advantages must be upgraded over time with more education, constant innovation and personal creativity, the song simply laments reality – that ideas, jobs and capital are mobile.
And while that mobility is more pronounced now because of computers, cell phones, and the Internet, it has always been there. After all, the baker in the song didn’t stay in his native Finland — he came to America, where he competed with Americans and earned a low wage! The opening of the song undermines its message. “Mad in America” implies that it’s bad for jobs to go offshore, while immigration to the United States is fine. The website with the lyrics further emphasizes that its campaign is not about U.S. immigration policy. But what does it matter whether the competition comes to your job or your job goes to the competition? Either way, if someone is willing to do your work for less money, you’re in trouble.
It should be noted that workers can avoid this problem to some extent if they do a better job than anyone else. I realize this may not be quite so inspirational as A Message to Garcia, but for example, Delta decided to bring its customer service back to the United States because customers had trouble communicating with Indians. Businesses look at more than dollar amounts when they make decisions; they also care about quality. Of course, in a bad recession, even the best workers suffer. To quote General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, “We are living through history, and I don’t mean that in a positive sense.”
I love Compton’s post, but I’m confused by one of his comments. He contrasts the U.S. economy of a century ago with the economy today:
We were the cheap laborers with the strong work ethic, the desire for a better life for our children, the commitment to building schools for compulsory education.
We still have compulsory education, and it hasn’t prevented the outsourcing problem. In fact, 2 Million Minutes is constantly pointing out our education system’s failures.
That quibble aside, it’s a great post and I highly recommend reading it.