Thomas L.Friedman takes a trip to Bangalore and discovers that Americans need not feel bad about Indians stealing their jobs. There is a lot in American that any Indian techie would love to have but can never get -- for instance, a non corrupt bureaucracy, some sidewalks and schools that teach children to think independently.
Yamini Narayanan is an Indian-born 35-year-old with a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Oklahoma. After graduation, she worked for a U.S. computer company in Virginia and recently moved back to Bangalore with her husband to be closer to family. When I asked her how she felt about the outsourcing of jobs from her adopted country, America, to her native country, India, she responded with a revealing story:
"I just read about a guy in America who lost his job to India and he made a T-shirt that said, `I lost my job to India and all I got was this [lousy] T-shirt.' And he made all kinds of money." Only in America, she said, shaking her head, would someone figure out how to profit from his own unemployment. And that, she insisted, was the reason America need not fear outsourcing to India: America is so much more innovative a place than any other country.
There is a reason the "next big thing" almost always comes out of America, said Mrs. Narayanan. When she and her husband came back to live in Bangalore and enrolled their son in a good private school, he found himself totally stifled because of the emphasis on rote learning — rather than the independent thinking he was exposed to in his U.S. school. They had to take him out and look for another, more avant-garde private school. "America allows you to explore your mind," she said. The whole concept of outsourcing was actually invented in America, added her husband, Sean, because no one else figured it out.
The Narayanans are worth listening to at this time of rising insecurity over white-collar job losses to India. America is the greatest engine of innovation that has ever existed, and it can't be duplicated anytime soon, because it is the product of a multitude of factors: extreme freedom of thought, an emphasis on independent thinking, a steady immigration of new minds, a risk-taking culture with no stigma attached to trying and failing, a non corrupt bureaucracy, and financial markets and a venture capital system that are unrivaled at taking new ideas and turning them into global products.
"You have this whole ecosystem [that constitutes] a unique crucible for innovation," said Nandan Nilekani, the C.E.O. of Infosys, India's I.B.M. "I was in Europe the other day and they were commiserating about the 400,000 [European] knowledge workers who have gone to live in the U.S. because of the innovative environment there. The whole process where people get an idea and put together a team, raise the capital, create a product and mainstream it — that can only be done in the U.S. It can't be done sitting in India. The Indian part of the equation [is to help] these innovative [U.S.] companies bring their products to the market quicker, cheaper and better, which increases the innovative cycle there. It is a complimentarity we need to enhance."
That is so right. As Robert Hof, a tech writer for Business Week, noted, U.S. tech workers "must keep creating leading edge technologies that make their companies more productive — especially innovations that spark entirely new markets." The same tech innovations that produced outsourcing, he noted, also produced eBay, Amazon.com, Google and thousands of new jobs along with them.
This is America's real edge. Sure Bangalore has a lot of engineering schools, but the local government is rife with corruption; half the city has no sidewalks; there are constant electricity blackouts; the rivers are choked with pollution; the public school system is dysfunctional; beggars dart in and out of the traffic, which is in constant gridlock; and the whole infrastructure is falling apart. The big high-tech firms here reside on beautiful, walled campuses, because they maintain their own water, electricity and communications systems. They thrive by defying their political-economic environment, not by emerging from it.
What would Indian techies give for just one day of America's rule of law; its dependable, regulated financial markets; its efficient, noncorrupt bureaucracy; and its best public schools and universities? They'd give a lot.
These institutions, which nurture innovation, are our real crown jewels that must be protected — not the 1 percent of jobs that might be outsourced. But it is precisely these crown jewels that can be squandered if we become lazy, or engage in mindless protectionism, or persist in radical tax cutting that can only erode the strength and quality of our government and educational institutions.
Our competitors know the secret of our sauce. But do we? -- Sucheta Dalal