Since I’ve been with uShip, I haven’t had the opportunity to take too many extended vacations. Luckily, living and breathing the glamorous world of online shipping is, in many ways, a tropical paradise in and of itself. However, sometimes one needs an actual break to clear the mind and rest the soul. I was lucky enough to do so these past few weeks, spending time in India and Singapore, which was a stop off on my glorious 24 hour plan ride to and from my ancestral homeland. (Is it just me or is one of the single greatest advancements of the past decade the ability to watch unlimited, personal, in-seat movies on international flights – even in coach! Now if I could just get the seat to go back more than 2 inches….)
While my belly grew larger from meal after meal of Tandoori chicken and spicy curries, I had a lot of time to reflect on some of the socio-economic changes that had, in less than two decades, transformed Bangalore, a city of 6.5 million once best known only for its gardens and (relatively) cool climate, into a yuppified, Silicon Valley of India. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and most of the other familiar tech names we know all have major presences in the city. Of course, most Americans, when they think of Bangalore, probably think of the outsourcing phenomenon. If you’ve called a support person at American Express, CitiBank, Dell, or Hewlett-Packard…you’ve probably talked to someone in Bangalore.
So is outsourcing a good thing? Whatever our feelings, there is no doubt that Thomas Friedman is right, and the world is getting flatter. Financial markets have become permanently intertwined and there is no more clearer example than India and the U.S. Given our country’s current perception among much of the world, I think it is fair to say that there may not be a country in the world that loves America as much as India. Certainly to India, outsourcing has been a salvation, transforming slums into livable dwellings and creating a middle class where none really existed. I remember one of my earliest trip to Bangalore (I was 10 or 11) when the entire town was abuzz because they had gotten their first fast food joint – a tiny Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now of course, you can buy just about anything found in any mall in America over there…and often for cheaper that in the U.S. because of lower overhead. It’s amazing what happens when labor becomes close to a commodity…from the luxury of having a cook, three maids, a driver, a night watchman, and a nanny (for about $500 a month total)…to the slightly absurd, yet regular occurrence of parking lots hiring people to push the automatic ticket dispenser button and hand the ticket to you as you drive up.
Make no mistake though, in India, even relatively rich cities like Bangalore still have a long way to go regarding infrastructure – i.e., roads (virtually no traffic laws are followed), airports (2 baggage belts for a major international airport) , public utilities (lights go out now and then). And of course, much of the populace still lives in abject poverty due to the severe overpopulation. Bangalore, although the Silicon Valley of India, would still feel like a 3rd world country to most Americans. Yet there is an amazing energy and entrepreneurial drive over there…after years of flirting with socialism and trying to shake the lingering socio-economic chains of the British Empire, it is ironic that those specific effects of colonization – compulsory English language schools, a democratic political process, and a working and mostly fair justice system, are India’s biggest advantages in the world over its emerging market rival, China, who has an even greater labor force at its disposal.
Let’s remember however, that not all outsourcing is so obvious, or even so…”out”. In fact, the next time you go to Wendy’s and pull up through the driveway and order a single with cheese and a Frosty….you may be speaking to someone in Delaware!
As we are in an election year, there is no doubt that outsourcing will be among those discussed by candidates. What are your thoughts on the issue?