Thursday, September 2, 2004

27. Outsourcing isn't recent trend

With labor being the most expensive burden on a company trying to make a profit, it is easy to understand the attraction of obtaining the cheapest labor available. Americans often act as though the adoption of the questionable means by which corporations obtain cheap labor, in this case the outsourcing of jobs to third world countries, is a recent endeavor. For some current generations of Americans this may be, but the issue for companies and corporations is, and has always been, about finding ways to reduce costs and increase profits. And, in the wake of profits, ethical consideration and human decency rarely stand in the way.

Early in our history, rather than outsource jobs, America imported labor. The South was built on slave labor, which created huge profits for plantation owners. Slaves were bought and sold, barely fed, barely clothed, kept ignorant and harshly punished to preserve their value to the plantation owner. The Civil War was fought for financial preservation, as the South fought to preserve slave labor against those demanding humanity and civil rights.

During the industrial revolution, the focus again became cheap labor- this time through immigration. Companies benefited as those looking for a new start immigrated to America- more than willing to accept low paying jobs. Of course, as we know, companies began abusing their power by working employees long hours in unsafe factories for low pay. And again humanity issues surfaced and, subsequently, unions were developed to protect worker rights (or human rights- depending on how you look at it).

The outgrowth of unions and fairly paid workers led to the middle class, which seized the opportunity to invest money and start their own businesses- to delve into the American dream. However, capitalism, the economical game of Darwin's "survival of the fittest," suggests that only those that create a product for profit will survive.

As competition in the marketplace increases globally, the cost of American labor becomes a hindrance which, again, has companies looking for cheap labor. Since American companies can no longer import slave labor or count on cheap immigrant workers, they have begun chasing workers across the world. And since Europeans, who always seem to be one step ahead of Americans in cultural philosophies, have realized there is more to life than working and are unwilling to give up their four weeks of vacation (although this may be changing as well in the global marketplace), American companies have begun utilizing third world labor, such as child labor and sweatshops.

Corporations have, from the beginning, made it quite clear that pleasing their wealthy investors is more important than saving American jobs. Thus, in some ways, the capitalistic economy that once enabled American prosperity is now operating against it. In the 1840s, Karl Marx proposed, "The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie (modern capitalists, employers of wage labor) over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere." And for Americans it means, more jobs are lost, more homes are foreclosed, and that the disparity between the "haves" and the "have nots" will continue to increase.

Although the ethics described here (slave labor, immigrant labor, and sweatshops) and employed by corporations is nothing less than appalling and disgraceful, many will argue that management owes its investors nothing less than "whatever it takes" to meet quarterly earnings projections. And, unfortunately, as companies like Enron, Wal-Mart and Pfizer has demonstrated, there are many other ways, equally atrocious, to define, and practice, "whatever it takes."

Nevertheless, in MBA schools across the country, the obligation to the shareholders is pounded, over and over, into the heads of students. The impact on communities in which the decision has been made to close factories is not discussed. A part of every MBA program should include Michael Moore's first documentary, Roger & Me, in which Moore visually explores the suffering endured by the people of Flint, Michigan after General Motors picked up and left. If nothing else, the film would serve as an examination into the humanistic aspect of business- outside the financial statements. We need to at least ask, from a sociological perspective, at what point the obligation to the community exceeds the value afforded to wealthy investors. And we need to ask how many families can be left in ruin in the name of corporate greed. Marx asked the same question in his time, and wished " do away with the miserable character of this appropriation, under which the labour lives merely to increase capital and is allowed to live only insofar as the interest of the ruling class requires it."

I am not suggesting Marxism for America, rather the ideology that capitalism is not perfect, especially in its treatment of wage labor. Greed is not good; too many people get hurt.

26. Debate pits rights vs. religion

A passionate and controversial issue heating up the political airwaves at both the state and federal level is the issue of gay marriage. The proposed gay marriage amendment (to protect "traditional marriage") recently failed in the Senate, although the issue will undoubtedly be brought forth again in the future.

At the state level, petitions are being circulated to "preserve" marriage as a union between one man and one woman. In fact, I was greeted by such a campaigner recently at a local establishment. As I politely declined, I noted the irony of the individual collecting the signatures. This irony and the issue at hand is the subject of this column.

The controversial nature of this debate is complicated by the fact that those that differ in opinion argue on diverse philosophical fronts. Gays and Lesbians are asking for civil rights, that is, not to be discriminated based on their sexual preferences and their desire to commit to a life-long partner. In this manner, and for them, the fight is a civil rights issue. Those opposing gay marriage argue predominately on an ideological level. Predominately based in religion, these beliefs stem from The Bible and its monopolistic claim on morality. It's interesting that the arguments rarely cross disciplines. The political right steadfastly avoids the issue of civil rights while the liberals supporting gay marriage tend to tread cautiously around religion and The Bible.

I have previously described discrimination as "inflicting hardship on an individual based on attributes for which he or she has no control over." Understanding that sexual preference is genetic and not a choice, it is, by my definition, discrimination to withhold the many federal and state benefits to gay and lesbian couples that wish to make the same commitment to one another as heterosexual couples make.

The moral claims by those opposing gay marriage fail in the light of religious freedom. This country ensures religious freedom and thus any argument based on the ideology of a particular religious sect, even one in the majority, arrogantly ignores the rights of others to define their own morality. Secular humanists believe that moral principles are tested by their consequences. What negative consequences are to be suffered onto society by extending homosexuals the same marital rights afforded to every other American? Couldn't those in religious opposition concern themselves with their plight into heaven and allow others to "take their chances?"

Moreover, extracting morals from The Bible is a risky proposition across a spectrum of ideologies. And here, the assumption is that most protesting gay marriages do so based on a religious belief. Thus, in effect, the majority of those protesting will point to The Bible as the source of information outlining their moral opinions. And here is the irony of the petitioner at the local supermarket. The petitioner was an African-American female. If the irony isn't obvious, ask yourself if there are two groups of people in the country that has suffered through more discrimination than African Americans and women. And then ask yourself what was often the source of that discrimination.

The Bible describes the subordination due men of their wives, "{older women shall} ...train young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, chaste, domestic, kind and submissive to their husbands..." (Titus 2:4-5). It also describes the nature of slavery, "As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you." (Leviticus 25:44).

In greater reflection, The Bible describes marriage, further to that of homosexuality, under a number of specific conditions. If marriage is defined in the Bible, and if it defines our morality, then let us be consistent. For "...whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." (Matthew 5:32) and "Let them marry whom they think is best; only, they should marry within the family of the tribe of their father. (Numbers 36:6). Where are the proposed marital amendments forbidding the marriage of divorced women and across racial lines? It appears that discrimination is often supported through selected morality.

The arguments on the issue are greater than I presented here, however I believe the core argument to be civil rights versus religious ideology. I realize my arguments may be upsetting to some; but it must be fair to challenge the source of moral standards when it is inconsistent and promotes the same discriminatory ideas that have proved to be fallible in the past.

Furthermore, I just found it a bit ironic that an African-American woman, a member of two groups that had fought for so many years to attain her civil rights, would be taking part in the discrimination effort against others wishing theirs.