US candidates return to familiar outsourcing arguments

Posted: 09/02/2016 - 19:50

For as long as I can remember, arguments about outsourcing have played a part in the US election cycle. In the final stages of the presidential election the two candidates will make promises they can’t keep and declarations about how bad outsourcing is for the American economy.

Back in the early noughties, before Barack Obama took office, much of the discussion was around contact centres. Candidates for office talked about the companies answering their customer service calls in India as unpatriotic. Today the call centre debate has moved on. Those companies who need a strong emotional connection when engaging with customers found that it makes business sense to get local people on the phones, but we also now have robotic process automation (RPA) for basic enquiries so it’s not foreigners on the line, it’s robots.

This presidential election has proved to be no different to the past. Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton has attacked the Republican candidate Donald Trump because his clothing range is made overseas in countries such as India, Mexico, and China. Clinton has vowed to “crack down” on American companies that send jobs overseas.

Trump is no slouch when it comes to protectionism either. He has vowed to build an enormous wall along the land border with Mexico and said that he wants Mexico to foot the bill. Trump supporters have also pointed to Hillary Clinton’s support for outsourcing work to countries that need help - using American outsourcing to create jobs in Haiti for example. They see this as hypocritical and both sides are now engaged in cries of fury focused on who can promise to create the most American jobs and fight hardest against the scourge of outsourcing.

Yet for all the noise of the 2016 campaign, anyone who can remember past the most recent election knows that outsourcing is always used as a rhetorical device in US elections. It’s dog-whistle politics aimed at creating a cartoon-like image of patriotism. Candidates proclaim their patriotism and intention to create American jobs and to punish American companies who send jobs overseas merely because it gets a cheer in stump speeches.

No presidential candidate would ever really think that it is advantageous to the USA to prevent IBM from undertaking research projects in Asia, or Facebook’s development in sub-Saharan Africa, or Google’s dominance of Internet search and contextual advertising across Europe.

American companies dominate the global market in many industries. Which president would tell them that they need to scale back their ambitions to the home market only and to recruit only American employees? It’s so ridiculous that it barely warrants discussion, yet here we are again in a presidential campaign where outsourcing is being used at a weapon for candidates to attack each other.

India trade bodies like NASSCOM were upset when the USA recently hiked the fees for American work visas, increasing the costs associated with bringing skilled engineers from India. The additional fees are destined for healthcare funds to help 9/11 victims and despite the protests from India, a couple of thousand dollars extra per engineer isn’t going to change their business all that much. The Indian companies will keep on hiring locally in the US and bringing in skills from overseas as and when they need them.

A safe prediction for the US election is that there will be no change in the American approach to outsourcing after November, regardless of who moves into the White House. Even if Trump wins, his pro-business policies will win out when pitched against the nationalistic rhetoric. In the meantime, let’s hear how loud their arguments will get.

About The Author

Mark Hillary's picture

Mark Hillary is a writer and analyst with an extensive track record of contributing to business media and opinion all over the world. He has written for the BBC, Financial Times, and Huffington Post with a focus on CX, technology, and the future of work. He edits the podcast and online magazine CX Files, focused entirely on best practice in customer experience. Mark has published 15 books on technology and has experience teaching MBAs in London and speaking at major conferences on five continents. He has advised the UN on technology development in Nigeria and Bangladesh and has helped several governments with the development of ICT related policies. He was an official London 2012 Olympic blogger and was the first ever blogger hired by the British government's department of education in 2010.