Import workers or export jobs? A housewife answers…

* Even though this article was written in 2004 in the context of the Shell and Economist writing competition, to me this is the most sophisticated article I have ever written… Or maybe the silliest…


Which can be the relation between work places and artichokes? Is a housewife in the position to answer whether we should import workers or outsource jobs? Through a comparison between the products that a family weekly needs to buy and the common points that these products have with the working places, we can understand that our world is like a super market where everyone can find anything he asks for. The governments and the companies should pay attention to what exists on the shelves of this supermarket-like world that we live in and in what condition this is. In other words, they have to play a regulating role between the working places, which have to stay domestic and the ones that can be outsourced. In this way, questions like whether developed countries should open their borders to migrant workers, if they could allow jobs to be outsourced to low wage countries, whether or not some poor countries suffer the lack of skilled workers and finally if it is just to throw the accusation of “brain drain” are matters that could be easily solved. Besides, the answers to the most significant questions in our lives are based upon simplicity, in the same way that a housewife is in the position to approach these kind of dilemmas.

Main Body

Mrs. Company is married to Mr Director. It is Saturday morning. While they are having their breakfast, her husband decides to share his worries with her: Is it better to import workers or export jobs? Should developing nations be allowed to “poach” skilled, professional labor from countries that have paid for this expertise or is the influx of immigrants, whether skilled or unskilled, a positive force, bringing either expertise or ambition and hard work to the host nation? His wife does not know what to answer. Time goes by and Mrs. Company needs to go shopping. The housewife goes to the supermarket “The World”. The couple’s needs and their financial capacity will determine what the housewife will buy. It is evident that they want the best quality of the products in the best possible price. Therefore Mrs. Company is about to search thoroughly…

She needs to buy artichokes. While driving, she momentarily wonders what type of artichokes she should buy, fresh or frozen. Fresh artichokes are cultivated near her residence or at least they are brought here from another close region. Frozen artichokes are brought in from another country. The fresh ones are indeed tasty, expensive but need washing, while frozen artichokes have a good flavor, are cheaper and ready to be cooked. For a moment, she thinks what her needs are. She is going to need artichokes for an ordinary meal and for a formal one. In order to prepare the first one, the housewife will not have much time at her disposal and she feels that she does not need to spend so much money, while for the preparation of the second one she will both devote much more time and she will pay a great deal of attention to the quality of the food. She decides to buy both types of artichokes. Mr Director suggests buying only the frozen ones because in this way, she can decrease the total cost to 30-40%, but Mrs. Company is the one who will evaluate their needs and will take the final decision. While considering all these, she remembers the discussion that she had with her husband during their breakfast. She finds herself in the dilemma of what artichokes to buy and her confusion is reinforced from her husband’s suggestions. For a moment, she makes a combination in her head… She wonders: “if I consider the artichokes to be the workforce that I need, then the fresh ones can be domestic working places and the frozen artichokes can be outsourced ones”.

She continues by thinking…“nowadays supermarkets give us choices of products just like the world gives us choices of sources of human workforce. Each country produces its own products in an identical way that each company uses domestic human workforce. Due to the improvement of the systems of transportation, each country is in the position of importing cheaper products from other countries, despite the fact that it can produce the same things. As a result, everybody has the opportunity to find whatever he needs in the price he wants and affords. In this way, a balance can be kept between the imports and the exports of products and the consumer is left to make the final decision. At the same time, each country with its technological advancement is in the position not only to use its domestic workforce but also to transfer work places to countries of low cost, managing to keep a balance and decreasing in this way the cost of working. Consequently, nowadays the question of whether developed countries should open their borders to migrant workers or if they can allow jobs to be outsourced to low wage regions is not so strong to pose, because the technology has facilitated the transfer of working places without the need for this places to change location. For example, when a problem occurred with my computer, I had to contact the telephone center of the company, which was in New Delhi. Therefore, the answer to this kind of question can be located in a balanced combination between domestic and outsourced workplaces”.

Finally Mrs. Company arrived at the supermarket. While entering, she heard an announcement: “Our new department called China has opened and is ready to welcome you offering great opportunities”. She is thinking, “I will have a look at it later to see if there is anything to buy to my advantage”. So, the housewife begins wandering in the corridors of the supermarket. Among the shelves of “The World”, she finds experienced radiologists in her country, for whom she has to afford annually up to 300.000 dollars. In addition, she traces equally qualified radiologists in Jerusalem, who can deliver the same medical opinions via electronic network with at least 40 per cent less money. Moreover, she finds some Thai architects that can make the designs of her new house in half price in comparison with the architects of her own country. She consequently thinks that the assertion that some poor countries suffer the loss of skilled workers is not valid, because the progress of the technology has made it feasible for skilled workers to be able to continue working in the countries of their own origin, offering various services on a global scale, such as secretarial support in significant professions, accounting and health services and designing of microchips.

Later on, she stands in front of the ketchups and she sees ten different types of them. One of them is very spicy, the other has a sweet taste, another is a well-known brand and one is no name brand, one is cheaper and the other is more expensive. Then, she examines all of them from every aspect and she selects the most expensive one, because it has the flavor that she prefers, its packing is more practical and she is more acquainted with its flavor. Who can blame her for choosing the particular product? No one. Is it fair or unfair to choose this instead of the other products? An answer to this question simply does not exist. This is the one she wanted and she eventually got, even if she had to pay more to buy it. Mrs. Company thinks that the procedure she found herself in is not far from the hunting of “brains” which many developed countries have applied themselves. Their needs require the best solutions and provided that they have the possibility to pay for this, they look for it and when they find it, they get it. Who can accuse them? Maybe the same person that would accuse the houselady of buying the specific type of ketchup, that is to say no one.

Lastly, when Mrs. Company finds the shelf with the artichokes, she begins to compare the fresh with the frozen ones. Someone in order to choose between these two types of products would at first look if they are well preserved, namely whether during their journey from the field to the supermarket they have been found in hospitable environments so that they are in the best possible condition. Mrs. Company is thinking: “I want to buy artichokes of the best quality independently whether they are local or they have come from elsewhere. Besides, since I will buy them, I will take care of them”. She stops for a while and realizes: “…thinking of artichokes is like thinking of the rights of the workers that I want to hire. In order to gain their best possible performance at work, I will have to offer them the most hospitable working environment, ensuring their rights and supporting their productivity. At least the countries or the companies interested in their human workforce should be prudent enough, so as to act in this way.”

After Mrs. Company bought what she needed, she returned home. She concluded that she had understood the problem that Ms Director had posed her during their breakfast. When she saw her husband, she reminded him of their morning conversation. “I thought of the matter that you suggested and I reached certain conclusions”, she said. Her husband was curious to listen…

“Importing workers or exporting jobs is a challenging issue. To avoid being troubled we should always have two things in mind: Firstly, the world does not anymore constitute of an amount of countries but mostly an amount of societies with easily accessible borders. Secondly, we live in a supermarket-like world, where the laws that the free market, the competition and the freedom of choices impose determine everything. The market field in itself creates the rules of competition and the role of the governments has to be a regulating one. On the one hand, there is the tendency of developed countries to export work places in countries of low cost and from the other hand there is the grand and radically expanding phenomenon of immigration towards the developed countries. From the one side of the coin, there are regions such as Eastern Asia, where the transfer of work places allowed in more than 200 millions people to escape poverty within a decade and from the other side of the coin, despite the contribution of the immigrants to the economic prosperity of some societies, the pressure for changes in all the fields of social activities provokes reactions and raises fears. The given difficulty that the governments have when trying to deal efficiently with the consequences of immigration, no matter which of the two directions it gets, is based upon three factors. Firstly, the immigration constitutes a drastic change, not only for the country-sender but also for the country-receiver. Secondly, the immigration movement contains complex political choices for the governors. Thirdly, the economic repercussions of immigration are distributed unequally in the various sectors of politics and economy. As a consequence, the governments in order to have the best possible results when dealing with the “import workers or export jobs” dilemma, they will have to think like landlords when considering what products they to want to buy for their own needs, namely calculate how much money they want and can afford, search thoroughly for bargains and pay attention to how they are going to conserve them. Of course, they cannot forget their regulating role to the direction of keeping balances.

I do not believe, honey, that you can compete easily with a woman on financial and shopping issues. It seems to me that we are the only ones who can find ways to buy things, even if we do not have enough money to do so…”



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