I'm just digging into The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman and am enjoying it. Lots of good stuff. I'm on page 29 and it is a 479 page book. I can already tell you one major issue I have with it, though.
There's a working assumption that globalization is overall a good thing. That's not so bad, but it seems that Friedman looks for every opportunity to sell it. He is already trying to make the case that even though outsourcing is moving jobs out of the US at an accelerating pace, it's all gonna be fine:
I firmly believe in the lesson of classical economists about moving work to where it can be done best. ...Work gets done where it can be done most effectively and efficiently. That ultimately helps the New Londons, New Bedfords and New Yorks of this world even more than it helps the Bangalores and Shenzhens. It helps because it frees up people and capital to do different, more sophisticated work, and it helps because it gives an opportunity to produce the end product more cheaply, benefiting customers even as it helps the corporations. ... India's growing economy is creating a demand for many more American goods and services. What goes around comes around. p.20 - 24
Wouldn't that be nice? This is the argument/religion of economics and the argument of the pro-globalization folks. Work should go to the lowest cost producer. That's efficiency. That drives the economy. There are some negatives in these low cost working conditions and for the environment (work goes where environmental regulation is least), but hey?
I have an MBA so I know this drill. I like the drill to an extent. But I live here in the US. I was born here and was planning to die here. But this whole leveling of the international playing field thing could be a problem for us high-living Americans. We are talking about the hollowing out of the American economy here.
Let me get personal and use myself as an example. I'm currently selling my Studio Manager software product 40% internationally and 60% in the US. Few of my sales are local and I rarely ever meet with my customers face to face. I talk with them on the phone and do a lot of emailing and every once in a while a client pays to have me fly to their location to provide training, consulting and customizing services. But most don't.
I doubt if a business like mine would exist except in these times where I can make my product known online and email my software and annotated pdfs, email and talk long distance very inexpensively. I'm on the receiving end of some of the benefits of globalization. I work out of my home. My employees are actually freelancers who work out of their homes and meet with me typically once or twice a week as needed. Work ebbs and flows - I have flexibility, they have flexibility.
But then there's the other end of the equation. I live in Mill Valley, California. One of the most expensive places on earth to live. Real estate is astronomical here. Labor costs are about as high as anywhere. There are places in the US that have a cost of living that is half of what it is here. Does my Mill Valley location help me economically? Not as much as it used to when I had a local business. Now I compete with software solutions that are made anywhere not just local consultants who have cost structures similar to mine.
I'm doing OK so far. There's still lots of cultural friction that is to my advantage. My product is in English and appeals to English-speakers (but individual customers have spent the time to translate it to Spanish and Japanese and a French version is in the works). Most of my sales come from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. We share a relatively common culture and that produces a sense of confidence that plays a key role when software purchase decisions are being made.
But, longer term, I may have to consider moving to a place where it won't cost me so much to live so that I will be able to compete with low cost providers. To increase my advantage further, I should consider outsourcing some of my development. Perhaps I should have an English-speaking East Indian helping me with my FileMaker work. That's what this world is coming to.
The funny thing is that I know a FileMaker developer who has moved from Vermont to Panama in the last six months to save money and is now paying $400 a month for a three bedroom house. He has three brilliant Siberian programmers doing most of his development for him. He communicates with them by instant messaging every day. I have no idea what he pays them but he sells their time to his customers for $65 per hour. He's taking this globalization thing seriously.
I identify as a free agent. At this point in time, being a free agent seems very appropriate and adaptive. Working for myself, I have to be a generalist and handle all sorts of disciplines. I'm light on my feet. I keep current. I look for opportunities. I try to find ways to take advantage of new technologies and ways to land on my feet when faced with the inevitable ups and downs and twists and turns. I feel like a ... tech ronin.