The U.S. and India: Trading Jobs For Problems

I’m torn.

On one hand, a wonderful event is taking place today, the annual U.S.-India Business Council “Synergies Summit” in Washington, DC.

It is a high-powered business summit in the beautiful flag room of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. India West describes the agenda as a “Who’s Who of business between the U.S. and India.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton provides a keynote address, along with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. The same session features speakers from Pfizer Inc. and Dow Chemical International, alongside India’s own Minister of Commerce, Anand Sharma.

The event looks in every way like a celebration of business, commerce and shared prosperity between two great democracies. India had some 400 million voters in its last election. It boasts a vigorous free press and a genuine desire to spread its new-found wealth to still-poor rural villages. (Full disclosure: I have spent a good deal of time in India, even without counting my honeymoon.)

So why am I torn? What’s to worry?

I could start with our $12 billion trade deficit to India, including a $4 billion deficit in services. Anyone who has called the 1-800 number of a US company has likely helped to export those services, as more and more companies outsource such telephone staffing.

More troubling than the trade deficit — a tiny fraction of our deficit with China or OPEC nations — is the spirit of industry. India realizes that it needs commerce and trade to grow and prosper, and the government is helping to make it happen. India’s government is creating a thoughtful, far-reaching industrial policy designed around three pillars — services, manufacturing and agriculture. The government is creating strategic partnerships and building infrastructure to entice foreign investment that will lift its people, and increase their appeal to future investors and entrepreneurs.

Isn’t that cool?

So why aren’t we doing that?

While other country governments are taking the side of their people, our government sits on the sideline and cheers free trade — as if the interests of multinational corporations and the nation-states where they [nominally] reside are one and the same.

The interests of the corporation and the nation’s people are not necessarily the same. India appears to be subsidizing its steel industry. Italy bailed out Fiat on the condition that manufacturing remain in Italy — while the U.S. bailed out GM on the basis of survival tactics such as outsourcing production to China and Mexico. U.S. companies lay off skilled workers, then import talent on H-1B visas. We’ve lost one in five manufacturing jobs since 2000.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers … but I can see that questions that need to be asked. And just down the street, I see a business summit where a flat Earth is tilting towards countries whose governments are doing more than just sitting on the sidelines.

A shout-out thanks to a reader who alerted us about this event. That reader gets the closing words:
“Given the American unemployment situation, why are American jobs still up for global labor arbitrage?”

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