"I hear a lot of grumbling about the loss of American jobs. What do you make of it, Don?" I asked my neighbor. I had his attention, and I do so love to talk. "A car company can move its factories to Mexico, a toy company can outsource to a Chinese subcontractor and a major bank can incorporate in Bermuda to avoid taxes. We can buy HP Printers made in Mexico and shirts made in Bangladesh. If we have a computer problem, more likely we will talk to a tech in India."
Don's response was not what I expected. He said, "That's a nice sweater, Marilyn. Is it new?"
"Not quite, Bob gave it to me for my birthday last year. What's my sweater got to do with job losses and outsourcing?"
"How many sweaters do you have, Marilyn?"
I made a face to indicate my confusion about Don's silly questions. "Get serious, Don."
He grinned at me. "How much did that sweater cost?"
I was about to reprimand him again when he added. "That sweater has everything to do with outsourcing. It's the cheap overseas labor that makes it possible for you to fill your dresser drawers with dozens of sweaters."
"Hmm. You're right. When I was a kid, one sweater was enough. Today, even my six- year-old granddaughter has at least a dozen of them." I shook my head. "In a year they'll all be too small for her." I was thinking that someday they'd end up in a landfill.
"It's all very complicated", Don explained. Outsourcing makes it possible for us to have more and cheaper clothing." He rested his chin in his hand, took a deep breath and exhaled very slowly. "It also creates sweat shops in other countries."
In my exasperation, I asked, "Is there anything that can't be outsourced?"
"Sure." Don replied without a second's hesitation. "Prescription Drugs." Then he laughed. "Well, maybe prayers." He laughed again.
"Oh, ho ho ho. You're only half right." I picked up an article from the New York Times. "Listen to this. 'Following the outsourcing of software and other technological work in recent years, Western nations have now begun offshoring Christian prayers to India."
"No. That can't be true. Prayers? I'll bet that's just a joke that someone is sending around through email."
"No, Don, it's not a joke. It's for real." I handed him the paper to show proof of my statements.
He read, "'With Roman Catholic clergy in short supply in the United States, Indian priests are picking up some of their work, saying Mass for special intentions.' Now I think I've heard it all." Don slapped his knee. "I guess that leaves prescription drugs as the only resource that isn't outsourced. I can't think of another. Do you think we'll ever be able to buy cheaper drugs from Canada or Mexico?"
"I don't know, Don. Our president said, in the debate the other night that he didn't want to put our health at risk with what might be unsafe drugs from other countries."
Don jumped out of his chair. "Not safe! Not safe! What about Vioxx? You know, the arthritis drug. After three years of denying Vioxx could induce heart attacks and strokes, Merck finally took it off the market. Vioxx is made in the U.S. of A, not Canada or Mexico."
"Yes, well, I guess it's not really about safety then is it?"
"Your darned well right it's not about safety. The pharmaceutical companies have a powerful lobby. I heard that Merck spent at least $100 million a year for direct-to- consumer Vioxx advertising and that sales reached $2.5 billion."
"Where did you hear that?"
"You're not the only one that reads The New York Times, Marilyn. It was on Saturday, October 2, 2004. 'Eric J. Topol, Good Riddance to a Bad Drug'."
"You know what, Don. The fact that Prozac, which is produced in this country, can be bought cheaper in Canada than it can be purchased by U.S. consumers is another mystery. What do you make of that?"
"I haven't a clue, Marilyn."
"So there you have it. It's a mixed bag. Outsourcing takes away our jobs, creates sweatshops in other countries, gives us cheap sweaters, and helps support priests in India. On the other hand, the safety of anti-depressants is questioned in other countries. We produce them and ship them abroad where citizens there can purchase them for half what they cost us. Perhaps I need a drug to stop my brain from hurting. Go figure."