The accident of geography

When I was in kindergarten, my family lived in New Delhi. It was a magical year in which I made permanent memories of the sights, sounds, and smells of India. A decade ago I returned to India for a tour of its software industrial parks. That visit changed me in another way. I met programmers and tech journalists who were my equal or better in every way, but whom you'll likely never hear of unless they're profiled in an article such as this week's cover story. Their faces and their voices became permanent memories, too. For me, the offshoring debate isn't abstract. I know that it turns on a mere accident of geography. [Full story at]
This week's column is more about China than India. I interviewed MAPICS CEO Dick Cook, who's been on trade missions to China, knows the situation better than anyone I've met, and has thought deeply about how the US can and should deal with it.

Dick said a lot more in our interview than I had room for in the column. Here are some outtakes:

On jobs data: Everybody in this political season is jumping on offshoring but although you can find anecdotal information, it's hard to find real data. I've looked hard, but neither the Bureau of Labor Statistics nor anybody else can give me concrete evidence that this world movement of jobs is netting down as much as everybody perceives.

On jobless recovery: It doesn't necessarily mean we're moving jobs offshore, it means we're workign more efficiently. Me and MAPICS (an ERP package) are probably one reason for that. People pay a lot of money for our software to be a cause of that. In this new world, the customer places an order online. The order department doesn't need to add people to handle more orders. Customers can check order status online. I have 175 customers in the furniture industry, there is a 6- to 8-week lead time. Three weeks prior to delivery, every customer calls the manufacturer or the store to ask when it's going to ship. By creating tools, we allow the manufacturer to automatically send a shipping notice 2 or 3 days before when the stats tell you would be the day the customer would call.

On China: In 2008, they're going to surprise everyone. The government and the people all realize they'll be on televisions in every home in the world for 17 days, during the Olympics. And they intend to present themselves, not as the largest developing country in the world, but as the largest developed country. We met with the Olympic planners. There are two goals. First, if you can believe it, is to be the green Olympics -- shutting down coal-fired power, building a big dam for hydro. Second, to be the digital Olympics. They're laying fiber everywhere, and they fully anticipate you'll use an ID card as your main security device and to charge meals.

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