Will Barack Obama walk the talk on outsourcing?



Will Barack Obama walk the talk on outsourcing?Akrita Reyar

Barack Obama had sailed to victory in the 2008 US elections as the first Black President of the country on the promise of ‘change’. That change comprised to a large extent the halting of shipping jobs abroad – an issue that clearly struck a chord with Americans reeling under recession.

Four years later, the President has been re-elected. But the hype and hysteria of the moment of redemption is missing. The election has not so much been about the “first Black” as much as about grappling with the choice for steering the American ship into more prosperous times. From despair to some hope, even if it is not the euphoric hope that is always more symbolic than attainable.

The last four years have therefore been to some extent a coming to terms with reality. Of what was promised and what eventually got delivered.
On the issue of outsourcing, which is keenly followed in India, Obama’s policies have been conservative at best. Despite a shrill attack by the Democrat camp on Mitt Romney’s entrepreneurial background and record of his previously held private equity firm Bain Capital outsourcing jobs, Obama can’t be dubbed a “protectionist” even by a mile.

Yes, the visa regime has been tightened, especially for Indian engineers and software professionals, but the tax restructuring to discourage companies for looking for hands overseas has not seen the light of day. Such is possibly the clout of business giants. We know each of the candidates needed over a billion dollars of funding to campaign in the closely contested election.

As per a US Bureau of Economic Analysis study, American companies hired fewer people domestically than abroad during some years Obama has been in office. This is in line with the trend during George Bush Junior’s tenure.

Speaking to The Washington Post, Robert E. Scott, a pro-labor advocate at the liberal Economic Policy Institute said, “From 2008 to 2010, U.S. trade with China alone cost about 450,000 American jobs because of the growth of Chinese exports”.

“I think he has walked away from the campaign commitments ...He has done far too little to improve U.S. trade,” he added.

Obama has also been put under the scanner for encouraging outsourcing albeit by tacit. For example, the President has not been shouting from roof tops about letting companies source cheaper manpower but he has gone right ahead and invested government money in energy companies that have done precisely that – hired people abroad!

The same has been the case with his policies in the agriculture sector. They adduce the new farm bill which continues to endorse the contentious sugar guidelines, which discourage sugar import. The artificially high prices of sugar have forced several chocolate and candy companies like Hershey’s to set up manufacturing units outside the country, where most or all the factory workers are foreigners!

Some argue, the same logic will apply in the healthcare sector. And though Obama had made outsourcing an issue during the presidential campaign, he is not very much different from Romney when it comes to securing interests of big businesses.

So, while we may have hoped that Romney may have been good for Bangalore, we needn’t particularly fret about Obama getting a second term.

After all, even if you are the President, you need not walk the talk all the time.