Adulthood, they say, is just like high school, but with money. Something similar could be said of the presidential race. Lately, the candidates have sounded like a couple of middle-schoolers:
Obama: "You're an outsourcer!"
Romney: "I know you are, but what am I?"
You know the attack on Romney as a corporate chainsaw who shipped jobs overseas is doing damage, because last week his team dispatched a couple of sharp young staffers to rebut the charge point by point. Then Romney counterpunched: "This president has been outsourcing a good deal of American jobs himself," Romney said. "If there is an Outsourcer-in-Chief, it's the president of the United States." Oh, snap.
Meanwhile, economists are cradling their heads in their hands and ordering a round of boilermakers. Why? Because outsourcing is not the evil job-destroyer the candidates pretend it is. In fact, it produces a small but measurable increase in domestic employment. A recent study by the London School of Economics says so: As one news summation put it, "increasing offshore jobs by 1 percent is linked to a 1.72 percent increase in overall U.S. employment of native workers."
How can outsourcing bolster domestic employment? Here's one example cited by Team Romney: Setting up an overseas help desk to take customer calls about, say, the Japanese version of Microsoft Office increases software sales overseas, which creates jobs back at the home office. It also increases U.S. trade exports, which – the Romney folks tartly note – President Obama says he wants to do.
Still. Political operators are not about to let the facts ruin a perfectly good attack. So expect to hear a lot more about who has been outsourcing what during the next three months.
Yet if outsourcing really is so terrible, then the two presidential contenders should not limit their critique to each other. After all, some of the worst offenders are their own close political chums.
Take Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Earlier this month he traveled to Great Britain to drum up business. In a press release from London, McDonnell said: "Over the past few years, we've met in Germany with The Hornschuch Group, and they are bringing 174 new jobs to Winchester. . . . [O]ur previous trips to the Farnsborough and Paris Airshows have brought six new companies to [the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing] in Prince George County. In fact, our 2010 Farnsborough meeting with DRS Technologies resulted in the company moving its corporate headquarters to Virginia."
Get a load of that: Foreign companies are offshoring jobs to Virginia! What an outrage! Wait – it's not an outrage? It's a good thing? Then why is it such a heinous crime when U.S. companies move jobs abroad?
Governors in the U.S. don't poach business only from overseas. They constantly entice companies to move from one state to another, too. Two years ago, Northrop Grumman moved—i.e., outsourced—its corporate headquarters from Los Angeles to Northern Virginia (and was handsomely rewarded with state money for doing so). The year before, Hilton Hotels moved from Beverly Hills to Northern Virginia. Virginia's governor at the time, Tim Kaine – he whom Barack Obama later begged to head up the Democratic National Committee – boasted: "Adding this hospitality industry leader to the Commonwealth's list of corporate headquarters is a major coup for Virginia. I commend everyone involved in bringing Hilton to the Commonwealth."
Translation: Three cheers for outsourcing!
Lots of other companies – from General Dynamics (which left St. Louis) to DynCorp (which left Irving, Texas) have moved to the Old Dominion as well. By the same token, many companies have left the Old Dominion for greener pastures elsewhere. Last month, for instance, ExxonMobil announced it was transferring 2,100 employees from Fairfax to Houston, Texas. Why hasn't Bob McDonnell blasted Exxon and his fellow Republican, Rick Perry, for this vile betrayal?
You could run a similar exercise for every state in the nation. Companies move their operations all the time. It's called a free market. Yet to hear Obama and Romney talk, we need to put a stop to it right now.
Know who else is a horrible outsourcer? You. Chances are you have moved at least once in your life. If so, you took work away from your local grocer, hairdresser, and plumber and outsourced it to somebody else. What kind of evil, greedy monster are you?
Well. If we can save some jobs by stopping outsourcing at the U.S. border, then just imagine how many more jobs we could save by forbidding companies to move jobs between states. And if Obama and Romney really want to create jobs, then they should propose a ban on interstate trucking – and maybe in-state trucking, too. Wall off the cities and make the inhabitants fend for themselves. That will keep 'em busy.
In rhetoric, they call this line of argument the reduction ad absurdam. ("Oh, you want to save lives by lowering the speed limit to 55 mph? Why not lower it to 10? Or five? Why not make everybody walk?") In this case, though, what's really absurd is the notion that the less we trade, the better off we'll be.
Even a high-schooler can see through that.
A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where this article originally appeared.