Thursday, January 17, 2013

Outsourcing of A Different Kind

If this story is correct, an enterprising worker outsourced his own job to China, paying the Chinese worker a fraction of his own salary:

A security audit of a US critical infrastructure company last year revealed that its star developer had outsourced his own job to a Chinese subcontractor and was spending all his work time playing around on the internet.

My first thought was that it must have been utterly boring to have to sit there every day, surfing the net.  Why not do the work?  It can't be more boring.

But what's more interesting about this example is that most people would find what "Bob" did unethical.  Yet we don't think that firms which do the same are acting unethically.  They are just carrying out good business practices.

The two cases differ, of course.   Outsourcing firms tell us explicitly that now their t-shirts or whatever are no longer made in the home country but abroad.  The firm saves money by this arrangement.  Whether the consumers do is unclear.  I haven't studied whether consumer prices go down after outsourcing but they don't have to.  The quality of the products may, in some cases, fall.  Yet none of this is regarded as exactly unethical in itself.

As a different example, think of the way mortgages are sold and resold and resold.  A person or a family makes a contract with one particular bank for the financial services.  Then the bank simply chooses not to be a part of the contract anymore, and the person or family is just assumed to go along with the continuous change in where to send the payments.  For instance, I picked a traditional careful type of bank for the mortgage.  After time has passed, the mortgage is now held by a company about which I read Very Bad Things in the news. 

I would not have picked that company in the first place.  But most would argue that as nothing in the initial contract has changed, why should I care?  So why should Bob's employer care how he gets his job done?