Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Time to get out the map

Citizen Carrie shows us today, among other things, why the Internet is crushing traditional news media. In Stealth White House Meeting with Indian IT Delegation, she reports on a meeting of White House economic officials with a group of business leaders from India. Read it, because it's about all you're going to see from a U.S.-sourced writer about this meeting, and Carrie was able to do that by referencing Indian sources.

But, on to content. The major thrust of the meetings was America's H-1B program, and how desirous the Indian leaders were to have it continue and be expanded. One of the big players in the meetings was Larry Summers, director of Obama's National Economic Council and one of the administration's leading spokespersons for all things economic. Apparently, according to the Indian press, the Indian businessmen came away with confidence that our government, including Obama, was going to continue their support of the program.

India has the natural concern that waning American support for visas that allow Indians to come here and for offshoring will hurt its by-a-thread economy. They see the H-1B program as a cornerstone of free trade; since there are not a lot of goods traveling back and forth between the two countries, it's necessary to keep people and work in the form of services crossing the borders. (Of course, we never hear in any of these articles about the restrictions on Americans taking jobs in India, I guess it would be pretty inconvenient to mention that.)

Carrie cites a Business Week article that fails to mention the White House meeting, but does take up the party line espoused by Infosys co-chairman, Nandan Nilekani, that we need to be concerned that any restrictions on anything will lead to a situation where, "trade between the US and India will be neither free no fair. That’s something people on both sides of the globe need to be concerned about." No mention of possible trade-offs here, but I'll let Carrie have the last word on this point:
Why don't you write a full series of posts along these lines so you can educate Americans on how the loss of good-paying jobs for U.S. citizens is vital for continued good political and economic relations between the U.S. and India? I'm sure if we are fully able to understand the benefits of middle-class workers moving into cardboard boxes, while our "healthy" GDP creates good-paying jobs for Harvard Business School grads, lobbyists, and a select few who are able to latch onto the coattails of the business school grads and the lobbyists, we'd be less likely to call for those uncouth protectionist measures.
One other thing that interested me about the Indian visit was a report of another meeting the delegation had, with "thought leaders" Henry Kissinger and other luminaries (objective sorts like a CEO of a multinational and the former US ambassador to India). What's Kissinger doing here?

It's always possible that Henry has massive contracts with India and so wants to keep the U.S. financial pump flowing, but I had another thought, and, for that, we'll have to refer to the world map (you can look at your atlas if you don't have a map on the wall of your office).

Let's take the 30th parallel north, and start in Saudi Arabia and move east. We start with our "friends" the Saudis, then travel to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and China. I'm not going to detail our manifold problems in those nations, other than to suggest that an amazing number of our current difficulties have something to do with those six.

And of those six, not one can be counted upon to be a reliable friend to American interests, except, maybe...India? And, if we have to pay a high price for that support, it's very possible that the calculation is that it's worth it. If we have to give a remarkably generous nuclear package to India, we'll do it. If we have to let them have our call-center jobs, we'll do it. If we have to educate their students, then allow them to stay in this country (at least for six years), we'll do it.

But we can't appear to be appeasing India - we're the strongest country in the world - so we wrap the discussion in "free trade," or "jobs Americans can't do," or "helping the downtrodden masses" (the last argument allowing CEOs to think of themselves as Mother Teresas with private jets).

It seems we've completely fallen away from the concept of evaluating policies on the basis of whether they make overall sense. It's not very far from that to the point where we treat any mention of India as being anything other than our good friends (as opposed to a nation with interests of its own) as somehow unpatriotic; we've done that with other countries, and that's not led to positive outcomes, as the U.S. is seen not as an honest broker for good, but as a country that's in the pocket of another. I don't think that makes a lot of sense.


Citizen Carrie said...

I'm sure that keeping that part of the world from becoming an exploding powderkeg is a huge part of the H-1B diplomacy game. It is pretty amazing that our government leaders can't address this front and center because the American public might have differing ideas on how this should be handled.

I'm also guessing that we don't want to flout the fact that since we're (sorry, I can't think of a better alternative to saying this) "currying" favor with the Indians, we find the rest of our "allies" in the region to be a pretty untrustworthy bunch. These so-called "allies" know how the U.S. government feels about them, but there's no use making it totally obvious.

Androcass said...

"Currying" - heh.

The shame of it is, as you know, that we're potentially sacrificing capabilities that we may actually need one day. Students are not stupid, they're not going to major in STEM no matter how much they're hectored by pundits and CEOs (who aren't promising to hire them anyway), and we'll end up in as co-dependent a relationship with India as we have now with the oil-producing countries.

Red Oak said...

The shame of it is, as you know, that we're potentially sacrificing capabilities that we may actually need one day.

To me this is the most important issue of all, and it flabbergasts me that our brilliant leaders will not see it. (But I'd replace that "may need" with "will need".) I would really like to sit some of these people down and quiz them on history and, yes, economics - the subjects they keep telling us we must be so ignorant about to presume to disagree with their policies. There are some who prefer the "conspiracy theory" view of things, that they're ideologues (or just kleptocrats) herding us into the glorious "post-national" future. I think "ignorant and short-sighted" is the cleaner explanation.

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