Tuesday, February 26, 2008

If State Agencies Can't Offshore Some Work, That Means the Taxpayers Get Nailed!

On Monday, August 23rd, 2004, the California Senate passed a bill that would ban state agencies from contracting services to companies that use overseas labor.

Oh terrific -- Now only the state *taxpayers* can't benefit from lower costs. We've passed a law *requiring* higher costs, and therefore higher taxes -- thanks, guys! Legalized inefficiency!

Why do so many laws act to protect vendors from their customers?

In this case the vendor is the provider of computing services--whether it be a software vendor or consultant, or an individual programmer. The customer is the government entity, and by extension their taxpayer-masters.

Software has become increasingly critical to the efficient operation of modern business and government. Programming services have become more expensive, and the number of programmer students has declined in the United States. The programmer community has dragged its feet in instituting engineering disciplines that would create greater efficiencies in architecting, developing, evolving, and maintaining code, thus keeping costs high.

The customer reacts rationally by trying to find some way to reduce costs--not just so they can spend less on software, but in most cases so they can devote some of their limited resources to more software projects, for which there is an apparently unending need. Getting more programming benefits and results from the same investment is the way it is, and specifically the way it *ought* to be -- without such ongoing efforts to increase efficiency--increase output per unit of work or capital invested--the economy wouldn't grow and nobody would ever get a raise again.

So they try to figure out a way to break up their computing systems into chunks, some of which might be outsourced easily, so they can save money and use that money for something else. But programmers don't want to have to compete for their jobs -- who would? -- nor do they want to change their work disciplines, nor do they want to change their career paths, nor do they want to be pushed into doing all these things on a regular basis the rest of their life. Like most people, they'd really like to just settle into whatever job and discipline and employer and career path they find that they like, and never have to change a thing.

Of course. Me too. The difference comes when they get it into their heads that somebody, somewhere, under some mysterious color of authority, *guaranteed* them the *right* to live this life, and to have that right defended against the outside world. So they go to their congress-critters to demand their rights.

And the congresspeople, or state senators, or whichever politician is in the line of fire, of course has never in history declined to assume the mantle of power thrust upon him by a constituent.

The steel workers played this game in the 1960s and 70s. The auto factory workers pulled this stunt in the 1950s--we were *told* that all you had to do was get a job on the line, and you were good for life--increasingly easy work, growing paychecks, lifetime employment! When that got shaken up by competition from the efficiency-obsessed Japanese, the auto workers were outraged. And the Congress tried to respond as best it could. Resulting in pain for consumers while not staunching the pain felt by workers or their employers.

During all that debate back in those days, at no point did the press report on any regular basis any argument made by anybody involved that Things Change, and You Gotta Change With 'Em. It Ain't the 1800s Any More, Buddy--and Who *Was* That Who Gave You That Guarantee, Anyway? Go Yell At Him!

Nobody ever argued that protecting the company against its customers is not the job of government, and if it were, it would be a bad job and a bad idea. And protecting the worker against the customer is equally wrong, and equally leads to evil results.

Nor will you hear that argument made today.

The frightened programmers want what they want, and the hell with the longterm consequences. Well, this whole argument is the longterm consequence of not dealing with this wrong-headed position when it first came up in the 1950s and 1960s, and again in the 1970s.

Let us repeat the mistakes of the past, once again. And pay for it, but good, once again. Politicians never learn. Worse, newspaper editors and reporters never learn either.

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