Don’t take this the wrong way, Mr. President, but you need to start calling a spade a spade.
You’ve criticized Mitt Romney for outsourcing thousands of jobs formerly held by Americans to foreign workers in China, India, and other countries when he was CEO of Bain. But, sir, with all due respect, you’re wrong. What you have actually accused Romney of doing is not “outsourcing.” It’s “offshoring.”
What is the difference, you ask? Well, the difference is not insignificant. Outsourcing is a practice used by companies to reduce costs by taking tasks, operations, jobs, or processes that could be performed by employees within the organization and, instead, contracting them out to a third party.
Companies do this on the basis that these third-parties, by specializing in specific tasks, operations, jobs, or processes, can carry them out more efficiently and cost effectively. Hey, that’s a good thing, right?
Offshoring, while a type of type of outsourcing, is different. Offshoring means having the outsourced business functions performed in another country, which happens when businesses send in-house jobs overseas. Thus, both outsourcing and offshoring may save a company money, but only offshoring specifically means sending jobs out of the country.
Yet in today’s topsy-turvy political climate, the word “outsourcing” has become a politically charged word that has taken on an undeserved negative connotation.
Okay, perhaps I’m being a bit overly sensitive about this misuse of the term outsourcing. But my livelihood depends on persuading companies to outsource the task of administering their employees’ health and welfare benefits. It’s what I do.
And if I’m successful, the tasks being outsourced are being performed by employees of my American company who live and work in the United States. So, yes, it pisses me off that Obama, a friggin’ Harvard graduate, is misusing the word.
Picky, picky, picky
Some may think that quibbling about the difference between outsourcing and offshoring is nitpicking. But as someone who appreciates precision when it comes to usage in the English language, I take exception to usage that presumes those two terms to be synonymous and/or interchangeable. They are not.
Some may feel that, in pointing this out, I’m defending Romney against Obama’s allegations. I’m not. I do believe that Obama is likely correct and that Romney, when he was CEO of Bain, probably did approve sending American jobs overseas. But that makes Romney guilty of offshoring, and Obama should use that word to describe what he alleges Romney did at Bain.
Everyone does it
Face it. Most Americans outsource some aspect of their lives. I pay someone else to maintain our lawn. We have a cleaning service come to our house every other week to give it a thorough cleaning. I go to Jiffy Lube every few months to have my car’s oil changed.
I am essentially outsourcing these activities to third-parties who specialize in those tasks. It’s not that I can’t mow my own lawn, that we can’t keep our own house clean, or that I am unable to change the oil in my own car. I “outsource” these tasks as a result of a personal cost-benefit analysis, where I have found it’s more efficient (for me) to have someone else responsible for these tasks than for me to do them on my own.
What I don’t do is “offshore.” My lawn guy is not in India. Neither are the ladies who clean our house. I don’t drive my car to China so someone there can change my oil. Everything is done by local people who are American workers, although I admit that the ladies who clean our house and some of the guys who cut my grass don’t speak much English. But they’re legal! (Or so I’m told.)
My advice, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, is that words matter. As I have said in a past blog posting, let’s call a spade a spade. If the topic is about sending jobs overseas, it’s offshoring, not outsourcing, that you’re debating.