Sunday, November 7, 2010

Outsourcing Jobs = Outsourcing Pollution

I was talking with a visitor from China this past week about the beautiful weather we have been enjoying lately. She told me she sent a few pictures of Yale back to friends in China. The children that viewed the photos were amazed, not because of the centuries-old Gothic architecture, but because they had never seen a sky so blue.

Now, I was taken aback, because believe it or not, Yale is located in an urban area, and New Haven is considered a city. There are cars, buildings, construction, and streets. When I arrived last year, I remember complaining to my parents that the poor air quality of the city would cause me to develop some sort of respiratory disease. After all, for all of my life I have lived in nice suburban areas full of trees, blue skies, and sunshine.

Obviously, I had never experienced real pollution. This summer, I had a little taste of the air quality problem in China. The skies were always muggy, smoggy, and gray. First I thought it was just heavy cloud cover, until I realized there couldn't possibly be so many cloudy days during the summer months. It was true - if I peeked hard enough I could detect the hard bright glimmer of sunshine blocked by the layers and layers of pollution covering the sky.

The city pictured here isn't even that bad, believe it or not. This is Shenzhen and twenty-something years ago it was just a tiny fishing village. It has only suffered two decades worth of damage.

So my point is, we only see the bad side of companies moving their factories and jobs to countries like China. Yes, our manufacturing sector may be suffering and people may have to seek employment elsewhere, but the corporations are also taking their pollution and carbon emissions with them. By uprooting their factories, we do not have to deal with the immediate effects of smog and particulate matter.

My friend sees it this way: China is the factory of the United States. Chinese citizens may receive manufacturing jobs, but they also are paying indirectly because of the negative externalities. Respiratory diseases have become very common in cities. Buildings only a few years old look run-down and dirty from all the dirty residue from the air. It's another way to look at the debate over moving jobs and factories overseas. As the U.S. moves from being a manufacturing nation to one that provides services and technology, its environment and its citizens are benefiting.


  1. Wow, that's scary! I would feel so depressed living in skies like that. I knew it was bad, but never thought about it that much.

  2. I still think, and I believe you'll agree, a more equitable and improved situation can be reached. For example, while China is a large manufacturer, the US is still one of the largest and what the US has done is implement cleaner-greener technology (which could also always be improved upon) allowing for the quality of air we have today. Having China implement these technologies would help clean the air and lower the level of green house gasses in the world. However, while cleaning up the air, the people of both countries need to be employed or have an income to pay for their expenses, such as health care, food, and other requirements for a good quality of life. Also, the countries should have a balance of power that makes them interdependent - not simply trading amongst each other but being on equitable terms. Most of that is legislative footwork that the countries could do within and between their countries, but, in my opinion, this doesn't seem likely. The major issue with getting anything done is the US' poor protectionist policies. Because American businesses are not protected, China is dumping cheap goods on the American market, wiping out competition. This causes massive unemployment, large social problems, and inequitable balance between the US and China. The US needs to enact less international-business-friendly legislation, a measured tariff-like program, and China and the US should work out a new economic system that fulfills some social program and makes for some power-equity. Hopefully, something will be achieved at G20.

    Once the US' legislation is fixed, moderated trade between the countries would slow China's growth, but the US, their major market, would be maintained, so the growth would be sustainable. Concurrently, improved technology, improved social programs, and other developments should hasten. Also, the countries could be more responsive to anything with a major economic impact. But monitoring and moderating development, to me, seems necessary and would be beneficial to everyone.