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Outsourcing Grandma to Mumbai

By Ben Rothke
April 1, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - In "The Brain Center at Whipple's," a classic Twilight Zone episode, a ruthlessly efficient businessman, Wallace Whipple, deals brutally with his employees when he decides to fully automate his factory. Installing computers and robots, Whipple drives a longtime dedicated worker to take desperate measures to protect his job. In the end, it is Whipple who finds that he is no longer needed when he is replaced by a similarly behaved robot.
The message of that episode from 1964 rings true today. Whipple's goal was efficiency; today, it's saving money, and it's being done by outsourcing application development overseas.
Outsourcing has decimated the programming field, but it won't stop there. Consider this scenario, which you might at first think is ridiculous: It's possible that in a matter of years we might see outsourced thoracic and other types of expensive surgery.
Think about it. Heart operations can cost well over $250,000. A thoracic surgeon in the U.S. can make as much as $496,000, and hospital beds can cost over $1,500 per day. But the scene is different in India. A surgeon there makes much less than his U.S. counterpart, and hospital rooms are far cheaper.
For health insurance companies, this could mean colossal cost savings. Putting a heart patient on an Air India flight might even be cheaper than sending him across town by ambulette service. Should this scenario come to pass and you find yourself in this situation, you could try to fight the insurance company. But heart patients need surgery without delay. They don't have time to appeal what the health insurance company considers a normal and customary charge.
This is my prediction: After the outsourcing cabal is done with the programmers and systems analysts, it will go after the doctors. The cost savings to the insurance companies are far too compelling.
What can be done? The same thing that should have been done when the first programmer was outsourced: Protest, and get the word out. As Eldridge Cleaver so aptly stated, "You're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem." If we as a society accept programmers' jobs being outsourced, how long will it be before Grandma is sent to Mumbai for hip replacement surgery?
The fact that outsourcing saves money is undeniable. But money is only one small part of the much larger equation. Henry Ford said he would have given his cars away for free if he could have been assured of having a monopoly on the automobile replacement parts business. Ford's long-term vision enabled him to free himself from the



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