The biggest sin in business

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating with some new data as the Senate considers an anti-outsourcing bill: If there is a mortal sin in this economy, it is shipping American jobs overseas. Outsourcing is a dirty word, and one that Mitt Romney will be unable to shake.

How dirty? Eighty-three percent of voters express an unfavorable view of companies that outsource jobs to China, with nearly two-thirds intensely negative.

It’s not just a matter of vocabulary, as voters judge outsourcing to be a prime cause of our economic straits and see ending it as the most effective solution to our problems. 

In a poll we conducted last month for the Alliance for American Manufacturing, together with GOP colleagues at North Star Research (neither they nor other Republican collaborators I will reference are responsible for my interpretations), the largest single number of voters identified policies that encourage outsourcing as the most important obstacle to creating jobs. Similarly, in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last year, 86 percent agreed that U.S. companies outsourcing their production and manufacturing was one of the reasons our economy is struggling — putting it atop a list of eight options. 

In the public mind, ending policies that encourage companies to ship jobs overseas is not just the prime cause of, but also the chief solution to, our economic problems. Last year, in a survey we conducted with Public Opinion Strategies for the Pew Mobility Project, keeping jobs in America ranked first out of 16 steps the government could take to help ensure that people do not fall behind economically, with 90 percent endorsing it as one of the most effective approaches. Our survey this year for AAM found the single largest number of voters saying that ending government support for firms moving jobs overseas was “one of the most effective” actions Washington could take to create jobs and improve our economy, ranking far above tax cuts for either the middle class or business.

Voters express a clear willingness to put their tax dollars where their hearts, and jobs, are — here at home. Then former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) decided it would be cheaper to have the new San Francisco Bay Bridge made in China, using Chinese steel. More than two dozen giant steel towers — each with a road segment about half the size of a football field — are being transported 6,500 miles from China to Oakland. Why? To save money.

Voters reject the choice, even when they are provided with the rationale. Just 14 percent said, “With state and local governments facing huge deficits, with taxes too high, and with education and public safety already being cut, large … projects, like the San Francisco Bay Bridge, should be built by the lowest bidder, regardless of where the low bidder is getting their products from, so we can make the most efficient use of our tax dollars.”

Instead, 81 percent took the position that, “Large … projects … paid for with taxpayer money, like the San Francisco Bay Bridge, should be built in America, by American workers, using American steel and other products, so that we know it is structurally sound and so we can create more American jobs instead of having our tax money create jobs in foreign countries.”

To that end, voters across party support a wide variety of proposals aimed at reducing support for outsourcers and encouraging them to bring jobs back to the United States. The Senate will soon be debating a bill that would provide an incentive to companies for every job they bring back to the country from abroad. Eighty-five percent of voters overall, along with an identical 85 percent of Republicans, support this bill.

Will congressional Republicans join their constituents, or thumb their noses at American jobs and at the American people? It will be interesting to watch.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leader of the Senate and the Democratic whip in the House.