A Symposium on Offshoring

Last week, the Brookings Institution held a day-long symposium on the offshoring of services to foreign countries. The list of invited speakers included many of the world’s top trade and labor economists. While the text of the presentations is not yet available, the symposium’s website does link to various excellent background sources that may be of interest.

One of the most informative general background pieces on the issue is one by Brookings’ well-known economist Charlie Schultze, “Offshoring, Import Competition, and the Jobless Recovery“. (Incidentally, Schultze, who was chair of the CEA during the Carter administration, is also the author of one of my favorite books explaining the basics of macroeconomic policy to the non-economist.)

The main conclusion of Schultze’s background paper, and seemingly of the symposium in general was simply this: there’s a fair amount of circumstantial evidence that the offshoring phenomenon has had a relatively small impact on the US labor market, but we lack the good data needed to really know for sure. Most people probably find the subject of data collection and analysis by government bureaucracies to be one of the most boring things in the world – it’s awfully hard to imagine the typical voter getting upset because they think budget for the Bureau of Economic Analysis is too small, for example – but this is an excellent example of exactly how the lack of good data can handicap policy debates, and why spending money on government data collection is so worthwhile.