Virtual Voices

Larry Boy and the bad invention

Economy

There was a busy little town called Bumblyburg. One day Mayor Blueberry received a phone call from Larry the Cucumber who claimed to have come up with an amazing invention. The mayor invited her neighbor to discuss the issue over lunch. Larry explained that he had developed software that would revolutionize several of Bumblyburg's industries. Blueberry had just completed a community education course on economics and did a quick cost-benefit analysis.

On the downside, the mayor could see Junior Asparagus losing his job as a financial industry equity researcher. Laura Carrot could be laid off as a civil aviation engineer. It looked like Percy Pea's services in software development would no longer be needed. And the whole Mushroom family, who made a living by producing cartoons, could lose their jobs and be replaced by Larry's invention. On the upside, the new technology was cutting production costs by 50 percent.

It was a tough decision for an elected official. Should Mayor Blueberry stand in the way of progress in order to prevent the temporary dislocation and hardships affecting several of her constituents? Or should she give the citizens of Bumblyburg an opportunity to consume more goods and services produced with less effort?

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The next morning Larry received an email giving him the green light to use his invention. Soon the local school started awarding "Golden Cucumbers" to the winners of its annual science fair.

Bob the Tomato was not happy. He envied his neighbor's wealth and fame. Bob started spying on Larry, trying to steal the technology and sell it to the Snoodles. Thus the truth came out. Larry's "invention" was a new way of using his laptop and mobile phone. The secret of his success and the rising living standards in Bumblyburg was outsourcing! Larry had hired college graduates in Whoville to do the jobs previously done by Laura, Percy, Junior, and the Mushrooms-and paid them only half the wages.

Bumblyburg was in uproar. Mayor Blueberry praised the heroic efforts of Bob to expose an evil plot against the general welfare. The laptop and the mobile phone were confiscated and the town was safe from the threat of cheap foreign labor. A "backward slide downward" into the working conditions during the Grinch era was narrowly avoided. Lawyer Pumpkin filed a lawsuit over unfair competition on behalf of the newly founded cartoonists union. Police Chief Potato had to lock up Larry in the local jail to save him from being lynched.

Dear readers, I noticed that my previous commentaries have not persuaded some of you to support free trade. When straight talk fails, wise people recommend using fables. Mine was inspired by economists Frederic Bastiat, James Ingram, and Steven Landsburg, as well as by my children's insatiable appetite for Dr. Seuss and VeggieTales. Perhaps it will help you to understand that outsourcing carries the same threat for established producers and brings the same benefit to consumers as technological innovations. So if you are consistent, you should oppose inventors and engineers as passionately as you oppose entrepreneurs who invest in Third World sweatshops.

Alex Tokarev
Alex Tokarev

Alex is the chair of the Department of Business at Morthland College in West Frankfort, Ill., and teaches at Northwood University in Midland, Mich. The native of communist Bulgaria fanatically supports the Bulgarian soccer team, Levski.

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