In a debate on free trade with Ryan Avent, Tim Duy brings us a quote from Alan Blinder, who provides a scary number:

In some recent research, I estimated that 30 million to 40 million U.S. jobs are potentially offshorable. These include scientists, mathematicians and editors on the high end and telephone operators, clerks and typists on the low end. Obviously, not all of these jobs are going to India, China or elsewhere. But many will.

Duy takes the 40 million estimate at face value and concludes that America may be on the verge of having no competitive advantage. This 40 million number is a few years old, and if you read the paper Blinder wrote rather than the op-ed Duy linked to you’ll get a much different sense of the severity of this number. There you will see that Blinder really means it when he says in his op-ed that 40 million is just the number of potentially offshoreable jobs. There’s no quantitative or empirical measure showing these jobs are “very vulnerable” as Duy says.

As a little antidote to all of this doom and gloom it’s worth taking a closer look at one of these “very vulnerable jobs”. The quintessential offshored job is customer service. Most of this takes place over the phone, and if you believe scare mongers, most of these jobs will be done in India in the near future, in fact most have probably been offshored already. Blinder, for example, says “the jobs of call center operators are clearly at risk”. But according to the BLS, there are currently 2.3 million customer service representatives in the U.S. in 2008, most of which work in call centers. In addition, the number of these jobs is expected to grow faster than average, or 18 percent from 2008 to 2018.

Here is how the BLS describes the prospects for this job:

“Prospects for obtaining a job in this field are expected to be good, with more job openings than jobseekers. In particular, bilingual jobseekers should enjoy excellent opportunities. Rapid job growth, coupled with a large number of workers who leave the occupation each year, should make finding a job as a customer service representative relatively easy.”

This is at odds with the doom and gloom of Blinder and Duy. My guess is if you were to take a closer look at any particular industry that goes into Blinder’s 40 million number and you will find that the “very vulnerable” is not an apt description of the majority, or even many, of the existing jobs.

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