Posted by: patenttranslator | February 15, 2013

Miracles of Globalization Create a Happy World for Some and a Crappy World for Most

We are all familiar with the miracles of Globalization. A pair of jeans that used to cost between 20 to 35 dollars now costs between 15 and 25 dollars. A screwdriver that used to cost 5 dollars can now be bought for 99 cents at your local Wal-Mart store.

There are some minor tradeoffs. Every few months, a few dozen women are slowly suffocated by smoke and burnt to death somewhere in a textile factory in Bangladesh. But it’s just some poor women in Bangladesh, so who cares. New York Times will publish a short series of articles with a few eye catching photos so that the consumers of Bangladeshi products would have something to read with their coffee in the comfort of their cozy home in the morning, but nothing will change because within a few months there will be another fire in the same kind of factory in the same kind of a third world country.

Western consumers did notice that globalization has been accompanied by absolutely atrocious quality of products and services sold to them at low, low prices, but there does not seem to be much that they can do about it. The 99 cents screwdriver will become mangled and useless after you try it once or twice to actually drive in a screw – but where do you go to get a real screwdriver these days even if you are willing to spend 5 dollars on it? They will sell you a screwdriver for 5 dollars too, but one of the effects of Globalization is that it will not last not much longer than the one that cost 99 cents.

A good example of how globalization works is the recent horse meat scandal in Europe. It turns out that hungry consumers of frozen dinners in France, England and other European countries were fed frozen horse meat of sick horses from Rumania instead of inspected beef meat. Fortunately for them, “medical risks from eating horse containing the equine painkiller phenylbutazone are said to be very low”, at least according to David Heath, the British food minister. I wonder how much frozen horse meat of sick horses he, his wife and his children have consumed?

But the best example of the poor quality brought to us courtesy of Globalization is the poor quality of services.

If you call a toll free information or product support number from United States, you will be invariably connected to somebody in the Philippines or India who speaks very limited English, and with such a heavy accent that his or her “English” is almost incomprehensible. They don’t understand you, and you don’t understand them. It would be hard to imagine an example of even worse “product support”. But again, it does not matter. These “customer support specialists” are much cheaper than native English speakers who used to be employed a few years ago in call centers in this country, and that is all that matters.

I wonder how they do it with telephone support in Germany or Japan and other “rich” countries that never did get around to colonizing the world, at least not successfully, and thus have no supply of readily available low cost workers who speak atrocious German or Japanese in third world countries. France, Belgium and La Suisse Romande are probably OK in this respect.

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Globalization has also affected white collar occupations, such as radiologists, who according to this New York Times article, which is now 10 years old, “with their years of training and annual salaries of $250,000 or more, worry about their jobs moving to countries with lower wages, in much the same way that garment knitters, blast-furnace operators and data-entry clerks do”.

Unlike garment industry workers and call center personnel, some knowledge workers are able to use to fight globalization …. by joining it, of course! If you can’t beat them, join them!

I talked last month to a retired physician who is about 82 years old. He told me that his son, who is a radiologist, quit his job at a hospital, purchased the latest diagnostic imaging equipment and works as a radiologist at his home now, making more than what he used to make when he was still a hospital employee.

So 10 years after “offshoring” of highly knowledge-intensive analysis and evaluation of three-dimensional X-ray pictures from US to India started, some doctors here were able to figure out how to make Globalization work for them instead of against them.

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So what about translators? Translation of highly specialized technical, legal, medical, or financial articles is not really that different from analyzing and interpreting of X-ray images. Most non-translators probably don’t realize it, but you need very specialized knowledge to be able to interpret and translate into another language for example a patent about the latest or even quite old technology.

Since Globalization is here to stay, probably until the entire world and what used to be called “quality of life” are completely ruined, are translators mostly winners or mostly losers in this race to the bottom when it comes to the wages paid to the people who are in fact doing the actual work.

After all, just like radiologists or tax lawyers, another knowledge-intensive profession that is being “offshored”, translators can easily work at home, and unlike radiologists, they don’t need to buy very expensive equipment.

I think that most translators have probably joined the losers in the Globalized World, especially those who translate languages that are relatively common and who don’t specialize in fields and subjects that are quite complicated and relatively difficult to learn, especially if they work mostly for brokers of translation services who call themselves Language Service Providers (LSPs) these days, as the old term “translation agency” is somewhat frowned upon now in the translation industry, perhaps because it is too revealing.

But there are probably some winners among translators too. The entire world is now one big market for translators who specialize in fields that will be always in demand, even in languages that are relatively common, such as French or German, for example for financial translators. If you can convince people who speak another language to buy the latest financial product with your translations of glossy advertising prospectuses, you can probably command high rates for your translations, especially if you can figure out where your direct customers are and how to get their attention.

If you really know languages that are difficult to learn such as Chinese, Korean, or Japanese, and you can translate highly specialized technical subjects into your native language, you could be a winner too.

The world has been ruined already by Globalization and it is quickly going to hell in a handbasket, probably no matter what we do.

By default, most people who do the work are meant to join the losers in the Globalized World. But that does not necessarily mean that translators will automatically have to join the billions of losers created by Globalization in this world.

Or does it?

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Responses

  1. “Or does it?”

    Natural selection and survival for the fittest. Every generation has its winners and losers. After thousands of thousand years, the human race has become another species. We never know what the species would become in the next two decades.

    However, I am pretty sure that translators will still be needed, especially those ones who possess vast general knowledge and subject matter expertise with appreciable, palable writing skills.

    We elder generation of soldiers, warriors or mercenaries of the industry is fading away, making space to new generations with their MT post-editing and pondering over the question of “For whom the lances were thrown?” If not for the Globalization, was it for the Localization?

    It doesn’t matter who wins and who loses, anyway. Obey the karma, that’s it.

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  2. “For whom the lances were thrown?”

    I am not sure what you mean by that.

    “Alea iacta est?”

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    • You see, some John asked, “For whom the bells toll.” When we have survived a battle after a battle, we freelancers may well ask, “For whom the lances thrown.”

      You may say it, “Alea iacta est.” No way back to where we were.

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      • Or did John asked, “For whom the bell tolls?”

        Chino tonto, no sabe nada!

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      • “Alea iacta est” is not a question but a statement “The die is cast”, meaning more or less “there’s no going back”. Attributed to Julius Caesar (according to Wikipedia as “Iacta alea est”).

        That is a really weird comment, if I may say so, Derek.

        Are you saying that you think that 1. I didn’t know what the words mean, or 2. who used them, or 3. that I can’t use them as a question?

        Just wondering.

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  3. About globalization: I participated as a volunteer on an event where a speaker/photographer from Bangladesh presented some impressive photos of his countrymen and women hard lives. Ironically, the T-shirts the volunteers and general staff wore had been made in Bangladesh (hopefully in a factory with decent working conditions). When I discreetly pointed this out to the organization, my comment was ignored. The event, although independently organized, was connected with an international project with great visibility at world level (just to clarify this was not some national thing set up by a group of local simpletons – or maybe it was, in a way).

    When the ‘bubble’ burst someone told me that, during economic crisis, there were two types of people: those who wept and those who sold paper tissues. I asked what would be of the second without the first.

    To answer your question, I believe some people will fight and win, others will fight but lose and others won’t fight at all. My hope is that the winners will be the very best – not only professionally but also personally – since it takes a special kind of person to fight back against what you describe.

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  4. The problem is that you can’t buy a T-shirt that was not made in Bangladesh anymore, that’s how successful Globalization has been, which would seem to indicate that we’d better assume our place in the garment factory because

    ALL RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!!!

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    • I was going to say you can buy a T-shirt not made in Bangladesh if you can afford it but that’s no longer a sure bet either so you’re basically right. But resistance may not be futile even if it’s fruitless?…

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  5. Terrific post!!! However, I think “white color” should be “white collar” 🙂
    (feel free to delete this comment. I just wanted to let you know about the typo)

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  6. Globalization: “The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many,” Noam Chomsky. Great post!

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  7. A very topical issue, thank you for broaching it so incisively.
    What I have difficulty understanding as a news junkie living down-under, is how those who have been exporting jobs from the USA first to Mexico (Maquiladoras), then Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, China and other emerging economies over the past 30 years, are still referred to a ‘job creators’ in the mainstream media in the USA.
    I can understand that their own propaganda would do so and that of the Republicans who are financed by them (although the last election may indicate that people are slowly getting wise). Even the Fox network owned by a former fellow citizen of mine with a billion or two in his petty cash tin, but I have heard few people (other than perhaps Bill Maher and one or two other brave comedian/philosophers) debunk this incredible myth and so many others that appear to be commonly accepted by Americans (like increasing tax or higher wages will ruin the economy – have a closer look at France, Sweden, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands despite the tsunami they once again absorbed from another Wall Street casino collapse (Oops, I forgot, the great majority of Americans don’t understand the languages spoken in those countries :-).
    I recommend viewing the incredible research outcomes shown on

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  8. Hi Louis:

    I don’t want to turn my blog into a political blog, but here is my take on what is going on in US at this point.

    1. The job of the main stream media is to defend the existing system. I read newspapers, (in particular Washington Post, also known as “Pravda on Potomac”), mostly to see which topics they are allowed to cover and from what angle, which is exactly how I used to read communist papers in the seventies. Real news is most of the time elsewhere.

    2. There is no real difference between Rs and Ds, despite the noise they make before elections. If you look at what they do after elections, you will see that US is a one party state now. There used to be a big difference between these two parties, but both Ds and Rs work for the same bag man now full time.

    3. Obama’s main job, now that he so successfully turned what was supposed to be healthcare reform into a bailout of the private insurance industry, is to finish what Bush started but could not deliver, namely to turn Social Security over to Wall Street. Wall Street is making no money from Social Security and that is simply not acceptable to them.
    He will do this job so cleverly that most people will not even notice, and they will say “thanks God we have Obama, it would be much worse if there was a Republican in the White House”.

    4. In most respects, Obama is worse than Bush. Just look at what he does instead of listening to his speeches.

    5. It’s pretty hopeless here. Let’s talk about translation next time.

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    • Oh dear, you have confirmed my worst fears!
      Yes, please, let’s go back to translation, our problems seems so much more benign now. Thank you very much for your response!
      Cheers
      Louis

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  9. Let me just say, that I feel lucky to have saved my late husband’s Black & Decker srewdrivers and sundry other tools :). No, I am not interested in selling them, LOL.
    On another note, thanks for providing an Enya Sunday-moment. Absolutely lovely!

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  10. “thanks for providing an Enya Sunday-moment.”

    That’s what my blog is here for.

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  11. A few years back, I bought a relatively expensive coat ($349) in New Haven, Conn., at a fashionable shop just across from Yale. When I paid, the clerk remarked that the money was well spent since it was made in the USA. The literature attached informed prospective buyers that the company had been founded (sic) in Portland, Maine, that the founder continues to “head the company,” etc etc etc, and that the designs could be found throughout the United States and Canada.

    When I got home I found, deep in a pocket, underneath the “maralyce FERREE, Scarborough Maine” label, a “care label” at the bottom of which was written, in tiny print, “made in China.”

    So now we have to look in pockets….buyer beware, even when seeing “Maine” prominently displayed!

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  12. You raise an interesting point about translators hurting over price cuts. This has been a hot topic on translation forums and blogs for years now, but it is usually approached from a “the world is going to hell and all we can do it watch it burn” standpoint.

    I appreciate you raising the point that there are winners who have emerged because of globalization. Those who specialize in hard-to-learn languages (as you mentioned) are not likely to lose business, neither are those who specialize in the fields that demand high-quality translation: certain legal services, medical documents, etc. With every change, some emerge better and some worst – the key is to adapt with change.

    Very interesting article, it was a great read – thank you.

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  13. Thank you for your comment.

    Yes, globalization is here and there is not much we can do about it.

    It has mostly negative, but also some positive aspects, and translators can either allow others to use it against us (for instance when we hunt for translation work on “portals for translators”, or we can use the positive aspects ourselves to balance out the negative aspects of it, at least partially.

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  14. […] that it has not necessarily been good for either the professionals or the quality of the product. Patentranslator has a recent post about it. It goes without saying that it is a real fear in our business too. […]

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