The v-c emailed me yesterday that I was at the top of his list.

However, this morning I got a request to interview for an on-site SEO training job in Bangalore, so if I’m willing to do on-site I might not just want to move three hours away when I could go to India (I think that’s where Bangalore is) and displace some local worker there.

I was having an email conversation with my Australian client the other night. She was asking why, if our economy was in such trouble, the dollar remained strong. Or possibly why the economy was in trouble when the dollar remained strong.

I had to admit that I had no idea. I told her that the movement of the dollar didn’t seem to affect us unless we were traveling. It affected whose exports we bought, but the strength of the dollar never even gets brought up in our economic news. That is, nobody suggests that food prices have risen 30% because the dollar is slipping or that people are being laid off because of the rising yen or anything like that.

The Australian dollar bobs around like nobody’s business compared with the US dollar, it seems. Maybe it is the fact that things are compared with the US dollar that makes the strength of the dollar less of an issue for us.

In any case, once I had demonstrated my abysmal ignorance in that area, we moved on to globalization, another area in which I can get very confused.

Here are some things I know or believe about globalization:

  • It’s good, for ecological reasons, to buy things locally.
  • U.S. providers can’t compete on price with other countries, so we have to be willing to pay more for locally made or grown things, because they unavoidably cost more.
  • Our communities need us to support local businesses.
  • Local things may or may not be better than things from elsewhere, but in some cases — fresh produce, for example — they certainly are. If we only support a few local things, then our local providers will not be able to stay in business.
  • The attitude among American consumers that we’ll accept anything in order to get the lowest possible price has caused a lot of problems, including serious issues of human rights and product safety.
  • There are people on oDesk who will work for absolutely minuscule amounts of money. In my particular field, and in my limited experience, it’s clear that they are not offering the same quality that I am. This seems fair. Buyers who can only afford to pay minuscule amounts can get poor quality within their budgets. I think it would be wrong for me to work for low wages and compete with those providers, and I think it’s wrong for buyers who can pay more to hire those folks for such tiny amounts.
  • It may be logical to conclude that the poor should in the same way be able to buy cheap goods made in countries where people earn tiny wages, while the more affluent should pay more to buy things made in wealthier countries, but I’ve never drawn that conclusion.
  • I know lots of people who won’t buy anything made in China.
  • When we decide not to buy goods made in China, or not to buy chocolate from Cote d’Ivoire, or other geographical decisions like this, the intention is to discourage the rich people making money from the exploitation of others, and to force them to treat their workers better. However, the result may be to take work from people who really need it, so badly that they will work under terribly exploitative conditions.
  • When people doing poor quality work for low prices improve their skills — as, for example, with the linkbuilder whom I spent some time training on behalf of my Australians — then they can raise their prices at a marketplace like oDesk, or leave their countries entirely and go elsewhere in the world market. Even in the flat world, therefore, you get what you pay for. There may be just a small window of opportunity for exploitation before the good quality workers escape.
  • It makes sense to me to buy things from other places which are special to those other places. I buy British tea, for example, because it’s better, and because the company I buy from (which of course doesn’t grow the tea there in Yorkshire) is responsible about human rights and the environment. I don’t think we should buy commodities from other places just to save pennies.

When I first came here, you could buy beautiful handmade quilts from local quilters who were working out of a long tradition. A quilt would cost a couple hundred dollars, and they were works of art. They were not by any means overpriced, but they were expensive for people earning what we did around here — a bit of a luxury, but worth it. Then we began to see quilts coming in from China. They were hand-quilted very badly by people who were hurrying to get their twenty-nine cents an hour, and they cost $39.95. I have a couple of those, I have to admit. The quality is nothing like the local product, but I could afford them.

You can’t buy local quilts now at all. For a while, people tried to get their prices down to compete with the imports, but the fact is that we can never compete on price, because we just flat can’t live on $3.00 a day, however much we might want to. So there were for a while relatively poor-quality local quilts at relatively low prices, but they never could be the cheapest quilts, and I’m sure it was unsatisfying for the artists to produce them, too. So they just gave up. We still have local quilters, of course, but they keep their quilts, or sell them at auctions for a good cause. This is just about the only way you can get a local quilt nowadays. And I am sure that there are fewer quilters now than there used to be. The young girls probably don’t learn to do it any more.

I don’t know what all this means. My current strategy is to do my best to support local businesses, and not to support businesses which I know to use exploitative practices. I never make my buying decisions solely on price, though I can’t afford to ignore price entirely. A writer in the Wall Street Journal once wrote, “I’d buy laundry detergent from Satan if he had the lowest price.” I know that many people feel that way, and I think they are not only wrong, but harmful. However, I don’t know what the best solution is.

I work in the global marketplace myself. My Australian client just this morning asked if I knew someone who could help get my recommended updates to her website done, since her local webmaster is dragging his feet. I’m sorry that my price for her has gone up (it’s the dollar’s fault, not mine) and I understand that American providers may cost too much for her. Of course, I don’t know any designers in Bangalore who could help her with that. But if I did, would I be justified in sending the work to India because of the condition of the Australian dollar, when I know designers here in the US who are suffering — or at least worrying — because of our economic meltdown?

Yes, well, you can see why I’m confused.