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Interview With Lou Dobbs

Outsourcing, immigration and America as a Third World nation.


Not one to pull punches, the erudite, Harvard-educated Lou Dobbs takes on those who are outsourcing American jobs in his new book, Exporting America: Why Corporate Greed Is Shipping American Jobs Overseas. Dobbs, the host of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight," which airs weekdays at 5 p.m. CST, recently expounded on his views with Chicago Life.

Chicago Life: What led you to write this book?

Lou Dobbs: It was meant to be a wake-up call because I think if this trend towards outsourcing continues, the United States is headed toward--if not a Third World category--a Second World category. What became clear--with the recession of 2000 and in the extended period in which jobs were not being created as the economy went into recovery--was that we had an issue. At the same time, corporate America continued to announce that it was shipping jobs overseas, and we dug further to find that the number of jobs lost in outsourcing to the overseas labor market were not being replaced. As we began to do that research ourselves, it was staring us straight in the face, and we couldn't possibly ignore it.

Chicago Life: Your detractors have called you many things, including a description of being on a jihad, since exploring exporting on your show and writing the book. How do you feel about that?

Lou Dobbs: I am being vilified by the people who are, frankly, lackeys of the orthodoxy. The orthodoxy is very powerful--the business, political and academic establishment of this country. I was attacked personally by business groups about the issues that we were reporting, which is the impact on our economy, on working people and the need for a change in policy.

Chicago Life: Is that hard to take?

Lou Dobbs: Frankly, what's hard is to watch a lot of our fellow citizens losing their jobs, and it's tough just to watch our policy makers and our law makers do nothing about it.

Chicago Life: Do you think that our government and business leaders still believe that outsourcing will make our country stronger in the long run?

Lou Dobbs: I think they did perhaps a year ago. I think not even the most intractable and intransigent-marked cheerleader can say now without any doubt whatsoever that everything will be fine. We think the facts are mounting. I'm not just talking about the report on the $60 billion trade deficit in the Commerce Department, which they did address, but the fact is that our debts are mounting. We continue to harm the working and middle class, who are the foundation, the absolute foundation, of this country. They are squarely in the sights of policy-makers and U.S. multinationals who frankly don't give a damn about the consequences of their actions.

Chicago Life: Do you ever hope that you're wrong and they're right?

Lou Dobbs: I've never been accused of being wishy-washy on anything, but the fact of the matter on this is that I wish--and we've done reporting on it for two years--I wish that I was wrong. We have $4 trillion in trade debt and a mounting trade deficit of more than 6 percent. We have to borrow nearly $3 billion-a-day in capital to sustain our imports. It's extraordinary that the U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress and the White House are not ringing with shouts to change course. It is absolutely inconceivable.

Chicago Life: Did you agree with Ross Perot when he said something to the effect that the giant sucking sound from the North America Free Trade Alliance (NAFTA) was the sound of jobs being sucked out of this country?

Lou Dobbs: Frankly, I believe that NAFTA was worth doing because with the very simple precept that we should be enriching those who live closer to us, who are our neighbors, Canada and Mexico. But I had, like so many others, assumed that in drawing a path for trade we would have protection for labor, and that did not happen. Like many, I would assume that if they hear that something isn't working they would change things. But we've accelerated our outsourcing agreements instead of correcting our policies and moving toward balance.

Chicago Life: Does this mean social isolationism or protectionism?

Lou Dobbs: No. This administration has tried to cast economic policy into the polar extremes of either free trade, which they maintain will solve every problem, or if you're opposed to that, you're an economic isolationist, thereby ignoring every policy option in a huge range between those extremes. I believe the middle way is the correct way. The economy has to pay for what it buys from abroad and can only sustain its trade by producing enough and selling enough overseas. We're doing neither. We're the largest debtor nation in the world.

Chicago Life: In your book you mention how many states are actually exporting American jobs in departments that are supposed to be helping unemployed workers. As an example, you mention how California alone spends $400 million running a program to help people get off welfare and unemployment, but that the people who are getting paid to help are residents of India and Mexico. They're cheap foreign laborers being paid with California tax dollars to answer the phones when unemployed Californians call.

Lou Dobbs: State Employment Departments responsible for finding jobs for their outsourcing jobs that would provide employment for some of those people is irrational as well as unconscionable. We won't have Americans who can make enough money to buy products that were made in China. This [is an] arrogant attitude on the part of the orthodoxy.

Chicago Life: Are Americans starting to understand what is happening to them?

Lou Dobbs: The idea that the men and women in this country are not smart enough to understand economics and political and public policy is wrong. Americans are smart. They're not always as active as they should be in their own self interest, but ultimately we wake up, and that time is, I hope, near at hand.

Chicago Life: And when do we wake up?

Lou Dobbs: Well, one of the things is that I think we have to look first at the national news media because they have accepted part of the orthodoxy, as have most of the academics, politicians and business leaders. They are simply accepting that if we continue along it will be okay. That's faith-based economics without any factual support whatsoever.

Chicago Life: It's common when you read about plant closings and jobs moving overseas to hear management talk about how Americans don't work hard enough and aren't educated enough. What is your take on that?

Lou Dobbs: It's arrogant, and frankly, I think it's un-American. One of the fundamental principles should be, no matter how much it pays, to respect anyone who works. This economy created more than 20 million jobs in the 1990s. We're almost five years into the new millennium, and suddenly we're too stupid to work, to create jobs, to do what Americans have done for centuries?

Chicago Life: You speak very forcefully about this issue. Does it make you angry?

Lou Dobbs: There's a certain anger in there, yes, because it's extraordinarily frustrating that people would permit this business practice to continue despite the obvious pain it is creating for millions of Americans and the obvious diminishment of our economy. It would make anyone angry.

Chicago Life: What was it like to win an Emmy for your reporting on "Exporting America"?

Lou Dobbs: It's a great feeling, and it's wonderful recognition from the academy. We've got a wonderful group of journalists.

Chicago Life: What can the average person do if they're upset about exporting?

Lou Dobbs: They absolutely better call their congressmen, senators and say, enough is enough. They better get involved at the local level with their communities. This has to change. We have an administration now raising the issue of Social Security reform before radio microphones and television cameras when we have far more urgent and important needs in this country.

Published: April 01, 2005
Issue: Spring 2005