Last summer, President Obama ventured out to Silicon Valley for a
fund-raiser summit with America’s greatest innovators. When asked about the hundreds of thousands of Chinese employed producing Apple devices, Jobs sternly responded “Those jobs aren’t coming back.” I agree (and it would be hard not to), but unlike many I am perfectly okay with it. Allow me to explain.
Over the past month, I have been improving my programming chops at the Hungry Academy with Ruby. Ruby’s core is written in venerable old C, a language with so few abstractions above assembly language that it would be hard-pressed to beat in terms of speed. I doubt any useful application could be written in Ruby whose C equivalent would run more slowly. And I’m perfectly okay with that.
With Ruby, in exchange for performance, I get meta-programming, objects, lambdas, dynamic typing, no header files… the list goes on and on. So sure, I’m sure Rails could have been written in C, but that would just suck. DHH would have hated writing it, we would hate using it, and it’s hard to argue that the world would be better off.
China and India are like C. For simple, repeatable tasks there is no cheaper or speedier option. And that’s cool! The foundation of Ruby, again, is built on that. But for America’s sacrifices in unadulterated performance, we’ve gained orders of magnitude in happiness. Almost every American can get a smartphone today for free (on contract) with access to the internet wherever they go. Sure we have laws which limit our businesses, but would you rather have lead paint and asbestos around your children or cars without airbags because it’s cheaper? Maternity/paternity leave may cause our businesses to be less productive, but our families are stronger because mothers and fathers spend time with their children.
So we lose jobs to China and India. Hundreds of thousands of jobs which, in a recession, sure look good. But for everything we’ve lost in cheap labor by moving from unbridled capitalism, we’ve gained in happiness. And that’s a trade I’d make any day.
Though, as an interesting aside, I wrote this post in Chocolat (a beta version of a text editor for OS X) over feature-rich word processors Pages or Word. Sometimes simplicity wins after all…