Chocolate and Gold Coins

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Earning in Dollars, Spending in Rupees

My wife emigrated from India 15 years ago. In these 15 years, she has gotten an education, married and started a family, and started a very successful career. In many ways she is a typical American success story. She makes ten or twenty times more money than she would have if she had stayed in India.

But there is a downside to being an immigrant. Living in the United States is extremely expensive. We make more money than we dared to dream, and it is never enough. Housing here (in Northern Virginia) is so expensive that even a 1000 square foot shack that sold for $3000 in 1953 now costs $500,000. The mind boggles at such a ridiculous increase in price. And if you want to have your house cleaned here, it might cost $80 to $120, depending on the size of the house.

The other downside of being an immigrant is that she misses home. At this point, she can never go home because there is no “home” to go back to: everything has changed. She misses spending time with her parents. She misses hearing people speak her native language. She misses just watching silly Indian movies with friends who can laugh at the silliness.

The ideal situation is to neither to earn in dollars and spend in dollars, nor to earn in rupees and spend in rupees. The ideal situation is to work each day in the U.S. (or U.K., Canada, Australia, etc.) and go home each evening to India. You can eat your favorite alloo tikki chat. You can have your proper chai. You can enjoy an India-Pakistan cricket match with dozens of your best friends. And you’ll have money for anything you want. You could have the best of both worlds.

With the Internet, it is now possible (in theory) for workers in India to telecommute to jobs in the U.S. I’m not talking about lousy call center jobs, but real careers doing satisfying work. Many workers in the U.S. already telecommute several days a week. Working with people who never come in to work is more challenging, but if the wage is low and quality of work is high, this work arrangement is doable. The need is for entrepreneurs in the U.S. and in India to match employers with people with skills. And it is necessary for people in India to acquire the kinds of skills necessary to work in the global marketplace.

My belief is that blogging is a useful business skill. It is a way for people to communicate clearly their ideas to others without speaking to them face-to-face. Once you have that skill, what does it matter if you live 8 miles or 8000 miles away? Everyone is next door on the Internet.

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