Tariffs in the electronics and computer business have always been a rather sad option for governments to pursue, so it is good to see that some 40 countries, representing over 90% of the world's trade in computers and IT equipment, have decided to do away with them at last.
IT has always been one of the great global endeavours, and though the UK has attempted at making a name for itself in the semiconductor business, with Acorn's ARM processor the latest in a valiant, honourable and largely unsuccessful line, it has been the might of Intel and Motorola that has ruled.
Such obvious facts did not stop the UK government, some 15 years ago or more, from wrecking what little chance UK personal computer makers had of gaining a place in the world by slapping huge tariffs on imports of vital processors and memory components in order to protect a UK semiconductor industry that wasn't making such devices, and had no plans to.
So, zero tariffs from 2000 will mean even lower cost hardware for us all. The systems will be not only be cheaper because of reduced tariffs, but because they will also be made in an even wider range of third-world countries with low wages and poor employment protection legislation. Producing PCs is now a lowest-cost commodity business, and we will all gain the benefit.
But there are other products that are having tariffs removed from them, such as applications software and telephone calls.
Well, fair enough, anything that makes phone calls a bit cheaper is bound to be a good thing, isn't it?
Up to a point, yes, but beyond that point is a huge "maybe not" drifting around in the ether. Cheaper phone calls, coupled with reduced costs of all IT products such as networking and communications devices, brings with it an implicit threat to many readers of this august organ.
Let me try and explain. The PC business is now a global enterprise, so no one now really knows, or cares, where in the world any specific PC is made, so long as it's the best combination of price and acceptable quality. Can you say the same things about your own job?
"Aha," you will no doubt say, "my own job is a bit different from making PCs. I do something special." Well, with cheap, tariff-free communications, such a statement might not be true for too much longer.
When it becomes just as easy to manage an employee - via high-quality, cheap communications and management applications - in Hindustan as in Harrow, and when the former costs a good deal less than the latter, then the latter must expect the inevitable.
The tariff removal is just a stepping stone along the way to the globalisation of not just the PC or IT business as a means of delivering productivity to other businesses. What is coming is IT as the means of globalising all of business, and in particular its intellectual requirements and brain power. With the existing global reach of the English language we are, arguably, at even more of a disadvantage, for intelligent, quick-witted and skillful people can be found in the farthest corners of this planet with English as their second, if not first, language.
We often assume that globalisation will only affect the low-skilled jobs, but that is no longer the case. From just about now onwards, every job is up for grabs, and I'm not entirely sure that is a good thing.
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