Abstract: Globalization of the ICT Labor Force

William Lazonick


Since the 1960s development strategies of East Asian nations have interacted with investment strategies of US-based ICT companies to generate a global supply of high-tech labor. This process has entailed flows of US capital to East Asian labor and vice versa. In offshoring to access low-skill assembly labor, US multinationals employed indigenous university graduates as managers and engineers. In the host nations, investments in higher education provided foundations for the development of indigenous ICT capabilities but also enabled university graduates to access global career paths that included advanced education and work experience abroad, particularly in the United States. I examine the extent of this potential brain drain by documenting the flow of East Asians to the United States for higher education and work experience over the last four decades. Then I analyze how, through a combination of a) upgrading of the capabilities of the offshored facilities of multinational corporations, b) government investments in research institutes and graduate education, and c) the emergence of indigenous high-tech companies, some East Asian nations reversed the brain drain. In the conclusion I consider the implications of this globalization of labor for developing economies as well as for high-tech employment opportunities in the United States.