Outsourcing Life

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
6th December 2013

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‘Outsourcing’ is an ‘in’ word. It used to be only a business word but now is spreading into life itself. Today people are outsourcing their life.

For some time the business world has used the term to talk of buying goods and services from outside suppliers. Rather than using in-house employees to undertake all the tasks of the business, the company will turn to external suppliers and ’outsource’ the work. This enables the business to concentrate on the core activities and allow experts to provide assistance in areas that are marginal to the business. The classic outsourcing is Information Technology. Many businesses do not have the expertise to set up and maintain their own Information Technology, so they subcontract this work out to experts.

While it is fashionable to speak of outsourcing, there's nothing new in it - nor is it an evil that must be resisted. The whole of society is built upon outsourcing. Without outsourcing, people have to live in a subsistence economy, where each citizen grows their own food, builds their own house, makes their own clothes and provides everything for himself or herself. As soon as we move to any division of labour we have started the process of outsourcing. From the division of domestic duties, to the selling of goods with neighbours, to the trade between businesses, society is built on outsourcing.

Over the centuries, wealth, technical sophistication and improved communication have increased outsourcing of goods and services. Australia's participation in the developing global economy has meant that our society is increasingly outsourcing our industrial activity. Our clothing production, white goods manufacturing and automobile industries have all gone, or are proposing to go, overseas where labour is cheaper. Attempts to persuade the community to buy ‘Australian Made’ seem to have failed comprehensively. It is not only the manufacturing side of our economy that is sourced from outside Australia. Whenever we make telephone enquiries, we have as much chance to talk to somebody in India as we have of talking to somebody in Australia. While consciences may be pricked by the thought of employing under-age workers in sweat shops who have no legal protection, proper remuneration or decent working conditions, the easy access to ridiculously cheap goods and services and their universal swamping of the market overwhelms any sense of morality.

Lately, our wealth has pushed us further into private outsourcing; paying to have things done for us rather than do them ourselves. There is, after all, no particular virtue in mowing your own grass, cleaning your own house, washing your own car or doing your own laundry. If you can earn enough money to pay somebody else to do these tasks, you not only make your own life easier but also provide employment for somebody less well-off than yourself and contribute to the health of the local economy. It doesn’t reduce our workload but rather re-allocates it from the more menial domestic tasks to more demanding remunerated employment. Domestic outsourcing is therefore the activity of the wealthy and aspiring-to-be-wealthy classes in our society.

Business consultants and gurus talk of the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing in terms of the immediate tangible consequences. Bottom-line rationalists rarely consider the long-term intangible effects of their behaviour. Working at home through the internet and email may be efficient but not so in developing long term personal relationships. Little emoticons in emails are not as good as a smile, a frown or the twinkle of an eye. The quality of relationships cannot be outsourced. When the quantity of our life is consumed by the business of providing for our outsourcing we have become the slaves of industry and are outsourcing life itself.

It is one thing to outsource our domestic duties; it is another thing to outsource our family relationships. We have been outsourcing child-raising for generations. Teachers educating our children in school is outsourcing. Only some people in the homeschooling community seriously question such outsourcing. In the materialistic age of increased wealth, smaller and two-income families, we have increased the outsourcing of child-raising and family life. If it is appropriate to outsource education why wait till the child is 5 years old? Why not outsource the preschool years? If it requires us to work longer hours to provide for our children why not outsource pre-school and after-school care? If our employment, necessary for all our outsourcing, requires us to work during school holidays why not outsource child-minding during holidays? Would it not be cheaper in the long run to employ a nanny, to go with our other domestic servants, to take our children to all the after-school extracurricular activities that are a must for the right-thinking aspiring middle-class? Ultimately, it may be cheaper and easier to put the children into boarding school - though presumably an orphanage is cheaper still!

I assume it is because I taught my son cricket in the backyard rather than paying for him to get professional training in a cricket academy, that he is not playing Sheffield Shield and Test Cricket. But nothing can replace the fun we had playing together: climbing fences to retrieve our sixes, replacing broken windows at mid-wicket, taking the "impossible" caught-and-bowled, sympathizing over the bruised shin. You cannot outsource the quality of life any more than you can outsource living itself.

But what of death? Can we outsource death? The Psalmist said no: "Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit" (Psalm 49:7-9). Yet, the great news of the gospel is that what no man could do, God, in Christ, has already done by paying the price to outsource our death for us: "he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:15).