Outsourcing labor to other countries in which labor is cheaper and taxes are more favorable is often seen as a BAD THING. Oh, those naughty corporate bigwigs who send jobs overseas to the people in crushing poverty and raise their standard of living while providing more affordable products to folks back home in the U.S. While it may seem very clear to many people that outsourcing is simply terrible, I like to look at the complexities of the situation and weigh the factors rather than making simplistic judgments like media types looking for a good story to rile folks up. Yes, we have fewer jobs here, which is certainly a pressing issue. It also often provides jobs and a higher standard of living for folks living in places where it’s an even more pressing issue. Through outsourcing, we’ve done a great deal to help people in other countries have a better life. It also gives us cheaper products and exposes folks in other countries to our debauched culture. The outcomes have been mixed for everyone except the people with ever more gigantic stacks of cash that will be largely worthless as time goes on.
A similar issue that doesn’t get as much recognition in the media is upsourcing, which is process of exporting responsibility and power from the lowest level (individuals) to higher levels (municipal, state, and federal governments). Looking at the history of our country, there are many examples of upsourcing. One of my favorite examples is Prohibition, which also had mixed results. Instead of being content with not indulging in excessive consumption of alcohol and putting social pressure on those who did, or just restricting commercial alcohol-related ventures at the county or state level, prohibitionists made it a national issue. They upsourced the issue in an attempt to win. It’s rather like a child running to the school principal when their teacher won’t let them make the rules in the classroom for everyone else. And while I’m sure their intentions were good, they set a pretty terrible precedent. It wasn’t the only precedent for the massive overreach of the federal government in matters of the economy or civil liberties, but it is a well-known case of it that features some serious abuse of the Constitution.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that we really consider how much we want to upsource. How much of your responsibility for your own security, responsibility for your own health, and responsibility for your own financial decisions do you want to hand over to government? I can see the appeal of not having to worry about that stuff and having more pleasant leisure time. I can also see the loss of the corresponding liberty whenever responsibility is upsourced. It’s a problem facing the Catholic Church in the U.S. right now. The Bishops in the U.S. have pretty consistently advocated for universal healthcare legislation that would help ensure that everyone had access to decent healthcare. They wanted to upsource the issue and give the federal government control over healthcare, and now they’re getting exactly what they asked for, but were surprised by the corresponding loss of freedom to make their own decisions about what constitutes decent healthcare.
I wasn’t surprised by that result. I learned my lesson as a child that receiving the benefits of having someone else be responsible for you came with a corresponding loss of freedom. I’m sure some people are still comfortable with having the kind of carefree security they had as a child, the security that comes with having someone else be the responsible party and liberty taken out of your hands. I’m just not one of those people.
Sometimes, the feeling of security comes with too high a price. Or it doesn’t, depending on your perspective. Just ask these folks working in a sweat shop in Bangladesh: