We the Outsourcing Nation

From Outsourcing our Community Responsibilities to our Elderlies, Children & Beyond

outsourcingThis morning, while listening to a podcast show and after hearing a brief comment on the dangers facing our elderly care with all this ‘fiscal cliff’ nonsense, I started reflecting on one of the macro issues facing our society that no one seems to be talking about. For some reason it has become politically incorrect. For some people it is an absolute no-no subject. In the media it is censored since it is viewed as the antithesis of modernism. Well, I am not going to contain myself. I am going to air out my thoughts and questions on this topic. If you are one of those people who don’t like to be made to feel uncomfortable, or one of those who equate liberalism and modernity with giving up once-upon-a-time dearly held core values, then please exit here and move on. Tata and goodbye.

Now, for those of you who are still here on this page, let’s talk about and question this notion of outsourcing.

The Outsourcing of the Village

I know it is totally kosher to discuss the topic of outsourcing within the framework of jobs and economics - the media and academics have designated this aspect of outsourcing ‘reasonable and acceptable.’ Fine.  However, this is not the outsourcing I want to talk about and question. Not for this particular post. Not now. Instead, I want to delve into the other kind-the one not discussed; the one deemed old-fashioned, anti-liberal, anti-feminist, anti-modernism, anti …

Once upon a time we considered the welfare and well-being of the people of our village or our town our business - of our concern. I don’t mean everyone was equally involved, or that we didn’t have self-centered greedy ones who couldn’t care less about others. Of course we had those. However, there were many who were of the other kind: they considered it their responsibility to help fellow village residents who had come upon a misfortune either due to health reasons, accident or sheer bad-luck. The idea was that we watched out for each other, and we could count on it. It was the idea that today it was unfortunate Mr. X, but tomorrow it could very well be you, or me.

At some point, over time, that notion began to change, and then became pretty much nonexistent. At some point that tie, that responsibility, that comradeship … was completely transferred to another entity - one that didn’t even live in that town or village. At some point the residents of villages ceased feeling responsible for fellow residents under dire conditions - the responsibility was transferred to a bigger entity. Their conscience remained clear - after all, it was no longer their responsibility or duty - an entity much bigger and much more powerful had stepped in and taken on that responsibility. Pretty soon no one in the village bothered with even looking or assessing. It was no longer their obligation.

The responsibility and duties of the community were now completely outsourced - outsourced to the government. And you know what: it seemed to make peoples’ lives much easier. Now they could concentrate more on their own life, job, family and problems. Sure, they still had some empathy and sad feelings when they came across or faced an unfortunate fellow resident, but they moved on none-the-less with the assurance that what was needed would be handled and taken care of by the government. And even when things seemed to be getting worse, instead of taking action, they looked even more expectantly at their government. Maybe if they helped the big entity get bigger their fellow residents’ misfortunes would be addressed better and faster. Yes- a bigger government, with a much bigger budget, to take care of the problems that for some reason kept getting bigger and bigger.

The Outsourcing of Neighborly Deeds

The other day an acquaintance of mine was telling me about the heartbreaking condition of her next door neighbor, with a foreclosed house and two under 9 children. She didn’t know the exact situation. She didn’t know her neighbor’s job status. She didn’t know exactly how many days they had before eviction. She didn’t know any details. It was just a regular next-door neighborly relationship after all. Her point was: that the government must do something about this situation! Well, that is, the same government that actually played a big role putting them in this situation in the first place.

That aside, my question is: what exactly is ‘neighborly relations’ today? A long time ago, in some of the places where I grew up, one neighbor’s problem became most neighbors’ problem. There were meetings to address this neighbor’s recent hardship or that neighbor’s recent loss. It wasn’t all about a quick mandatory fake smile and a ‘hi’ or maybe a barbeque every other Fourth of July.

For me those few words ‘the government should do something about this and these wrecked lives of my neighbors’ tell a far more revelatory story of the causes. When did neighbors became un-neighborly? How did it take place? Sure; I know about the urbanization process. Sure. I know about the changing point with the Great Depression. Sure. I know all about the changes from macro to micro-family units. So what is the result? Seeing your neighbors going from being neighbors to homeless people in the streets, saying ‘the government must do something about it’, and going about your own life?

Basically, isn’t it outsourcing our neighborly responsibilities? My neighbors’ big problems are my big government’s problem, thus I bear no responsibility and take no action?

The Outsourcing of our Elderly

Once upon a time our elderly were treasured. We loved them. They had brought us into this world and raised us to adulthood making all the associated sacrifices. We were there and responsible when the life cycle turned from the point of being taken care of by them to the point where they needed to be taken care of. Call it whatever you want: love, loyalty, responsibility, rule of reciprocity, mutual dependency …

While I am at it, I am going to emphasize the word ‘mutual’ here. You see, once-upon-a-time people’s usefulness and importance did not decrease (or be even totally eliminated) when they became old. In fact, in some respects, their value increased. Offspring made full use of their elderlies’ experience and wisdom. They had that wisdom and experience to turn to and make use of. Whether in bearing and rearing children, or conflict resolution, or … Think about the amount of money spent on so-called counseling. Or, think about the amount of time spent surfing the net and TV for experts with no wisdom giving opinions on how to solve your family or sexual or friendship problem. That role was far more successfully played by our elderlies- and they didn’t charge several hundred dollars per hour. That is, once upon a time.

In many ways it was a win-win situation: the upward move within the societal hierarchy in terms of respect and value, with shifting channels in their usefulness. And for the younger generation it was about the availability and accessibility of this knowledge-experience-wisdom pool. This even extended to labor – a voluntary contribution of labor.  My grandmother was the natural replacement when my mother was sick or unavailable. Who would take care of my cousins when my aunt was in the hospital for the delivery of her youngest daughter? Add to that emotional support both ways, and you had this mutual give and take with inconveniences and pain here and there.

I do not intend to generalize here, but I see categories of elderly around: (1)- The lesser affluent lonely and bitter group - bitter from being viewed as having finished their ‘usefulness stage’- with those once every two Christmas visits by kids and grandkids, with the struggle to make do with limited leftover income, and the anxiety of an inevitable lonely end in an institution for the elderly. (2)- The bored and useless affluent elderly who are being wasted on the golf course swinging their clubs; their entire being depending on making that damn little ball go into that darn little hole. Yes they can afford more frequent trips to visit with kids and grandchildren, yet limiting the visits to limit the wounds inflicted in acknowledging their utter uselessness.

I do not mean to sound cold or mean. I do not mean to diminish people’s love for their cute grandparents. However, when push comes to shove, who can deny the ever-expanding industry and institutions for committed elderlies to live the remainder of their lives useless and to die (occasional holiday visits at these institutions not withstanding)?

During the latest fiscal cliff drama nonsense I’ve heard so many times people asking (and asking very sincerely): with all these cuts who is going to take care of my poor grandparents? Let’s set aside those who truly are unable (physically and financially): why do millions of us view ourselves as unable to even consider taking on caring for our grandparents and elderly parents? Is it the inconvenience (financial, physical, privacy, emotional, etc.)? Is it because we have been conveniently given a way out? Haven’t the majority of us long abdicated our responsibility to our elderly, and seem to be comfortable outsourcing them?

The Outsourcing of our Children

Before I begin allow me to emphasize one more time: This is not about passing judgment.

I know and hear all about the so-called changing face of our economy and the undeniable increasing need for a double income for each nuclear family. I do know families who cannot survive and meet their primary needs without both parents out there working. For now, I am not referring to this category of families. Instead I am going to focus on other families I know who are in the situation of both parents working full-time by choice; simply by choice. Whether this choice is based on their desire to have a brighter financial future (for themselves and their children), or, their view of establishing their gender identity, or, simply because they find career/jobs more fulfilling and easier than demanding full-time parenthood responsibilities, some parents make a conscience choice not to raise their children.

A friend of mine, a former teacher, tried full-time motherhood. After 8 months she decided that: 1- full-time motherhood was bewildering, too demanding, and tedious; 2- she missed the socialization and self-esteem she used to get from being at work; 3- It was against her feministic beliefs. She went back to work full-time. Her infant was placed in a daycare facility-dropped off at 7:30 in the morning and picked up at 5:30 p.m. Every weekday, 10 hours a day. Granted, she openly admitted that when she added up the daycare cost, the cost of having to have a second car for the family and the associated expenses (gas, tax, and insurance), the cost of work clothes, and the cost of spending more on pre-cooked meals, the family ended up with less money than one parent working. However, she believed the inconveniences of full-time motherhood, the loss of career prospects down the road, the diminishing societal (mainly her peers/friends) image of her … supported her decision to transfer the care of her child to a daycare center. There are millions of people who sit down and make these same calculations based on their own specific situations, needs and expectations, and then they make the decision to outsource the raising-care of their offspring.

Again, I am not going to argue the reasons or validity. Instead I am summarizing the reality on the ground: Just like those big bad evil nasty corporations who sit down and make cold profit calculations and decide whether to outsource their work to countries with much cheaper labor or not, today in our society many parents sit down and make calculations of their own. But there is a big difference: one involves hard and cold profit margin calculations, while the other? Well, what is the other? Because it is not simply a job. Or at least it once was not only a job. Rather, it was the care and nurturing of our children.

Today, we hear about the care of children aka Day-Care.  It is a job. It is an institution. It is a job for a certain-size corporation or company. The word nurturing is not included. Nurturing has nothing to do with it. It is a job. It is an industry. It is a place where we outsource the raising of our children. Forget the nurturing/loving part of it - that’s a thing of the past.

One of the things I have a hard time understanding is this: Why do people find it easy to criticize and debate the coldness and the negative externalities of outsourcing jobs, yet these same people would not dare to discuss the issue of outsourcing their own children.  I’ll go even further than that: if we can willingly outsource the raising-nurturing-caring-educating of our own little children to some institution, how in the world do we find the guts to criticize or look-down upon companies outsourcing the production or services of their products aka ‘things’?

Not only that, lately it has become more common and even fashionable to actually demand and seek government sponsorship (subsidy) of institutions to raise our outsourced children. Some people believe (and demand) that government should either fully or partially pay-whether by creating government-owned and operated child-care facilities, or the government directly paying these private corporations that make money from raising our children a la ObamaCare.

This commentary, more like me thinking out loud, has less to do with right or wrong, or, morality, or life-style philosophy, than with the general standing of our society today, and then questioning it and its implications.

Over the last hundred years or so we have gradually abdicated our community responsibilities. Instead, we seem to have chosen the government to be the only force in that previously our domain. We can walk past a now homeless former neighbor and do nothing about it (getting momentarily sad doesn’t count). We have outsourced that responsibility to the government.

In the last half century or so we have been turning more and more to institutions and government to take over the care of our elderly. Essentially, we have decided to outsource our grandparents.

Over the last few decades more and more parents have been turning to institutions to raise their children. We sit down and engage in all sorts of calculations to decide whether to raise, care for and nurture our own babies, or just outsource them to institutions specialized to do that.

And what do all these realities tell us about us as a society? We have come to this point where we have given up our responsibility to stand up or care for our fellow citizens, fellow town residents, our elderly and our offspring. We appear to have appointed a faceless remote big government to step up to all these tasks. We have outsourced these former self-responsibilities. Should it come to us as a surprise when we see no action, pure inaction, from our majority when it comes to standing up for our liberties, our privacy, government criminalities, torture, perpetual wars, corruption, and rampant waste, fraud and abuse?

It is not that difficult to point a finger at deserved culprits such as the utterly corrupt congress, despicable puppet president, spineless federal judges, and sold-out media. On the other hand maybe we should start with ourselves and do the real hard finger-pointing. What does abdication of our responsibilities to our community, our neighbors, our elderly and even our children tell us about ourselves as a society? That it should come very easy to completely outsource our governance, and be governed completely without our own participation or say?

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Sibel Edmonds is the Publisher & Editor of Boiling Frogs Post and the author of the Memoir Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story. She is the recipient of the 2006 PEN Newman's Own First Amendment Award for her “commitment to preserving the free flow of information in the United States in a time of growing international isolation and increasing government secrecy” Ms. Edmonds has a MA in Public Policy and International Commerce from George Mason University, a BA in Criminal Justice and Psychology from George Washington University.

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  1. Very thought provoking, as always, Sibel.

    I have a few quick points that immediately came to mind:

    – Collectivism can be a slippery idea and seems to be missing from our supposed big liberal government run society
    – Government is supposed to be made up of we
    – Day cares, old folks homes (soon possibly prisons, highways) are mostly private, for profit
    – I’m sooooo glad I didn’t need to live in some religious charity housing as a kid. I very much prefer government housing, where irrational indoctrination wasn’t a prerequisite.

    I agree with your criticism of modern society. Modern corporate controlled life, it seems, has chipped away at our natural beauty and strength (and natural collectivism), to create the sculpture of a good consumer, who believes. Believes they have convenience. Believes they have security and liberty. Believes the public infrastructure aspect of government is just as evil as the bloody war machine foreign policy aspect.

    When, in reality, public infrastructure does more for security than the, now almost totally offensive, military ever could. And we’re outsourcing that as well, just to keep it away from being run by actual people.

    Good people stand up for good public infrastructure through good government. Nowadays, they usually lose to the privately owned society who manages to get people to think they are more free and liberated when they are not involved, even in their own lives.

  2. As an official senior citizen and potential recipient of government largess, I read this with interest. I also remember a time, right here in America, when we took care of our elderly relatives, cared for our own children, and tried to help neighbors (all of whom we knew by name). A lot has changed however, and we won’t be able to bring those days back.

    For one thing, I also remember that in my father’s best year financially he made $6,500, allowing for inflation that would be a bit over $50,000 today but I would bet that few families living in a moderate-sized city on that income could support a family of 4 with the spouse not working, a new car, a house completely paid for, no worries about medical bills, and most of the modern conveniences. When we lived in that situation, we had the time and focus to take better care of one another. (IMHO that change in the economic situation of working families was a matter of government policy, not a inevitable result of economic growth.)

    While I too miss those days, I don’t see how we can get them back. For the more affluent, they certainly could choose that lifestyle in lieu of one of acquisitiveness, but most don’t. For the rest of us, it simply isn’t possible absent a major downsizing of our lifestyle.

    I also believe we are fast approaching the day when the economic system will collapse and those who have invested the time and energy to develop and strengthen their relationships with family, friends and community will be much better off than those that have not. When we desperately need one another to survive, we may change our ways, but most people will hang on to their American dream until the bitter end.

  3. Sibel,
    Happy New Year and an EXCELLENT essay!

    Obviously the nuclear family is not what it was and is (in the USA and the West) and many other parts of the world. The paradigm of the family has a unit of mutual support and shared responsibility has been eroded by the reality of an industrialized society. We are far from the hunter or gatherer lifestyle or even the family farm or small business. We now work to purchase was was provided by our families.

    I would argue that the destruction of the nuclear family is a direct result of the industrial revolution and capitalism or any economic model where one must work to provide *exchange* for goods and services.

    You can’t work and take care of family and so this is outsourced… whether to government or neighbors or relatives (extended family). Your example of a woman who discovered *needs* which superseded raising her child are also a direct result of needs created by the complexities of industrialized societies.

    *Big or outsource solutions* arise because they appear to meed a need.

    It is clear to me that many of the issues you raise have not been thought about at all by 99.99% of the people. Their ideas of how to live their lives and what values to embrace are superimposed in them from others who get their ideas from the cultural zeitgeist.

    Most people feel compelled to have a child or children. It’s also a biological imperative if our species is to survive and we are no different from any other species.. driven by our genes to replicate copies into the future. This HAS led to evolution and consciousness and organizations of society and cooperation… sharing of efforts… division of labor… and so forth. But with this sharing and evolution of social structure some of the more sensible and basic solutions of the past either no longer apply or are simply forgotten.

    The 60s had communes which attempted to address some of the issues you raise. Israel has kibbutz or collective living to do the same. But America is pushed the ME as important and so all manner of problems fall upon us by advancing of the self. We are told self sufficiency is the paramount state on one hand and that we need to rely on others for many things. Who can build a bike or a car, a road, a plane, a house or a table?

    The capitalist solution is to make money to buy what you need because someone is there to sell it (at a profit). The communist/socialist model is a collective one which *taxes* all so that solutions can be provided to ALL by the state. We have that in our roads and air traffic control and so forth. But most things we leave to the rule of the jungle and market solutions.

    We simply have not found or perfected the solutions to age old problems in industrialized… in fact most are very poorly thought out. And once money is involved it the death blow to even something child care or elder car, or health or housing or education.

  4. dutchbradt says:

    Throughout the history of European settlement in North America, the “golden years” of old age and retirement tended to be bleak, lonely, impoverished and short. Only the comparatively well-to-do could ever afford to retire, and most people worked themselves to death. It has always been uncommon for multiple generations of a family to live under the same roof. Young men almost always struck out on their own to work their own small farms and start families. Successful merchants and professional men might be able to bring their sons into the family business and own a large enough home to enable multiple generations of the family to remain together, but this was very unusual.

    Court records from colonial New Netherlands indicate that much of government’s business in those days consisted of protecting the interests of orphaned minor children. It was common for men and women to re-marry several times during their lives due to the death of spouses, and the property rights of the children brought into the new marriages required some fairly complex legal arrangements. Old age was something no one had a right to look forward to. Just living long enough to see your kids married off was an accomplishment.

    During the deliberations in Philadelphia over the new constitution for the United States, it was decided that a minimum age requirement for the presidency be sat at 35. The reasoning being that this would minimize the temptation of one president to connive to make a son his successor – because it was so rare that a 35 year old would have a father who was still alive.

    In short, the halcyon days when the cherished elderly could count on living their final peaceful years in the respect and comfort of their extended families rarely ever happened. The recent explosion in the population of elderly is a new phenomenon for which no traditional living arrangements exist. Furthermore the American governments have been deeply involved in family matters since the beginning. It is not fair to criticize the current parents of young children and children of elderly parents for “farming out” their traditional family responsibilities.

  5. AVIONBLANC says:

    Excellent analysis of our plight.

  6. This is an interesting discussion on a related issue:


  7. I read most of your post here Sibel, I understand it and agree with it. Well my thing is… this is what the social sceintists were working on from way back, when what they wanted to do was to create the… “atomized social matrix”… where … in a sense no one would be able to build with another/// “not one brick would be upon another”. No person would be able to gain from association with another! All commerse would be through some station regulated in all ways.

    I have yearned for the kind of neighbors that would be able to be able… to give back, as I have offered to give them, but what do I find?… not too many that are up to that kind of normality… I give, I get nothing back.

    I don’t care that much about the pay back, because I don’t need nothing from them, I give as a gift, take it, and maybe I will get some small good will in return, but I don’t get much in return, these bad ass neighbors of today, are pathetic.

    I lost my parents in the last 9 years, my mom died one year ago, none of her neighbors even knew her or ever met her much, they are like mine here, these people are complete cosmopolitan flotsom… who revel in their way to just come into a community and “buy” a house, or rent it, and they don’t think that they have any kind of responsibility to even… know who lives next door… just don’t give a crap!

    I have more to say on it, but that’s all folks!!

  8. @Joetoad: Thank you for sharing-in such a sincere way. I know what you’re talking about:

    Before we moved to OR, we lived in the same neighborhood for 15 years. Despite all attempts (during the first few years) establishing humanly contact didn’t seem possible. Let me put it this way: why in the world your next door neighbor actually mail Christmas/NY card to you right next door??!! I mean litereally next door. Establishing human contact (true human contact)is becoming a rarity (accelerated with technololgy). I just read this study on how many percent ofchildren/young adults are not able to have eye contact with peers/teachers/even family.

  9. @ Sibel: Clearly no one has figured out how to structure a human society to deal with the complexity that industrialization and population density has created.

    Our biology hasn’t evolved much in the last 100 generations… but the complexity of society has… the population has… cities have risen up. We are no longer hunter and gatherers. We have not successfully (obviously) constructed a society/culture which builds on the values and paradigms that were working when we lived in a much simpler world. Why?

    The answer may be because we stumbled forward and tried to adapt (force) and fit the old paradigms into the new complexities. Square peg into round hole syndrome. Many of those paradigms were abandoned at being old fashioned and inefficient… and incompatible with and industrialized society.

    There are cultures which have managed to hold on to traditional and historic for lack of a better word – values (paradigms of living). Turkey from my brief experience there is an example of a country which is straddling the two and I believe Ataturk was the leader who wanted to bring Turkey into modernity… consciously. Obviously in places like India, the stans… much of the Arab world and all the so called – 3rd world or “developing nations” modernity has not erased all of the old paradigms. There is a sort of cultural schizophrenia in many places. This is more than a religious *war*… it is a culture war between the old and the new paradigms. Traditional families, values and structures seem not to fit into the new paradigm of western industrial society. Good or bad?

    Obviously some of both… Evolution of society, industrialization and technology have brought many benefits… perhaps so many people cannot survive without *modernity*… But there are costs too… And it has destroyed much as well… Is it progress? In some ways.. Yes… but we can see it as not tending toward utopia but actually a dystopia. While this was a fictional concept it has turned out to be our world.

    “A dystopia is a community or society, usually fictional, that is in some important way undesirable or frightening. It is the opposite of a utopia. Such societies appear in many works of fiction, particularly in stories set in a speculative future. Dystopias are often characterized by:

    totalitarian governments
    environmental disaster
    or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society

    Elements of dystopias may vary from environmental to political and social issues. Dystopian societies have culminated in a broad series of sub-genres of fiction and are often used to raise real-world issues regarding society, environment, politics, religion, psychology, spirituality, or technology that may become present in the future. For this reason, dystopias have taken the form of a multitude of speculations, such as pollution, poverty, societal collapse, political repression, or totalitarianism.”

    It’s not as if some people couldn’t see this coming.

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