How would you feel if this column was outsourced?
Suppose you found out that this column wasn’t written by me. Suppose it was written by some random young hack to whom I was paying a pittance to do it for me. Would you care? Would my employer care? The answer to both questions is probably yes. Yet caring makes little sense. The only logical, unsentimental response would be not to care at all.
About 10 days ago, the story broke of a programmer at Verizon who outsourced his job to someone in China so that he could concentrate on watching cat videos instead. Verizon cared so much it did something quite mad: it gave him the sack.
Like this programmer, most of us are employed to do specific tasks. If they are done well, we should be rewarded. If not, we should be reprimanded. We are responsible for our work whether or not we do it ourselves; either way the incentive to perform is the same.
The only risk in outsourcing our jobs at a fraction of our salary is that our employer gets wind of it and decides to cut out the middleman. Otherwise the arrangement has a lot going for it and has a fine pedigree. Getting someone else to do your work is the basis of capitalism. It is the oil that makes organisations run smoothly. The more senior and the better paid you are, the less you end up doing yourself: it is called delegation.
You could say it is different in my case because there is deception involved. As it is my picture on top of this column, you are being led to believe that these are my words. Yet that seems a sentimental concern: surely it is enough that I vaguely agree with the arguments expressed and that the words are entertaining enough to make you want to read on.
In any case, all sorts of people give their names to the labour of others. Damien Hirst employs about 100 artists in a factory and has boasted that he likes to sit and watch them work. No one expects politicians to write their own speeches. We know many academics get their PhD students to do their research for them. Fashion designers don’t generally design their own clothes. Colonel Sanders doesn’t make his own fried chicken – though that is partly because he is dead.
There is only one field in which outsourcing is not fine. It is never okay for students to buy essays on the internet and pass them off as their own. But that is because learning is about the process rather than the outcome: if you mess with the process, it counts as cheating.