The perils of outsourcing ourselves.

We find ourselves in a world where we prize efficiency and performance, subject ourselves to the judgement of others and generally distance ourselves from much lived experience. It has some interesting side effects.

  • We pay to watch professionals play sport than develop our own skills.
  • We distance ourselves from the reality of the food we eat, from growing it to killing it.
  • We work hard in pressured conditions for fifty weeks a year in order to pay large amounts of money to holiday somewhere else for two weeks where we don’t have any real community connection.
  • We put ourselves in debt to appear wealthy to others.
  • We take the risks determined by others, rather than take responsibility for the risks ourselves.

The whole of the industrial economy, from the time of Adam Smith’s first observations in the pin factory, has been increasingly dependent on specialisation, from our individual skills to the design of machinery. It has worked really well – perhaps even too well.

Specialisation has it’s limits. It depends above all else on the continuity of an environment that supports it. It does however always bump into Darwin’s observation that it is adaptability, not short term specialisation that determines survival, and Adam Smith himself observed that:

“the man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations… generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.

Adam Smith. Wealth of Nations.

History is littered with examples of the perils of specialisation, from weavers, to miners, to car manufacturers. This year, people specialising in hospitality and travel have found themselves sidelined. In this decade, many accountants, lawyers, sales managers others will find themselves sidelined by technology and less able to pay for what they might otherwise learn to do for themselves (albeit less efficiently). Living in big houses with big mortgages and small gardens unable to grow anything useful and dependent on others.

The challenges we face in this decade, from Covid and its successors, to climate change will stretch our supply chains, physical and emotional, to the limit. We will need to source closer to home in every sense.

We have far more capabilities than we realise. Some of them are latent, yet to be discovered. Others are rusty, not used for a while. All are accessible to us. We may not be the best, but we are not nothing, It has never been easier to refresh them.

We are at the end of the era of “more” and entering an era of “enough”, and individually, we are more than enough.

Insourcing to ourselves is good. Communities are vital. Shared skills and adaptability.

Giving and taking from people we know who will be there when we encounter the bumps in the road.


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