Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I have been gearing up for some time now to perform a thundering evisceration of outsourcing in public institutions, not least of all, Libraries. Unfortunately this discussion, as it is, seems to fall under the category of Politics, and just starting to compose something in my head about it causes blood to start trickling out from under my fingernails. Such a thing is not likely to be good for a person, especially me, as I have delicate hands. Furthermore, I have long ago drawn a line in the sand here at clerkmanifesto that says if I start raving about things like "lapdog unions" and "bovine administrators" I'm to immediately pull the plug on whatever essay I'm writing and cut my coffee rations down to seven cappuccinos a day, at least until I can once again be responsible with all that power. So here I am not writing about outsourcing, at least until I have a considerably more reasonable, low key, and smaller scale, way in.

Nevertheless, I was thinking about all this wild anger over outsourcing, and wondering a little at its source. Surely there's a kind of fear of it, I would hate beyond belief to have my job outsourced, and certainly there's all its injustice and evil and blah blah blah. But I felt I was missing something else, some tinder, some highly flammable part of it that I just couldn't get to in all my righteousness. So I poked at it. And then I got it.

I'm jealous. I want to outsource my job!

"Whoa! Wait! You want your job to be outsourced?" You cried out, whether you wanted to or not, because I have full control of the keyboard, including the essential "quote" keys.

No. I don't ever want my job to be outsourced. I want to outsource my job. Therein lies all the difference.

I understand your confusion. Culturally, we speak all the time about peoples' jobs being outsourced. This is perceived as negative, usually, and always so for the person whose job is being outsourced. That person loses their job while some company or contractor takes on getting their job done. The whole process can be seen variously as evil, foolish, shrewd, necessary, inevitable, or any combination of the above. But no one talks about outsourcing one's own job. There is always a line in outsourcing between the swath of displaced people who are dismissed, and a level of management who supervised all of them and stays. This is always the other side of the outsourcing equation, but it is never spoken of. To speak of it rather blows the lid off the whole thing. That is because no one loses their own job when they outsource it themselves. They keep their own job, but pay someone else to do it for them. That never looks good.

Let us say you are the head of prisons in some southern state. Your job is a headache. You've got all these different wardens reporting to you, you're fighting for scarce budget resources, you're desperately schmoozing with politicians to curry favor, but you rarely have anything to give to them. You're visiting your various prisons for really depressing tours, fighting to meet a host of federal prison regulations with wholly inadequate resources, and barely able to enjoy your ample salary because you work all the time. It's an exercise in futility.

Then, one day, a very nice man, who is very rich and well connected comes to you and offers to do all this nasty stuff for you, well within your current budget. You may even know that this is like an introductory offer, like a year's subscription to a magazine for five dollars, but here's the thing. It doesn't matter. When the amount this company charges skyrockets they will be there for you. With political power, capital, and a history of contributions, they will argue for the budget required. Indeed, they'll hardwire it into the budget through contracts, something you could never have dreamed of doing. They'll even argue for a nice fat raise for you! They'll put across intricate laws that funnel more prisoners and more money to themselves, but they will always make you look good. It's irresistible. So you outsource your job.

Now that this has happened, most of what you have to do is meet with the agents of the people doing your job for you. Do you meet them at prisons? No, you meet them at very nice corporate offices in swanky cities, or perhaps even at the best restaurants nearby. You say "Can you give us a slightly better deal on this contract?" Then you say "No, you can't? Well, keep up the good work!" Or you can skip the first part, but either way you'll be collecting your steadily waxing paycheck and playing a lot of golf, or video games, or blogging, or single malt collecting, or running for the Senate, or whatever it is you like to do.

I could certainly go more deeply into this, I'd even sort of like to. But I'd start inordinately using the word evil, and you know the rest from there. And besides, that's not my point. My point is, hey, what about me? I want some of this action.

I go see the Library Director. I am with a very spiffy executive type. We present our case, except the executive type is way better than me at this sort of thing, so they talk. For 6,000 dollars a year the executive's company will take care of my duties, with a 50% improvement in work output guaranteed. It's like getting an extra half time clerk for 6,000 bucks. The executive from (tm) also promises to make it so that their fee sources directly from county budgets and not Library budgets. Soon it will be like getting a half time clerk for free!

Naturally, the director goes for it.

Soon I am nominally supervising a team of seven low paid, but very eager, very part time workers who do some vague version of my job. They do vastly more shelving, less accurately, and they are terrible at the front desk, but, strangely, people don't complain much. I only really have to show up a couple days a week, and I spend most of that time giving pointers and blogging and drinking cappuccinos, so, sort of like what I do now with the core "work" part extracted. As the fee for my job (and a half) climbs up over a hundred thousand dollars a year, no worries, has it all under control through connections, donations, and legislations. Things are going so well that before long I'm just popping in once a week, or once every other week sometimes. My blog only rarely features Library related stories anymore and instead I am able to concentrate on my ruminations on squirrels. With this ability to really focus I bring something very special to squirrel blogging and my readership increases a healthy 3% every four years, which is pretty meteoric for a person writing so much about squirrels.

I get all tingly thinking about it.

When it comes time for me to retire there's no point to actually do so, since by then I no longer even have to bother to show up at the Library unless I want to check out a book. The county deposits money in my account and spending it is pretty much the extent of my duties. I have no problem doing a good job at this even as I age into my nineties and beyond. The CEO is very rich, and though the millions and millions of low paid employees who work for live in poverty and have to visit food shelves and apply for disappearing food stamp aid, it's hard for me to get very sympathetic. They could pull themselves up by their bootstraps just like I did and find some way to outsource their own jobs (which is doing the job of people like me!). Maybe they can get a second job and outsource that too. Time is money.

And that's about it. I feel very calm, very reasonable, even a little enlightened. No blood leaking out from under my fingernails now. I mean, none of my own.

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