Saturday, March 10, 2007

I Outsourced my Haircut

Tibor R. Machan

When I left the US Air Force back in the early 60s, one of the benefits I had to relinquish is the great flat top haircuts I used to be able to get there. The barbers were experts at providing me with those cuts. So what was I going to do?

For about 20 years afterwards I cut my own hair. I didn’t know it back then, but I was being a bad boy as far as many contemporary political pundits and even some economists are concerned, the likes of Ralph Nader, Patrick Buchanan, and Paul Krugman. I took jobs from some Americans and gave them to, well, me! The money that could have gone to the barbers in my neighborhood remained in my pocket for me to spend on something else. The barbers, in turn, had to drum up an extra haircut job, given that I took mine from them.

You might have thought I had reformed in the meantime, seeing all the objections raised against outsourcing throughout the last several years. But no. I am at it again.

Although for quite some time I have been going back to barbers—my hair is now difficult to manage, given how thin it has gotten and how little I care to do the acrobatics needed to cut it in the back—the price some of them charge takes me aback now. Having managed the do it yourself approach for such a long time, shelling out fifteen bucks for a plain cut, and the tip, still jars me. But I understand the principle of supply and demand, so I did not protest. I kept going back to these folks who seemed to me too expensive, given how I had managed the task for nothing but a few lost minutes.

Alas, despite living in one of the most expensive regions of the country, let alone the world, I discovered a barber shop on my way to work that charges only six dollars for the kind of cut I like. And now they are getting my business every three or four weeks, not the people who to my mind charge an arm and a leg.

Yes, I took the job of cutting my hair from some folks who depended on this source of revenue and gave it to some others who also do but charge much less for their work. I went and found some cheap labor from which to benefit! Not only that, the two out of the three barbers in this far less expensive shop are, you guessed it, "foreigners." Maybe even in America illegally! Well, no, I don’t know this for sure except they hardly speak any English at all, apart from such crucial terms as "a trim" and "taper." Still, they do a fine job, indeed mess things up far less frequently than did the more expensive experts in other shops around my neighborhood.
Why have I zero guilt about having outsourced my haircuts? Why don’t I see myself as a nasty, greedy person who is willing to deprive some good American barbers of their income just so he could save, well, almost fifty percent on his haircuts?

Here is why. In obtaining the goods and services of others in the market place, I am looking for the best deal I can find. Indeed, I take this to be a moral responsibility of mine, the practice of the moral virtue of prudence. I do not wish to waste my resources and when I can find something I want for a great price, I’ll jump at the chance. (My children sure appreciate this, seeing how such prudence makes it possible for me to provide them better than if I didn’t watch it with my spending.)
Yes, I care about my own purse and my children’s desires for what I can get for them more than I do for the economic well-being of the barbers who work around town. These barbers aren’t my relatives, or friends, or even close associates, so all I need them for is a good deal. I am sure they are relatives, friends, and associations of some persons who would deal with them differently from how I do. And I, too, have some relatives, friends, and associates around with whom I do not do business only but whom I also wish to help out. So I may not outsource my favorite butcher and restaurateur, given how I have developed a relationship with them that now goes beyond commerce.

The circle of those with whom I do business as well as consider friends is, however, small, quite necessarily so. I do not have time for very many friends. I do, however, have a great many partners in trade. Most of them I tend to treat professionally. So if my doctor moves away because she got a better offer someplace out of reach for me, I don’t think I have been betrayed. She ought to act prudently, too. And if the barbershop where I am getting such a good deal were to move out of range, that too would be quite OK. I may at times be willing to be my brother’s keeper, but not my barber’s keeper. Nor need all those firms that outsource some of their work for a better deal.

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