Steve Thomas

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Leaky Delegation: You are not a Commodity

I think this article misses something quite important:

The amount of time you save by outsourcing is often much smaller than a nominal analysis of the time spent would suggest. There are a couple of things at play here:

  1. There is an interplay of fixed and variable costs that can make some marginal costs nearly trivial and others quite significant. E.g., I spend about 1.5 hours each weekend shopping for weekly groceries. The amount of time I would save by buying a single day's less food would probably be around a minute. This is less than the time it takes me to complete an order for takeout. The 15 minutes of direct ingredient preparation time is a small fraction of the overall cost of meal preparation. Cooking a meal can also be parallelized with other activities making the marginal cost even smaller.
  2. There are negative externalities to outsourcing that are really significant. E.g., there is a non-trivial cost involved in meal-planning for a family. Integrating take-outs does not generally make this easier, since it complicates ingredient reuse, prevents buying fresh ingredients at economical scale and increases the risk of spoilage by forcing longer storage periods. Takeouts also frequently increase serving and clean-up costs in a non-negligible way, due to the way they are packaged for transport. There is a cost in the uncertainty of delivery time. There is a time cost of reheating the food that has gone cold. There is a cost associated with storing leftovers.