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Pay Someone to Name Your Child? How We Are Outsourcing Our Personal Affairs

Arlie Hochschild, author of 'The Outsourced Self,' discusses the free-market's influence on our private lives.

Would you pay a nameologist to help you name your child? Would you “Rent-A-Friend” to keep you company? How about paying a wantologist to help you determine what you want out of life?

These services may seem a bit absurd now, but they may soon become more mainstream, just like previously debatable outsourced personal services that are now everyday aids. For instance, today, if you are single, you probably wouldn’t think twice about paying an online service to help you find a date. And if all goes well, you may pay someone to plan your wedding.

Where do we draw the line? This is the question Arlie Hochschild asks in her new book,  The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times. Hochschild traveled around the nation talking to people about which personal life processes they choose to outsource. She begins with Grace Weaver, a 49-year-old who hires Evan Katz to be her love coach. Katz helps her write her profile and takes her photo, but when he asks if she would like him to read all the responses she receives, she declines. That would be “over the line.”

The author engages people across America who hire wedding planners, nannies, life coaches or household managers. Hochschild then makes her way overseas to Anand, India, where she examines perhaps the most intimate of outsourced affairs: child surrogacy. Hochschild talks to couples about their choice to outsource pregnancy as well as talks to surrogates about their experience outsourcing their bodies. She does this all while keeping a special eye on how much significance the pregnancy’s stakeholders find in the process. Some couples and surrogates say they see the process as a simple financial transaction. Others find those nine months extremely meaningful. One surrogate told the author about the close relationship she formed with the woman whose baby she was carrying: “She held my hand during the delivery. When the baby was born, she said, ‘Look how beautiful our child is.’”

From time to time throughout the author’s journey, Hochschild juxtaposes market life with the “just do” village life of her family 100 years ago, when people attached more meaning to life’s personal processes, like making friends, falling in love or caring for your community.

AlterNet spoke with Hochschild in Berkeley, Calif. in late July about the rapidly expanding phenomenon of privatizing many of our most personal affairs. 

AlterNet: One of the undercurrents in the book is people’s almost religious belief in the market as a way to solve their personal problems, even though the market fails a lot of the time. Why are people so dependent on the market? 

AH: Right. We don’t live with the community of yesteryear. And we don’t enjoy the public services Europeans do. So we turn to the market. Once we do, we find that service providers raise the standards of personal life, so that we come to feel we need them to live our “best” personal lives.

And we’re in the middle of a “perfect storm.” These days, government social services are being bad-mouthed and defunded. The non-profit world is looking more and more like the for-profit world. The growing gap between rich and poor makes most of us very anxious about where we stand. And the growing service sector offers answers, both real and exaggerated, to problems of personal life — including those the market itself creates.

AN: And it all has a political context, right?

AH: Oh, absolutely. We live in an era of market triumphalism. As Robert Kuttner argues in  Everything for Sale, since the l970s the big multinationals have gained power. And increasingly both parties are financially indebted to them. And the Republican Party especially associates the market with the idea of progress, goodness, family, and points us toward the mall as an answer to all our personal dreams.