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Lord Sacks receives the Templeton Prize in May: “You can’t outsource conscience. You can’t delegate moral responsibility away” (©Templeton Prize/Paul Hackett)


Beloved friends, the news that I had won the Templeton Prize almost rendered me speechless, an event that would have been unprecedented in the history of the rabbinate. But it has left me moved, humbled, thankful, and deeply motivated, because to me the award is not just about what has been done but also about how much there is still to do.

It is to that future I turn tonight. This is a fateful moment in history. Wherever we look, politically, religiously, economically, environmentally, there is insecurity and instability. It is not too much to say that the future of the West and the unique form of freedom it has pioneered for the past four centuries is altogether at risk.

I want tonight to look at one phenomenon that has shaped the West, leading it at first to greatness, but now to crisis. It can be summed up in one word: outsourcing. On the face of it, nothing could be more innocent or productive. It’s the basis of the modern economy. It’s Adam Smith’s division of labour and David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage that says, even if you are better than me at everything, still we both gain if you do what you’re best at and I do what I’m best at and we trade. The question is: are there limits? Are there things we can’t or shouldn’t outsource?

The issue has arisen because of the new technologies and instantaneous global communication. So instead of outsourcing within an economy, we do it between economies. We’ve seen the outsourcing of production to low-wage countries. We’ve seen the outsourcing of services, so that you can be in one town in America, booking a hotel in another, unaware that your call is being taken in India. This seemed like a good idea at the time, as if the West was saying to the world: you do the producing and we’ll do the consuming. But is that sustainable in the long run?

Then banks began to outsource risk, lending far beyond their capacities in the belief that either property prices would go on rising forever, or more significantly, if they crashed, it would be someone else’s problem, not mine.

There is, though, one form of outsourcing that tends to be little noticed: the outsourcing of memory. Our computers and smartphones have developed larger and larger memories, from kilobytes to megabytes to gigabytes, while our memories, and those of our children have got smaller and smaller. In fact, why bother to remember anything these days if you can look it up in a microsecond on Google or Wikipedia?

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Anobenjamin muchawskyymous
July 27th, 2016
9:07 AM
brilliant, if only we could apply it.

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