Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Context can really matter in terms of what we consider to be virtuous behavior:
So there it is: the difference between a stay-home mother and a welfare mother is money and a wedding ring. Unlike any other kind of labor I can think of, domestic labor is productive or not, depending on who performs it. For a college-educated married woman, it is the most valuable thing she could possibly do, totally off the scale of human endeavor. What is curing malaria compared with raising a couple of Ivy Leaguers? For these women, being supported by a man is good—the one exception to our American creed of self-reliance. Taking paid work, after all, poses all sorts of risks to the kids. (Watch out, though, ladies: if you expect the father of your children to underwrite your homemaking after divorce, you go straight from saint to gold-digger.) But for a low-income single woman, forgoing a job to raise children is an evasion of responsibility, which is to marry and/or support herself. For her children, staying home sets a bad example, breeding the next generation of criminals and layabouts.
I think that domestic work is extremely challenging to fit into our framework of how we define productive activity.  It is clear that domestic work is essential to the creation of the next generation of people and that it is not easy labor.  The idea that dignity can only come from paid employment rather than worthwhile work is perverse.

I would consider a Buddhist monk, for example, to have plenty of dignity even if their vocation never (ever) results in paid employment.  I think that this might be part of the modern social darwinist ideal that Jon Chait talks about in which the market doesn't just act to increase economic efficiency but it also grants moral status based on economic outcomes.  There are a lot of activities in the world that are not paid employment but are worth doing.  

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