I’ve run across this idea a few times now, that people (mostly women) should be paid for nontraditional jobs, such as housework. The argument is that housework is actually of economic value to a country. After all, if someone other than a family member does housework, they are normally paid. This type of work has historically not been considered as part of the economy (unlike, e.g., farming) because it’s historically been done by women and children. ( In this sense, women have always been slave labor.) Does this seem extreme?
One major question raised is whether people should be paid – valued by society – only for what they produce, or whether people are intrinsically of value because they are members of our species. Our puritanical American values, like those of many countries, have always emphasized worth in terms of labor. The harder you work, the more successful you are, and the more worth you have as a person. A fulfilled person who does not visibly work or produce anything is generally looked at askance.
Another question occurs to me. Can a parallel be drawn between this type of work and farming? As I mentioned before, farming, unlike housework, is counted in the economy. But farmers are only paid for what they produce. Most farmers, historically and today all around the world, are underpaid, undervalued and barely subsisting. Yet they provide the food we need to survive. Gandhi pointed this irony out in India, where sadly it has remained unchanged. Make no mistake, “farm subsidies” aside, it is true in America as well.
What if we paid farmers for their labor as well as their produce? Instead of, for example, forcing them to buy expensive crop insurance that generally goes unpaid because of various loopholes or minor details, a farmer would receive a living wage even during a bad year. Farmers generally work harder than anyone else, sunup to sundown and sometimes longer. In the north, a typical workday during the summer can be 18-20 hours. Can anyone genuinely argue that their hard work does nothing for our society?
I grant you that it might present challenges in implementation. How can you be sure that a farmer isn’t being lazy? How can you be sure a woman is doing something useful in the home? I guess we try to implement some sort of inspection standard. Or maybe we could agree that everyone has worth, and that people who take advantage of the system are a) never as many as people think and b) don’t cost the rest of us nearly as much as people think. Generally, in fact, they cost more to try to identify than they are worth in losses (see Texas’ attempts to prevent welfare fraud).