I’m a writer. I’m broke.
I reckon those two things go hand in hand. But they shouldn’t.
I could have said I was a Mr. Mom, a handyman, a gardener—although a shitty one—a builder, a laundry-man, a chef, a chauffeur, an idea-man, a problem solver, a video-production man, a fund-raiser, a volunteer, a teacher, and probably a handful of other things. But I’m not sure it matters. None of those things ever put a penny in my pocket, or paid a bill. As a result, they have no value, at least not in a society that values only money over everything else.
“All those are great, valuable things,” someone might say to me, “but what do you do for a LIVING?”
Good question. I guess the answer is, “Fuck all?”
There’s a real problem in our world when it comes to the value we assign to things, and to the things that people do.
How does one determine if something has value?
Is it determined only by the price of that thing, or that action? Is money the measurement of all worth? Does something have to have a monetary value to be, in fact, valuable? When put that way, the answer would seem to be obvious. No, it doesn’t. But that is what it comes down to in the end. Because so many things have been quantified in terms of costs, price, profit, and loss, we have come to view almost everything in the pale green light of cold, hard cash.
If something doesn’t generate dollars, it can’t possibly make sense.
But this is a sad way for us to live our lives, and to assign value to the things we do, because so much of what we do never generates a dime. Most of those things I listed as titles for myself, have brought me nothing in the way of monetary compensation. But all of them were useful, valuable things to do. And we all do them. They fall under a category that some call, Domestic Labor.
How Do We Quantify the Value of Domestic Labor?
Should we put a value on such labor? If so, how do we do it? How do we assign value to things that don’t generate money? And if we do, who cares? The bill-collector sure as fuck doesn’t care. If it doesn’t generate money, then it won’t pay off the banker-wolves baying at the door. They could give a rat’s ass about how much volunteer work you’ve done, or how many meals you’ve cooked for your family and your neighbors, or how your yard looks—since they own it anyway—, or how you walked around the neighborhood picking up other people’s trash. All that matters when the bills come, is if you’ve been paid for the things you’ve done, because you can’t pay the wolves with good intentions, good actions, or good karma.
There are those who still argue that capitalism, or the market economy, is the best economic system because without it people would lie around eating bon-bons all day watching Honey Boo Boo reruns, and produce nothing, or do nothing.
But this is complete bullshit. If that were true, then capitalism would never have developed in the first place. Mr. Unga Bunga Caveman didn’t know about capitalism but he managed to invent fire and cooking, agriculture, cities, armies, and eventually money itself. Mankind lived for eons before we fucked up and invented the market economy, and if our caveman ancestors had been lazy and unmotivated we wouldn’t be here. Contrary to what many might argue, humans aren’t inherently lazy. If we were, we’d be fucking extinct.
And we don’t even have to go back that far to undermine such a ridiculous argument. People still do shitloads of things that aren’t compensated for in the capitalist system, things that keep the entire system going, day after day. All that domestic labor.
If your mother hadn’t rolled out of bed every morning, before you, and cooked you breakfast, or cleaned your laundry, you wouldn’t be here. You’d have long ago starved to death, or frozen to death, standing naked waiting for the school bus in a Minnesota winter.
Have You Ever Paid Your Parents?
How many times have you paid your father to come over and fix a leaky faucet, or help build a compost bin, or raised planting bed, or replace a toilet? How many times has your mother helped you clean your home, watched your children, or brought you food when you didn’t have the money to buy any? Where would you be without the help of your friends?
And it’s not only friends and family that do these valuable things. If non-profit organizations weren’t out there every day—mostly staffed by volunteers—feeding and housing the homeless, we would have been overrun by that segment of the population long ago.
In many places, in America, firemen run into burning buildings to save the lives of your family, and your cats and dogs, and they do it voluntarily: they aren’t professionals. Many of them aren’t paid at all. Is THAT valuable?
So the question still remains, “How do we put a value on domestic labor, or labor that isn’t compensated?”
I don’t know. But it’s important to figure this out, because domestic labor is keeping the entire system going, and is some of the most important labor being done. What’s more valuable? a job that pays buttloads of cash to create plastic toys to be sold in a convenience store to toddlers, a job as an ‘investment’ banker, shuffling imaginary money around so some rich asshole can buy a new yacht, cooking dinner for your family, volunteering for a local non-profit that brings healthy food to the neighborhood, or saving your family from a burning building?
If you ask the banker-wolf, he’s gonna go with the plastic toy and the money shuffler. What do YOU think?