Repost: Labor itself should not be a positional good

Pointless labor as a status symbol is fatal to the healthy functioning of a society.  An obsessive fixation with efficiency and automation robs people of the dignity of work.  No, this doesn’t mean we all need to bust sod to be fully human, but we do need to labor and have that labor be connected to our necessaries of life.  Instead, what we have is elites on both the right and the left using labor itself as a positional good, a status symbol to lord over the poor, chronically unemployed and mostly not-white masses.

It’s a ridiculous setup.  It’s derived from the egalitarian Scandinavians, who use pointless labor to obscure wealth gaps.  Don’t look at my mansion, I wash my own car while being a top anesthesiologist!

But their egalitarianism derives from their warband history.  America wasn’t founded by warbands who need a rough sort of egalitarianism to not turn on each other.  And a focus on pointless work that can be dropped at any time just reveals a deep selfishness and fleeing from the responsibilities that used to come with wealth, status and privilege in favor of a false idol of meritocracy where someone “earns” their cushy indoor job publishing policy documents that never get downloaded or read.

It would be better for society if the middle and upper classes went back to hiring a cook  instead of cooking badly as a “locavore foodie”, poorly arranging and preparing one’s expensive, locally sourced organic ingredients and posting the crummily photographed results to the internet afterwards.  But instead we have those same terrible cooks trying to fight for make-work jobs “teaching” poor people to follow their terrible cooking advice and awful recipes.  I use cooking as an example a lot because it’s very time consuming to do correctly for any kind of normal-sized family.  And it’s work one can excel at without “testing well”.  There is a lot of work like that, but it’s being subsumed into “lifestyle” LARPing by the kinds of people who “test well” and have jobs trying to keep women like me from staying home and telling everyone else what to do without the least bit of empirical experience or evidence.

It’s not dignified for people to be denied real work because they aren’t glib SWPLs.  And the glib SWPLs are not dignified when they reduce craft to a caricature of practice and effort while lording their leisure time over the rest of us as “hard work”.

 

 

 

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How to bring back the economic component of the women’s sphere?

To a large extent, the retreat of women from their own discrete sphere is driven by the stripping of its economic components due to various technological factors.  The question for conservatives is how to seriously and meaningfully deal with this aspect of the traditional women’s sphere instead of declaring that it either doesn’t matter or is a solved problem since an individual woman can “work from home” for her family’s financial benefit in limited, specific, idiosyncratic instances.

It’s a tough nut to crack, not least because certain economic things women did that were compatible with the domestic sphere as they lost their traditional trades were themselves only viable options due to mass media that evolved from technological advances.  I’m speaking of the numerous housewives and stay-at-home daughters who wrote to support or supplement their families’ incomes, of course.  But the markets they sold into would not have existed without the very technological forces that led us to the atomized, isolated housewives of the latter 20th and now 21st century.  And it’s so hard to communicate the loss, and the sheer amount of income they were responsible for.

Anyway this is an open sticky post for suggestions and discussion.  Will probably update occasionally with relevant links or posts as I run into them.

When you can’t afford to be frugal, or unexamined assumptions conservatives have about frugal tips

Frugality and being a good steward of the household income are not impossible goals.  However, what “frugal tips” are available to housewives these days rely on a bevy of unexamined assumptions that don’t apply to an average SAHM these days.

It is possible to make your own curtains, to store meat in small portions, to bake your own bread, to make your own household cleaning products and to keep a price book, to name some fairly typical tips one will run across on the old intertubes with a quick google.  But frugality of these types is generally not compatible with the current domestic setups of most American housewives.  They have no spare capital for a deep freezer, or to buy meat in bulk quantities to take advantage of sales or direct-purchase opportunities.  They don’t have domestic help even on an occasional basis, so whatever they do has to be compatible with kids underfoot.  And of course kids aren’t young forever, but how can good habits be established when it’s full-tilt survival mode when they are young?  Teaching little kids to be useful or even to consider other people and obey adult rules about where and when to talk/run/etc. takes focused effort and isn’t readily done with a casual phrase here and there.  That can be the way of it only after the habitual behaviors are in place.

Thus you have a pretty major obstacle to frugality early on, even if you are “saving money on daycare”.  The other obstacle is pregnancy.  A lot of frugal tips involve large amounts of ongoing physical labor that is difficult to manage during pregnancies.  If you haven’t spent your years growing up doing that kind of labor, you are unprepared for the extent of it later in life.  You’re also out of luck if pregnancy is hard on your body.  And some women never get back to pre-pregnancy fitness/endurance levels whether it’s one kid or seven.

I come back a lot to the physical stuff because there’s a parallel unexamined assumption among conservatives (not just the male ones) that modern technology means no real physical labor is necessary for a housewife to expend.  Pregnancy is always easy and quick to recover from, barely a speed bump, nursing is also no big, not even requiring extra food or effort (except of course many women switch to formula with “many” kids precisely because they can hand a bottle off and let the older kids feed baby so they can get stuff done).  And even if all that stuff is a little bit difficult, KIDS R FREE.  There’s a weird fixation on the infant and toddler years as being super-cheap by default among conservatives and this is used to extrapolate that children are extremely cheap to raise to 18-21 years because somehow breastmilk production costs nothing (not even calories, it’s like magic) and you can just rely on an infinite supply of thrift stores with appropriate clothing and insert all the rest of the stuff you hear from conservatives about how totally cheap it is to raise infants/toddlers, so therefore have eight.  I guess they’re supposed to drink breastmilk and wear cloth diapers until they marry at 18 somehow?  It’s a quirk I never really noticed until a recent clickbait article about tradeoffs appeared on some home decor site and conservatives tore into the writer of the article for being selfish and stupid, didn’t she understand kids aren’t expensive because BREASTFEEDING and CLOTH DIAPERS?

So, let’s recap some of the unexamined assumptions conservatives dump on housewives regarding frugality:

  • Assumption of “traditional” domestic economy skills that actually date from the middle of the 20th century and rely on a pretty vast industrial infrastructure (including exploited labor by women and children in foreign lands) to be feasible as “economizing” at all.
  • Minimizing the physical risks and stresses of childbearing and nursing, as well as the physical labor that is still necessary to run an “economized” household.
  • Fixation on the early years as being so cheap that there are no real expenses added by having more and more children
  • Parallel dismissal of the importance of child spacing or domestic support in being able to have children doing chores effectively at young ages.
  • Dismissal of chaotic early years as a major obstacle to domestic tranquility and structure, while assuming that such structure is there (no need for a sitter while homeschooling, for example, because infants and toddlers and young kids will just play quietly while you instruct older children…somehow, or alternatively that older children will not resent the play of younger children who aren’t ready for academics partying in front of them because no big kid ever envied a little kid getting to play instead of write an essay or do math problems).  Without structure, frugality is hard to consistently achieve.
  • Assumption that the average housewife was educated in domestic skills by her mother, and if she was not, that she can instantly acquire these skills in a few days’ time via youtube and blogs and immediately apply them effectively.

Feel free to toss more into the comments.  The core issue with having all these assumptions is that without them, it’s nearly impossible to economize systematically.  And that means rebuying things, buying more expensive versions of whatever because you don’t have the skills or time to go with cheaper approaches, and stress spending.  But to help people who need to be more frugal, the assumptions have to be dropped and conservatives have to start looking at the actual conditions people are living under, not the idealized conditions a small percentage of conservatives manage to live under.  Here’s hoping!

Labor itself should not be a positional good

Pointless labor as a status symbol is fatal to the healthy functioning of a society.  An obsessive fixation with efficiency and automation robs people of the dignity of work.  No, this doesn’t mean we all need to bust sod to be fully human, but we do need to labor and have that labor be connected to our necessaries of life.  Instead, what we have is elites on both the right and the left using labor itself as a positional good, a status symbol to lord over the poor, chronically unemployed and mostly not-white masses.

It’s a ridiculous setup.  It’s derived from the egalitarian Scandinavians, who use pointless labor to obscure wealth gaps.  Don’t look at my mansion, I wash my own car while being a top anesthesiologist!

But their egalitarianism derives from their warband history.  America wasn’t founded by warbands who need a rough sort of egalitarianism to not turn on each other.  And a focus on pointless work that can be dropped at any time just reveals a deep selfishness and fleeing from the responsibilities that used to come with wealth, status and privilege in favor of a false idol of meritocracy where someone “earns” their cushy indoor job publishing policy documents that never get downloaded or read.

It would be better for society if the middle and upper classes went back to hiring a cook  instead of cooking badly as a “locavore foodie”, poorly arranging and preparing one’s expensive, locally sourced organic ingredients and posting the crummily photographed results to the internet afterwards.  But instead we have those same terrible cooks trying to fight for make-work jobs “teaching” poor people to follow their terrible cooking advice and awful recipes.  I use cooking as an example a lot because it’s very time consuming to do correctly for any kind of normal-sized family.  And it’s work one can excel at without “testing well”.  There is a lot of work like that, but it’s being subsumed into “lifestyle” LARPing by the kinds of people who “test well” and have jobs trying to keep women like me from staying home and telling everyone else what to do without the least bit of empirical experience or evidence.

It’s not dignified for people to be denied real work because they aren’t glib SWPLs.  And the glib SWPLs are not dignified when they reduce craft to a caricature of practice and effort while lording their leisure time over the rest of us as “hard work”.

 

 

 

When right wing populism goes wrong, daycare edition

Over at the Washington Examiner, someone thinks that it’s right wing and populist to have mothers of young children working outside the home.  It’s a short article, so it follows below.  I’ve bolded the most questionable bits.

 

The Obama administration, according to Katharine Stevens in the Wall Street Journal, is paving the way for more regulation of child care. This seems like a great place for conservatives to fight for the interests of the poor and working class, against overbearing government.

In other words, it’s an opportunity for free­market populism.
The administration is pushing guidelines for who can get federal grants, but Stevens — who is a fellow
research fellow of mine at the American Enterprise Institute — worries that these grant guidelines are
a “Trojan horse bearing counterproductive requirements,” on early­childhood educators and daycare
providers.

These aren’t rules governing basic health and safety standards, like drinking water, cleanliness or
broken glass. Some are micromanaging: “cot placement” for daycare. Others are about requiring
credentialing — such as requiring preschool teachers to have bachelor’s degrees.

Some level of regulation of childcare and preschool is about requiring what parents would demand.
But at a certain point, it becomes excessive.
Excessive regulation of daycare and preschool mostly hurts the poor and working class. For one
thing, it makes daycare rarer and more expensive.

Some on the Left will respond and say, “well, let’s just subsidize them more.” That doesn’t address the
other problem: curbing work opportunities for women.
More importantly, unnecessary regulation and credentialing requirements take away from many
women the best way they could make money: at-­home daycare.
You don’t want moms sticking 15 kids in a tiny basement. You don’t want home daycare locations run
by human smugglers. But excessive regulation curbs employment options — and daycare options —
for lower­-income folks.

The bold portions are the most iffy bits of this ridiculous article.  Why does anyone want the poor and working class women working outside the home?  That is, as I’ve recently noted, a way of subsidizing consumerism all by itself.  And note the obsession with “work opportunities” for women at home with their kids already, because the domestic sphere itself is, you know, not worth anything for its own sake.  It’s just a storage space for all those future cubicle warriors and retail cogs.

And this is from a super right wing media outlet!  It’s just another brick in the “free-market” wall.  It’s not right wing or conservative to keep doubling down on shoving everyone out into the artificial, inhuman modern workforce.  It’s also not populist to only support mothers if they generate income explicitly.  Can mothers earn income at home with their kids?  Sure, that’s certainly an option.  But should women be pressured into it at the expense of preserving and encouraging a real domestic sphere?  This conservative housewife would say absolutely not.  Someday, maybe, the rest of the right will too.

The girls who get thrown away

Though it seems inconceivable to many men, there are sometimes women who simply aren’t expected to marry and yet ultimately do.  One of the reasons “nice girls” or “Christian girls” or “nice Christian girls” have a hard time getting married is that some of them were thrown away by their subculture.  They were never expected to marry.  The reasons are usually not related to sexual practice, for such women aren’t even really thought of as possessing a real sexual impulse.  They are considered freemartins, girl-shaped but essentially sexless and only valuable for the services and/or money they can provide to their immediate family or local community.

It’s interesting to me that so many refuse to accept the reality before them of mostly celibate single women working at modest jobs, giving much of the money to family members directly and often also volunteering tons of unpaid labor at church/school/etc.  They are tossed aside and not taken seriously except as mere labor/resources.

It’s hard for such women to marry, especially since they often never really learn that they were thrown away, or find it out too late to respond.  Yet, some do, and then the difficulty of social interaction with people who are weirdly offended at such women not being totally available anymore becomes a straining point in the marriage.  Not a fatal one, but still quite real.

On the other hand, since such women are given no useful advice on catching a husband, they recognize that it is quite obviously God’s will if they do happen to marry and are correspondingly most excellent wife material.  So their marriages can handle the social stresses that come when their labor is desired but no longer available for exploitation.

Conservatives and Obama agree that women shouldn’t stay home

So Obama made some comments at a Rhode Island college on Halloween.  Amidst his usual pablum and recitation of Democrat party talking points, he threw out this little gem. “And sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result.  And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make. ” Conservatives at various blogs and the fringier parts of the right-wing news media are complaining about this, but it’s all sound and fury signifying nothing.  They agree with Obama.  They certainly don’t want American women staying home with their kids either.  Conservatives just want a small, symbolic number of women to stay home as tribal fertility totems, but they aren’t interested in the average woman doing so.  Obama, in referencing the only women he likes, Second Wave feminists who didn’t think women should make the choice to stay home, is just saying what Americans support with their actions, including conservative Americans. What are some of those actions?

  • Encouraging women in higher education regardless of whether it would provide income potential.  White women have a negative earnings premium for finishing college, not a positive one. Sending a white girl to college reduces her lifetime earnings.  Since conservatives are overwhelmingly white, they might want to reconsider their zest for sticking their daughters in college.
  • Failing to support SAHMs with childcare and housecleaning help, and in fact pressuring them to work part-time in the home on top of all their other work.
  • Either saying daycare is evil (conservatives) or daycare will fix everything (liberals and progressives) without asking WHO STAFFS THOSE DAYCARES?  And who watches their kids, hmm?  Yeah, I thought so.  Daycare comes in a lot of flavors, some very bad (infant) and others potentially ok (toddler, if it’s local/neighborhood, as is usually the way of it outside the USA).
  • Encouraging female employment outside the home of childless and older women, i.e., driving the pool of other women who used to be there as part of the village for mothers at home out into cubicleland with nary a look back at the SAHMs left behind.

Americans do lots and lots of other things to make it nearly impossible for women to stay home with their kids, and especially stay home 4eva, but well, that’s past, present and future blog posts for other days.  Obama is pretty regrettable as a political leader, but the complete rejection of the domestic sphere in American society is far more regrettable and in that, conservatives totally have his back, same as the rest of the country.