Sunday, June 25, 2006

Motherhood Wage

There's been another big kerfuffle about Linda Hirschman - an American philosopher who I called capitalist radical feminism last time round. She's defended herself, and in doing so says "I said that the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing were not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings."

This pisses me off on so many levels and I'm not going to dignify most of them with a response. But in this world there is shit that needs to be cleaned, food that needs to be provided, clothes that need to be sewn. Every single thing in your house was made by people, and most of it involves repetitive work that is not enough for the full-time and talents of any human being.

I believe that we should each do a bit of that work. We should each do some of the repetitive work that is required to make and maintain things, and we should certainly all do some of the incredibly varied and important work that is required to make and care for people.* I believe that we should all do our share these forms of work, and that if we did we would also all have the opportunity to develop our skills, interests and passions, and that wouldn't be limited to a few.

For me, part of changing that is make sure the work that has traditionally done by women, the work of reproduction is recognised and respected not just with words but with resources. So I'm going to talk about a motherhood wage. I'll start with South America. Article 88 of the Venezualan constitution says

The State guarantees equality and equity between men and women in the exercise of their right to work. The State recognizes work in the home as an economic activity that creates added values and produces social welfare and wealth. Housewives are entitled to Social Security.**
Hugo Chavez has just increased the resources Venezuala provide to single mothers, and other women who do caring work (via Super Baby Mama). I think this is an important, feminist, step in the right direction.

New Zealand came reasonably close to introducing a motherhood wage in the early 1970s. A motherhood wage was one of the central demands of the early women's liberation movement. When the Kirk government came in they thought they'd give it a go, but the amount they offered was so low that they were basically laughed at and they backed away.

There are all sorts of problems with demanding a parenting wage under our capitalism. Unless wages were paid as part of a package that also included free child-care it would make returning to other forms of work really financially difficult and any money offered would be a complete pittance compared to what the work actually required.

But I believe that raising children should not be treated as a hobby. People who are raising children are doing incredibly important work, they shouldn't have to do it in isolation, and they should be provided resources, just like the people who do other important work in society - like advertising executives.

* I have a friend who believes that after we over-throw capitalism all the work will be done by robots, and all we'll have to do is watch the robots every so often. I replied that he's ignoring all the work that involves caring for people and so would not be able to be done by robots (so he doesn't do that any more) - other friends threaten to form a robot liberation front - this is what happens when Marxists and Anarchists argue.

** Thanks to Ampersand for explaining to me how awful America's social security system is. Social democracy may have some serious flaws, but the united states definately missed out on all the good bits.

17 comments:

  1. Absolutely and right on. I've seen that argument many times before, and i've always said the problem isn't intrinsic to the work, it's in how it gets portrayed as undigified, and how certain classes of people are given such labor as their *only* opportunity.

    Until the magical cleaning robots come, housework is not escapable. It is possible to equitably distribute that work.

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  2. I basically agree with what you say- but I'm waiting for robots to start pulling their weight around the house too. When you are caring for a baby you end up doing enormous amounts of washing. The caring part has to be done by a human- the washing part- I'm not so sure.

    And in fact there are a number of relatively non-political things that could be done to lessen the load of housework. For example- Houses could be so much better designed to be low maintenance. In fact I think housing is key to a lot of the social change I personally would like to see. If it wasn't so expensive it would be possible for a lot of us to work less and thus have more time for other things.

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  3. So with your "motherhood wage" you think that women who choose to have children should have their income supplimented with a benifit paid for with extra tax taken from women (and men) who choose not to have children?

    what makes a stay at home mother more deserving of part of the income a single woman has worked 40 hours a week for than the woman who earnt it in the first place?

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  4. Mike my point is that raising children is necessary work, and just because capitalism hasn't managed to commodify it (yet) doesn't mean that it isn't worth of resources and respect.

    Make tea not war, I'm with you on houses. Also that a lot of housework (as opposed to child-rearing, it annoys me when they're rammed together because they're very different sorts of jobs) could be made easier and possiblly done in a way that would use less labour and resources.

    I also think it'd be cool if we had washing doing robots (and dishing doing robots, I'd be really into dishes doing robots).

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  5. Maia, you still haven't answered my question.

    Should single childless women and gays be forced to subsidise the lifestyles of those who choose to have children, and if so why?

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  6. I did answer the question - I consider raising chidlren work not a lifestyle.

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  7. And you're still avoiding it - I didn't doubt whether it was work or not.

    I asked whether other people such as single women with no children, or a couple of gay guys who are never going to have kids should be forced to pay for this "motherhood wage" againt their will.

    Especially as 99% of the time motherhood is voluntary (i.e. barring rape, or the odd virgin giving birth to some crazy long haired religious dude etc).

    If so, what makes a mother more deserving of their income than them?

    Unless of course you suggest that this motherhood wage be voluntary through charity or similar..

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  8. Mike, the reason why non-breeders should subsidise breeders is because the breeders are producing the people who will be keeping the world going when your generation - breeders and non-breeders alike - are too old to do the plumbing and car-fixing and carpentry and dentistry and doctoring and teaching and farming and cleaning and supermarket shelf-filling and so on, and so on, and so on. Who the HELL do yo think you are that you shouldn't have to contribute to the making and raising of all those people you're going to need?
    Maia, this surely can't be news to you, but fathers, stepfathers, stepmothers, adoptive parents and others who find themselves in a parenting role can love and care for their kids too. No question that child care is socially essential work that should be paid for -- but please, call it a home child care wage, or something that doesn't perpetuate the idea that it is for ever & always *mothers'* work.

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  9. Mike - I'm not going to defend capitalism, I think it sucks. I'm all for overthrowing capitalism, asking me how something should work under capitalism is ridiculous.

    Cagmag - that's why I referred to it as a parent wage when I started looking at what I'd want, rather than talking about the debate.

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  10. "Mike, the reason why non-breeders should subsidise breeders is because the breeders are producing the people who will be keeping the world going when your generation"

    So tell me, what happens if everyone breeds?

    "Mike - I'm not going to defend capitalism, I think it sucks. I'm all for overthrowing capitalism, asking me how something should work under capitalism is ridiculous."

    So essentially you're full of it, and can't justify your ideas with anything other than wishful thinking.

    Lets assume capitalism doesn't exist.. you still refuse to explain what happens to those who don't feel that they should have to subsidise others lifestyles. My guess if you'd expect them to be forced to do so against their will by someone (i.e. govt) and your whole happy happy joy joy, group hug environment falls apart.

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  11. What happens to those who don't feel that they should have to subsidise others' lifestyles? You make it sound as if nothing that departs from some libertarian ideal should even be considered as an option. The reality is that even under capitalism, a whole lot of cross-subsidisation goes on. Already, non-childbearing people's taxes go into the education of other people's children. My taxes go towards picking up the costs of big budget films, the expensive provision of services to rural communities, the management of industrial waste and a bunch of things that aren't part of the lifestyle I've chosen. Big deal - it's called society - we all benefit somehow in the long run. We've elected governments for years in this country that operate by those principles.

    People even do this voluntarily. My insurance premiums go towards paying for the losses of people who are currently more accident-prone than me, in the hope that if I need it, I'll have access to similar support.

    Some things just work better when the costs are shared collectively. Childcare is one of them - we already pay for kids' doctors visits and school and so on, not to mention Working for Families. It's only a matter of degree as to how far to go.

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  12. "The reality is that even under capitalism, a whole lot of cross-subsidisation goes on. Already, non-childbearing people's taxes go into the education of other people's children. My taxes go towards picking up the costs of big budget films, the expensive provision of services to rural communities, the management of industrial waste and a bunch of things that aren't part of the lifestyle I've chosen"

    What school of capitalism did you study?

    What you've described is either socialism or facism - not capitalism.

    "We've elected governments for years in this country that operate by those principles."

    Yup, its called pork barrel politics. Bribing people with other peoples money.

    "People even do this voluntarily. My insurance premiums go towards paying for the losses of people who are currently more accident-prone than me, in the hope that if I need it, I'll have access to similar support."

    Then let them continue to do so voluntarily. As I read the above post, it doesn't allow for voluntary support of mothers, it compellsothers to do so in the hope that its part of the "Greater Good" (tm).

    "Some things just work better when the costs are shared collectively. Childcare is one of them - we already pay for kids' doctors visits and school and so on, not to mention Working for Families. It's only a matter of degree as to how far to go."

    How does working for (other peoples f'ing) families to anything do anything positive for society? Apart from reward the unproductive while punishing the productive?

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  13. If people voluntarily agreed with that point of view, they'd voluntarily vote in a government that did things that way. It's no good advocating for absolute economic freedom while deriding the way people use their political freedom.

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  14. You are right Maia raising children does require resources and support, which is why we have marriage.

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  15. "If people voluntarily agreed with that point of view, they'd voluntarily vote in a government that did things that way. It's no good advocating for absolute economic freedom while deriding the way people use their political freedom"

    This political freedom you talk about is a meaningless term.

    How can it be freedom if a majority votes to force a minority to do something.

    This isn't free. Which is what you suggest.

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  16. Houses could be so much better designed to be low maintenance.

    So could communities in general. This sprawl development pattern isn't really good for a lot of reasons, but doesn't help create an actual community that helps with the raising of children.

    And while I'd rather see the redevelopment of communities that acknowledge raising children is easier with a lot of people helping and better childcare options then some kind of monetary reimbursement for raising children, because it doesn't really address the structural problems with the way 9-5 work and access to services doesn’t dovetail that well with raising children, especially if it’s a single parent household.


    what makes a stay at home mother more deserving of part of the income a single woman has worked 40 hours a week for than the woman who earnt it in the first place?

    How does working for (other peoples f'ing) families to anything do anything positive for society?

    But what you’re not acknowledging is that raising children is work. You are being productive when you raise children. It’s work we’d rather see done by people who have the resources along with ability to raise good/productive members of society. People without resources (monetary, educational, services…) tend to raise people who are a bigger drain on society then an asset. So that’s how giving people raising children more resources helps society. Also? Maia, if you’d pay attention, was not completely in favor of just giving people money. She (?) is saying that the boring, dirty and repetitive task that go along with caring for people should be shared by all and acknowledged as important. At one time you were a child and you will (depending on how long you live) be an elder in need of some kind of living assistance. There should be a larger diversion of resources for these important tasks. And that in the system of government and economy that we live in, giving money is the obvious and easiest to understand and implement solution.

    Why should more money go to paying people who live on land that used to be farmed then to help people who are taking care of people?

    People don’t seem to be valued as much in our society as money/wealth. Which is stupid and sad.

    And I don’t know what place you’re living in, but the US doesn’t have a purely capitalistic form of economy (which you should be thanking deity or cosmic force of your choice for, because if we remember history pure capitalism sucks for pretty much everybody not at the top). The government has large programs that are socialistic in nature. Which you have probably benefited from in one form or another. Like free parking? Paving is tax deductible, which means you pay for it.

    As for people subsidizing stuff they don’t want to through the government, that’s every single person in the world who has any kind of issue against the government. I don’t like that my tax dollars go to the “War on Terror” and Sex Education that does nothing but push abstinence. My father doesn’t like his money going to welfare. Pat Robinson doesn’t like his money going to science education. The US government still seems to be working ok.

    And if we didn’t have a mostly capitalist economy, you’d still have to subsidize stuff you didn’t want to if you had any kind of government. That’s one of the main functions of government, protection and distribution of wealth/resources.

    I’d also like to remind people that capitalism is not a government form. It’s a form of economy. The US government is a republic.


    You are right Maia raising children does require resources and support, which is why we have marriage.

    Which is a good point and historically one of the main reasons for marriage, but even in two parent families it’s increasingly difficult to support children. And, as much as we’d like it to, does not reflect reality. There are a lot of single parent households. And I’d like to refrain from making a moral judgment about it. I’m looking at this problem from a more structural basis then just giving money to people. We need more work that pays decent and gives you enough flex that you can also raise children. We need more services that are open at times people can get to them. Don’t get me started on sprawl and the transportation issues it entails.

    How can it be freedom if a majority votes to force a minority to do something.

    Seriously, I don’t know where you live? But that happens all the time in the US. And we like to call ourselves free.

    Economics and politics are tied, but they are not the same thing.


    Disclaimer: I don’t have children, don’t want children and don’t really like them all that much.

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  17. If people voluntarily agreed with that point of view, they'd voluntarily vote in a government that did things that way. It's no good advocating for absolute economic freedom while deriding the way people use their political freedom.

    If 75 out of 80 people voluntarily agreed to have an orgy, and forced the remaining 5 to join them, is that rape, or is it democracy?

    But what you’re not acknowledging is that raising children is work.

    Yes, but if they are not my children, the work isn't being done for me, so why should I have to pay?

    Not to mention that this type of policy would encourage the least intelligent, least productive, least desirable elements of society - those who cannot support themselves - to breed. Very dysgenic.

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