The economy and jobs is an obsessive priority in society and its politics, at least in places where war or imminent famine don’t put day-to-day survival ahead of debt and prosperity. The saturation of public concern for the status of the wage-earning population is intense, and the perception of immediate need blocks out broader perspective on just what “the economy” and “jobs” are.
Wages didn’t really come into existence until capitalism spawned industrialization, which in turn spawned more capitalism. The adapted type of capitalism (industrial as opposed to merchant) spawned investment capitalism and stock exchanges – where “productivity” could not produce anything but more money in the pockets of people who limit their universe to abstract financial achievement (and then, when they leave work for the day, the concrete material reward that seems hardly fair when viewed this way). This is quite literally a man-made world.
Let’s deconstruct that phrase before we continue. “Man-made” can mean many things:
- economy removed from the home to further entrench a patriarchy in which the standard is for men to become “bread-winners” that take home the goods and thus deserve worship from their indebted families;
- production coming as a result of human labour moreso than physical materials, as is the case in a service-based economy; or
- an artificial reality based on socially constructed abstract concepts, judgments, and calculations.
These are all outcomes that resulted from industrial capitalism. When the means of physical production are both automated (in full or in part) and owned, the time and energy freed up, for the owners especially, can be used to construct social and economic foundations that serve the needs of those who have already benefited. The removal of work from home separates the economy from day-to-day life, with the former needing to be in good shape to support the latter.
Before factories came to be, the workplace was rarely separated from the residence. Families were an economic unit that were collectively involved in making a living. This is still the case on small family farms, which operate much like they did in previous economic eras with husband, wife, and children old enough to provide physical labour sharing chores to produce first subsistence, and second surplus to trade for other needs.
Other trades established in small towns often had the equipment on or attached to the premises of the home. Working areas were separated from living areas, but there was no commute. Families kept a tradition of the younger generation adopting their father’s trade. If apprentices from other families were taken in, they often moved in with the family they worked under, being practically adopted as home and work were almost entirely overlapping. The housework and family care, that still in those times was mostly the responsibility of women, was an integrated function to maintaining the needs of the family and the operations of the business.
“The economy” was clearly still an issue then that concerned everybody, because trade has always been a part of human society whenever there is any surplus or any division of labour. But with the focus being on “jobs”, i.e. external to the home, additional political issues extend to people (primarily women) whose “jobs” are within the home. They are not paid. They are not considered a function of the economy. They have become a privilege of the upper class, and having the option to “not work” is seen as a conspicuous luxury. “Real Housewives” reality series? I don’t know where the “real” comes in, because their lifestyles certainly aren’t based in a common reality. And equating homemaking to luxury degrades the work that so many people (again, primarily women) do. It’s not quantified in dollars, so it’s not considered when measuring the health of an economy. And yet, it is fundamental to the well-being of a society. That quantitative things beyond the ground-level functioning of the families society is comprised of are used as measurements; the artificial world of finance which only deals with representative currency that in itself holds no physical form, the measurement of human labour in hours spent in an external location, and the concept of “bringing home” the money earned keep the public’s focus wrapped up in an economic structure that’s only been around for a couple hundred years. If we need an economic revolution to close the gap between rich and poor, examining how the distribution of wealth got to where it is would be a good place to start.