Ehrenreich Interviews Albert, Last

Ehrenreich: In the book Parecon, you make no mention, that I can find anyway, of remuneration for the work of “caring” in the home – child raising, caring for the elderly, etc. This is a big issue with feminists: how do you address it?

Albert: I talk about this in various places, but perhaps at less length than you might desire. What is the relation between parecon and issues of gender is the broad matter, and the specific matter is what is done vis a vis work in the home.

For the former issue, a parecon would have to respect goals implemented for kinship and gender relations. I don’t know what those goals will be. Perhaps changes in the nuclear family and living units more broadly will be important. Perhaps changes from mothering and fathering — which are now gender-defined roles — to parenting which could in the future be a genderless role. Maybe other changes will be critical, and obviously there will be much diversity.

The key claim for parecon is that it won’t contradict innovations sought by feminist activism. Men can’t have disproportionate economic control or inflated income in parecon because no one can. In fact, if the gender and household sphere of a society imposed a hierarchy of men over women, an accompanying parecon would contradict it because a parecon would disrupt any gender hierarchy by treating men and women equally. So in this sense, not only does parecon have to respect a desirable approach to home life and gender and sex issues more broadly, but also vice versa. Nurturance and socialization and relations among people in their living units and regarding sex, has to yield citizens able to hold balanced jobs, able to participate in self managed decision making, able to partner in work with all kinds of other people, etc.

But what about household work? I think the answer is that there may not be a single answer. I can imagine a society which says that household work is part of the economy so that all such work would be in balanced job complexes and remunerated for effort. But I can also imagine, and I would prefer and also think it more likely, a society in which household work wasn’t thought of that way.

For example, I don’t think the nurturing and upbringing of a child is the same broad type of activity as building a bicycle or a computer, or even teaching school or staffing a daycare center. Both child rearing and workplace production take time and energy. They both have important outcomes. But I think rearing the next generation inside households is so qualitatively different than producing outputs in workplaces that it shouldn’t be thought of under the same rubric. That doesn’t mean it should be apportioned unjustly, of course. It just means the norms that would govern housework would be part of what we might call the kinship sphere, not the economy.

I guess I don’t like thinking about household labor in a way that makes a child and family life analogous to a product of a workplace and work, though I realize others might disagree. However, to disagree out of concern that in a parecon women would be exploited by having to do household labor on top of their remunerated workplace labor seems to me to say that we can have goals regarding economics that improve workplace conditions, but we can’t have goals regarding kinship that improve household conditions and I see no reason to think that. Also, this is all separate from daycare facilities, schools, etc., that presumably would exist in a parecon, and would employ people doing their socially valued labor in accord with parecon norms.

There is another issue, bearing on other parts of household labor, that makes it problematic to think of homes as a workplace in the economy. Suppose you like to work a whole lot on designing and redesigning your living room, your whole residence, or your lawn. That could be a lot of activity but should it count as part of your contribution to the social output? The problem is, you are the main beneficiary. I think it is more accurately termed consumption and not seen as part of your balanced job complex. Could parecon treat it as work? Yes, I guess it could. Should it? I don’t think so, but again others might disagree. And again, this is different from a landscaping industry, which does work for households, neighborhoods, etc.

What parecon says is that workplaces and industries should remunerate for effort and sacrifice, should feature councils as venues of negotiation and decision making, should use self management methods for arriving at choices, and should employ balanced job complexes. Consumption should occur in accord with budgets and via participatory planning. But beyond these broad features, and the infrastructure of participatory planning, there is tremendous room for variation (just as there is lot of variation among different instances of capitalism, or any other type of economy). I have my own preferences about lots of aspects of a future society, like housework, or the interface between economics and religion, or what is consumption rather than work, and so on. Others will differ, and various patterns will emerge, perhaps differently in different countries. There is much more to life than economics, and parecon is just an economic goal.

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