In my previous post I was talking a lot about the cultural aspects of the home: sex, marriage, children, family, the decisions we make about these things as if they were made in a vacuum. However, economics plays into all that a heck of a lot. We often don't make decisions based on our values -- we make decisions based on whether we can afford them.
Unfortunately economics is not my area of expertise. I found myself frustrated with Radical Homemakers, because it obviously isn't the author's area of expertise either. Sure, she discussed it for half the book -- but she never got past describing our economy to explaining why it's like that. The trouble is that no one really knows why it's like that -- all we have our theories. So all I have, personally, are a lot of questions.
1. Is it possible for a family to live on one income? Silly question, I know, considering we do so already. But is this sustainable? Will it continue to be possible? You can cut expenses like food, luxuries, even housing costs, but what about insurance for the whole family? Don't you need two jobs to insure everyone? In our particular situation, John's insurance will accept him and any number of kids for a reasonable price, but add a spouse and it's another $500 a month. That's like another mortgage.
Our solution has been to buy private insurance for me, but prices are predicted to go up across the board for the next few years, and it's uncertain how sustainable this option is going to be for us. I'm thinking maybe a catastrophic plan is the best for me, but I don't know anything about that. Do any of you?
2. Is there room for more than one kind of lifestyle in our economy? I've often wondered this. I mean, a generation ago all the women decided to enter the workforce. That meant double the employees, and wouldn't that mean wages would go down, and thus every household needs two incomes now? (John says no; the reason every household "needs" two incomes now is because of inflation due to abandoning the gold standard. I am no expert.) Or take childcare. If most women want to work outside the home, the government should ensure copious maternity leave and affordable childcare are available, right? But the money for that comes out of everyone's taxes. So those families that don't use those benefits will end up paying more in taxes and getting nothing for it. Is there a fair way to make sure that working moms have what they need, and stay-at-home moms aren't penalized for providing their own childcare? (Or do we just have to deal with it, as we already do if we homeschool and still pay school tax?) Conversely, if nothing is done for working moms, is it really okay for them to have nothing but their saved vacation days to give birth on, so that they are sometimes forced to go back to work within days after having a baby? How can single moms cope with childcare costs while raising enough money to feed their kids?
3. How is the economy to survive if people don't get and stay married? Think about last post. I mentioned an article that showed married moms were richer than single moms, and their kids had more opportunities. The suggestion was made that the government should make up what is lacking in single-parent families, by providing subsidized childcare and other programs. This is all well and good as long as there are plenty of wealthier, married families paying plenty of taxes. But what happens as more and more of the population relies on these programs to get by, and no one's paying in? And yet, what can anybody do about it? We can't force anyone to get married.
4. For a bigger jump, what about our food system? I've been told over and over again that mega-farms are the only feasible way to feed the nation. And yet that seems absolutely counter-intuitive to me. What is sustainable about the way they do business? Lots of money spent on GMO seed, chemical fertilizers, massive tractors -- the bigger the farm, the greater the overhead, so a profit isn't necessarily easier to come by if you scale up. Shipping costs increase, of course, if you have to grow everything in California or the Midwest. Wouldn't the smart thing to do be to replace expensive chemical inputs (and oil to power the machines) with human labor, helping employ people across the country and not just in cities? Or is farm work something Americans just don't do ... because of the minimum wage, or pride, or some other reason?
Could we feed America on smaller farms? Is there any way to reverse the flight from farms to the city? Once 90% of Americans farmed; today the number is about 1%. Could we bump it up to 10% and still efficiently feed everyone? Is the idea that we could all at least know where our food comes from, an impossible dream? Or do 10% of people just not want to farm because it sounds like too much work?
What do you think?