Gross Domestic Product
For anyone who’s not clear, and even I had to look it up to be sure, Gross Domestic Product is generally defined as the total of the monetary value of all goods and services produced within a country’s borders.
GDP is often cited as the main economic indicator of the health of the economy. An official definition of a recession (like the news media and politicians keep talking about) is two quarters in a row of decline in GDP. However, there are some drawbacks to using GDP as the sole indicator of economic well-being of a country.
For one thing, GDP does not account for any of the resource costs involved in that production. For example, many economists, professional and amateur, have written about the fact that the environmental degradation required to produce goods and services is not accounted for.
Another major point of discussion is how to account for the “informal” sector. Goods and services that are produced and distributed but not bought or sold through the ordinary retail system. This might include union carpenters who moonlight as handymen or the people who sell televisions by the side of the road.
One of the largest elements of informal labor is housework. From cleaning your toilet to making dinner to knitting Christmas presents – a tremendous amount of labor and materials are consumed but not accounted for. If you work as a maid in a hotel, that is counted as part of GDP. If you change sheets for your grandmother, even if she slips you five dollars for it, that is not counted.
So why the economics lesson? It’s because I am reconsidering my own economic participation. Over the last couple of years, I have not contributed much to the official GDP. I just did our income taxes and I had none last year. But I did a lot of work.
One estimate of the fair market value of a housewife’s labor would be $138,000. Which does not include the services I provide as a fundraising and organizational development consultant for a number of Quaker organizations. Or writing this blog. (More on that note in a minute.)
At various points in my career, I have felt more and less concerned about the economic value of my work. Over the years, I have earned between $3.35 and $75.00 an hour. I have complained heartily about being nothing but a wet nurse. I have railed against the injustice of the gaps in my career that are associated with child bearing. I have also been really grateful for times when I haven’t had to feel conflicted about staying home with a sick child.
Right now, I’m pretty happy with the mix of homemaking and ministry in my life. I’m managing to both write and make dinner almost every day. I feel like my contributions to my family, my local Meeting and the wider Quaker world are being recognized as valuable even if I’m not getting paid.
Unfortunately, this happy balance is not to last. In 2008, I will need to bring more cash into our household. Why? Because the financial aid system for our children’s school expects that once all your children are in school, both parents will be employed, for money. They can’t make me go to work, but they will adjust our assistance as if I were earning money. So I’m looking for work.
But if I were working 15-40 hours a week on a paid job, I would have to give up some of the other activities that fill my days. Our house cleaning standards, even such as they are, will probably decline. I will have to step off at least one, maybe all five of the Quaker committees I serve on. I probably won’t have time to be costume mistress for my kids’ school plays. Certainly it will affect my traveling ministry with convergent Friends. And this blog will surely suffer.
But I hope my blog won’t die. It has brought me much joy, many new Friends, and provided a discipline of writing that has served me well.
Part of my efforts to find ways to make writing pay was the addition of the Google ads to my blog. I was hoping it would cover the purchase of new reading material. Well, so far, they’re earning about $1 a month. Which is pretty close to covering my actual costs of writing this blog, since I only use free online services. It would just about keep me in pens and notebook paper for the first drafts of my posts. However, Google only sends you a check when you reach a total of $100. So in about 10 years, I’ll get paid back. Ummm, that’s not actually going to work very well. So I’m looking at other forms of writing for a living.
Suggestions are welcome. Prayers are welcome. Sympathetic ranting about the warped economics of family life in postmodern America is also welcome.
Here’s my current prayer:
May God help me to find the right balance of GDP and domestic harmony.
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