Thursday, December 31, 2009

Under Pressure

I read two things today that made me go “hmmm.”

First, in the New York Times: “In homes where both spouses work, one in four wives now earns more than her husband. That’s partly because of...the growing need for both spouses to bring home a paycheck.” The short piece implies this is not a choice, but rather financial pressure that pushes mommy out the door in her pumps. Di and I just saw Up in the Air in which a young professional woman just dumped (via text) by her boyfriend asks the experienced professional lady what she should be looking for in a man. "Whatever you do, make damn sure he earns more than you." Ha, said my wife.

Now I’m already on board with the idea that we'd rather not send the kids to preschool and that we'd love to have Di stay home and clean and cook and write Christmas cards and generally be a better influence on the kids than someone at a daycare who doesn't share our values and is distracted by a dozen other kids. But that heroic and noble (i.e. poorly paid) nonprofit career doesn't impress like it used to. The thought no longer counts.

Second, in the Jan/Feb 2010 Ode Magazine, I find Charles Eisenstein lamenting the necessity of growth in a monetized economy. "The what?" I hear you saying.

Well, I take the point of what he is saying to be that money — a remarkable way to virtualize and transfer value — also virtualizes human relationships. But relationships are more complex and are not the same as value (they can't be commoditized, for one). They are, at the very least, deformed, and more likely destroyed altogether when you remove the close human relationship from a transaction.

Here’s a long quote from Eisenstein (I swear, I'm getting to a point):
“If I make food and give it to you, and you take care of my children while I work on the land, economists don’t count that as economic activity. But if I sell my food on the market and you open a daycare center, the economy is growing. People are under pressure to convert their non-monetized gift relationships into goods and services.”
He isn’t suggesting we regress to pre-clam shell days (though he does think barter will make a comeback). He’s got some interesting ideas about economic mechanisms that may evolve in a future where unlimited growth is no longer possible or at least desirable. I won’t go into them here, mostly because I don’t get it. But it is the very first time I’ve heard someone suggest some idea of what would replace our economies of growth that we know are no bueno for all sorts of reasons.

These two pressures are just some of those in our modern Western lives that many of us believe are false choices, but yet it’s still difficult to choose differently. So perhaps what we're trying to do in South America is reset the lifestyle expectations and simplify without all the pressures we find here. And maybe when we return, we'll have rediscovered what's really important and what we really value and how to achieve those things even with the cultural pressures here.

Or maybe we'll just learn to surf and call it good.

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