I think a lot about invisible work. In 2016, I went from full-time employment to staying home with my son. It was a big mental shift. For a decade plus, I'd gone to offices, worked, and received a paycheck. At home, I care for the kids and do most of the household management stuff. Once I had a handle on it, I added some freelance design work. I'm busier than before, but don't have the psychological validation of a regular paycheck.
Money is tangible- you can hold it and say, “Here is what my labor is worth!” (Or, “Is this ALL I’m worth?”) It was disconcerting.
Thoughts from 3 years deep:
The benefits of labor go somewhere, obviously. Things have to be done, matter a lot (food, cleanliness, health, cultivating relationships), and I’m busy doing them as well as I can. I now see this as a more direct line to my values. .
Money is your labor abstracted, and abstracting it is not cost-free. Tax and travel are probably the biggest costs, but there are others. One of the most enlightening exercises I ever did was taking my salary minus taxes, and subtracting the cost of food bought at work, work clothing, socializing with coworkers, transportation…I didn’t make the wage I thought I did.
Consider: if I hire a maid, I pay them, and this counts as “economic activity.” If I clean my own house, it doesn’t count. If I am hired as a nanny, this counts as “economic activity.” If I care for my own children, it doesn’t count. Yet the job gets done either way.
(Of course, there are many good non-economic reasons for people's choices. Perhaps you hire a maid so you can spend your time on activities you enjoy more. Or perhaps you like to have things cleaned in a specific way, so you prefer doing it yourself. etc)
It’s easy to look at this and see how “Growth in GDP!” or “More people in the workforce!” can sound good and be true, while also not actually producing much. Is this good? Who benefits? How is it not just running in place?