6 of 10: Reproductive Labor in a Participatory Economy

February 1, 2022

This is the sixth part of ten extracts from the book Democratic Economic Planning (2021, Routledge) by Robin HahneI. How is care giving and domestic housework, which involves the maintenance of social and family structures upon which productive labor depends, addressed in a Participatory Economy?

Reproductive labor in the participatory economy

In a participatory economy people will be free to form worker councils that do domestic labor of different kinds that households consume and pay for just like they consume and pay for food, clothing, or any other consumption good or service. For example, a worker council might provide garden and lawn care to households who wish to hire others to do this whom they pay from household effort ratings and allowances. Another worker council might provide home cleaning services households would pay for.

Similarly, while a great deal of socialization labor will be provided by the public education system free of charge, worker councils may provide services to households who demand supplemental educational services such as extra tutoring, music lessons, art classes, sports training, and so on, paid for out of household effort ratings and allowances. Neighborhood consumption councils and federations of neighborhood councils may also demand supplemental educational programs beyond those available in the public education system in the form of youth orchestras, sports leagues, and so on, as local public goods. Whenever supplemental educational services such as these are provided to neighborhood councils or federations by worker councils in the economic system, they are paid for collectively out of members’ effort ratings and allowances (which include children allowances) in one of the ways we discussed previously regarding public goods in general. Similarly, households, neighborhood consumer councils, or federations of neighborhood councils are free to demand caring labor services from worker councils providing them, above and beyond what are provided free of charge by the public healthcare system, and pay for them out of effort ratings and allowances.

Obviously demand for supplemental education and healthcare services from worker councils in the economy that recipients must pay for, even if collectively, raises the question of whether or not services provided by the public education and healthcare systems are adequate or should be expanded. But we believe the option to demand and supply additional educational and healthcare services in the participatory economy provides a useful way to explore where people want to draw the line between education and healthcare services that are covered because they are part of the education and healthcare system, from those that are supplemental and provided by worker councils in the economic system. For example: Dentistry includes routine checkups, x-rays, filling cavities, extractions, cleanings, different orthodontic procedures, and different cosmetic treatments. Presumably the level of economic development will affect what dental services are deemed essential, or “standard” and therefore free of charge, and what services are considered cosmetic. But whatever is not provided by the public healthcare system free of charge will be left for worker councils to provide and for people to pay for with their effort ratings and allowances.8

However, these are all cases where some kind of supplemental reproductive service may be supplied by a worker council in the participatory economy because it is not provided by the public education or healthcare system. Reproductive activity often takes place jointly with activity that is self-consciously economic in nature. And there is every reason to believe that absent structured intervention, reproductive activity that takes place along with economic activity in worker councils in the participatory economy would continue to suffer from a gender bias with two adverse consequences: (1) If women continue to perform more than their share of caring and socialization labor in worker councils, women might continue to be compensated less than they should be. (2) If men continue to perform less than their share of caring and socialization labor in worker councils, men will be underexposed to positive “human development effects” of caring labor, which tend to sensitize people toward the well-being of others and develop a caring culture of solidarity. We propose four concrete policies to avoid these predictable outcomes in workplaces in a participatory economy.

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