Yup, we’re lookin’ at you, Chad and Pete.
OK, so, alternatives to GDP: yup, great idea.
Concentrate on consumption as being what really matters to people? Yup, great idea.
Reference the Stiglitz/Sen report on market, home production and leisure hours? Yup, right on!
Ignore the point the Stiglitz/Sen report makes about market, home production and leisure hours? Erm, no, not really. Plus ungood in fact.
So, what we want to do is work out where people get to live better lives. This is, after all, the whole point of this economics thing: how do we get from here to there, from this vale of tears to the sunlit uplands?
Yes, of course there’s lots of biasy and biased nonsense possible once we move away from the pure and strict numbers but lots of that bias is entirely fine. We can imagine various weirdos calculating the rate of miscegenation and using that as an example of something that impoverishes a society (as, say, Hitler, Pol Pot, the N Koreans and any number of people using bedsheets as fashion accoutrements have in fact said) and we can imagine various sensible people like you and me using the same statistic as proof of the wealth of the society: it’s a commonplace that those lucky enough to be of mixed race are markedly better looking than us unibreeds (quite why this never quite worked with the ragbag of genes that make up the English is unknown: perhaps there has to be a counter-example to everything?).
OK, so one of these arguments that we’ve got to have is how do we count home production hours?
We’ve four sets of time here which make up the day. Personal time (what you can’t get someone else to do for you, sleep, eat, shit and shag), home production, market production and the balancing item, leisure.
Now, your standard of living will obviously change dependent upon how much work you have to do and thus how much time there is left over for leisure (personal time as well of course but in every country that’s advanced enough to have economic statistics we can do sums with there’s plenty of that).
The big question though is, where does household production go? Do we count those hours as work or as leisure?
Well, try it out. Try it out on your partner (either way). Is ironing work or leisure? Cooking? OK, cooking that occasional grand meal might be leisure but cooking four times a day to feed a fractious and extended family? Clearing the gutters is leisure or work? Building the two seater sports car as part of the mid life crisis might be leisure but how about the regular maintenance on the family car? Work or leisure?
Good, yes, it’s work. So, household working hours are work, to be added to market production hours which are also work. What we’re interested in, the important thing, is what are the leisure hours?
And that’s the conclusion the Sarkozy/Sen report came to. Work is work damnit. Whether it’s being done for the Man or for my man, it’s still work.
So, when we have a paper, like this one from Chad and Pete, that adds home production hours to leisure hours then we know something’s gone wrong. For they’re actually counting, just to give one example from the Luxembourg Income Study, a German hausfrau who does more hours of work a week, adding market and home hours, than the average American woman, as having more leisure and thus a higher standard of living than looking at leisure hours alone would do.
So, err, nice idea, but no.