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Homo economicus at home

I follow a blog called EconLog, written by economists Bryan Caplan and Arnold Kling. It’s mostly a «know thy enemy» kind of thing, albeit the clean rationalism prescribed by economists is refreshing in quite a few different areas of interest.i

But in some cases, the imaginative concept of the economically rational individual really gets to rear its ugly head. This is one of those times. Bryan Caplan argues that comparative advantage should be applied to the division of domestic labour. In practice, this means the one with highest skill and lowest wage should do as much housework as possible. Because, as the economists put it, «Wouldn’t husband and wife alike be better off if he specialized in bringing home the bread, and she specialized in baking it?»

This goes to show how narrow a mind can be. Imagine a professor, a specialist in thinking, writing something like that without even seeing the problem. That’s how narrow you can become, even when you’re always requesting others to free their minds and «overcome bias».ii «Better off», mr. Caplan, is not uniquely defined as economically better off. And definitely not in questions of love, more specifically a just distribution of tedious tasks between to equals in a relationship.

In addition, the distribution of housework vs. paid work is possible to change over time. As there is no reason to believe nature has made women more adept to unpaid work, there must be some historical reason the distribution is so skewed.iii As a result, it is completely reasonable to argue that men must do more unpaid work. That is the only way to free up women’s time, so they can get (on average) the same level of economic goods that men have. After all, money is power. It is unjust that women should be left without this money (and power) due to some ancient division of labour, kept up by Caplan’s insistence on maintaining the currently most efficient division.

Women and men alike need to work full time to get careers, they need to have enough time to spend on education (both formal and informal), and they need to earn money to secure their future pensions. Unless Caplan is willing to say that women are more adept to housekeeping than men, he must admit the current division is both unfair and ineffective.

Fotnoter

  1. Til mine norske lesere: Når jeg svarer på et innlegg i en engelsk blogg, syns jeg det er riktig å skrive på engelsk. []
  2. Mr. Caplan has actually written books strongly attacking «biases» in the electorate, recommending less democratic control over society. []
  3. Furthermore: If we assume men and women as groups are equally skilled at paid work from nature’s part (albeit individuals are different from each other), the distribution we have today must be inefficient. If men and women (as groups) are equally skilled, the 50–50-division would also be expected over time. Obviously, this argument requires the possibility of education. At the current levels of education, a skewed distribution might be effective. This means a different distribution than the currently most efficient might be the most efficient in the long run, by freeing up time to educate women, who (properly educated) will be more adept to paid work than their spouses 50 % of the time. []

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