As a mom with two school-age kids, I have a great deal of responsibility for keeping our home going on a daily basis – cooking, homework, groceries, laundry, paying the bills. I manage the inflow and outflow of goods and services in the house. Even though I don’t consciously think of it, the way I manage these things sets up specific relationships with my family. Who does what chores, the type of chores, what allowance gets paid, who has access to knowledge about our finances, and who gets what to eat all have subtle and obvious effects on my relationships at home.
If I were to apply some of the same values in the current economy to my home, the results would be disastrous. Take competition as a motivator, for example. Let’s say I want my kids to get a good education. I could say to my child, “You are not as good in spelling as your sister, so no dinner for you tonight. I hope this motivates you to study harder.” What would that do to the relationships within the family? I can’t imagine it would be good. In fact, I would be shunned as an abusive mother.
The responsibility of managing a household includes caring for everyone in it. That care requires us to distribute and share resources in a way that makes it possible for both the needs of individual members and the needs of the whole household to be met.
We rarely consider everyone in the world to be our family especially when it comes to the economy, but what would it make possible if we did? What would we do differently if we took that responsibility seriously? How would we treat each other differently? Would we create systems that ensured everyone had enough to eat, a place to live, a job to do?
In its highest form, economics has imbedded in it the potential to care for the world — the family of humankind — if we are willing to see it that way. The planet is our home, and the right economic system can be a way to care for those who live in it.