Thursday, April 7, 2011

How Should We Spend Ourselves?

Every once in a while I find myself in need of a Quaker perspective on maps and I turn to mapHead the blog of Nat Case.  (He's a Quaker and head of production for Hedberg Maps and writes about both mapping and his faith.) One of the fundamental tenants of Quakerism is the importance of simple living.  On March 7, Nat posted a thoughtful article questioning our assumptions about the economy and what we value:

...something that's been bugging me for a while now, a sense that our fundamental terms of discussion on economic issues are missing the point, over and over.

First, the use of "jobs" to mean "earned income." We're used to wage employment being the primary source of sustenance for most American families, but this is pretty new, globally speaking. The move by more and more friends and acquaintances to grow at least some of their own food is striking, and I think points to a broadening sense that wage labor is not the only way to go in terms of providing for oneself. When we say "we want everyone to have a job" what we ought to be saying is "we want everyone to work such that they can sustain themselves and have time and energy for the pleasures and joy of life"

Second, the sense that money is the fundamental unit of economic measure. It is certainly the most easily quantifiable measure—maybe the only easily quantifiable measure. But in the end, it is a measure, not the thing itself. A dollar is a unit of exchange. As has been pointed out countless times, you can't eat gold. The focus on money also means we ignore non-monetized parts of the economy...
 The core economic question is not "how much money do we get for our work?" but "how should we spend ourselves?" because whatever we earn in cash, when we work we are spending time out of our lives. The product, whether it is fungible or not, is what we should pay attention to. Not everything needs to be exchangeable on the open market.

You can read the full article here.