I beg to differ with Gary S. Becker ("Housework: The missing piece of the economic pie," Economic Viewpoint, Oct. 16). Public policy should be based on sound economic information, not admirable social opinions.
The gross domestic product should reflect economic transfers of wealth related to goods and services. As valuable as child care and other housework might be when paid under contract, they involve no measurable economic activity when self-performed. If all such services were part of GDP, we would also value landscaping, building maintenance, and appliance repair, among others. In fact, GDP omits volunteer work and unpaid advice such as mother-in-law consulting.
Real economic activities, such as illegal enterprises (i.e., drugs, theft, etc.) and "underground" transactions (i.e., cash), that do involve economic transfers of wealth at least as large as the "value" of housework would be better additions to GDP and would be of more import to public policy. The only problem is how to tax this part of the economy to eliminate the budget deficit.
Cherry Hill, N.J.
Gary Becker's article is a bold and just statement--and it is one that many women besides myself would welcome as a logical inclusion in the nation's gross domestic product. Another change, long overdue, is that housework and family care should be recognized as part of the curriculum vitae of those of us who choose to return to the workforce after staying at home to raise our children.
For too many years, corporations have projected the myth that housework was not a measurable skill in terms of job-related activities. On the contrary, the skills involved in scheduling--not only of children's activities but also of school meeting activities, volunteering, and attention to household needs--are innumerable.
Gary Becker is right: Housework and family care are definitely part of a nation's GDP.
Gillian A. Haddad
Eastchester, New York
Thank you, Gary Becker! I told my wife that she is now contributing $50,000 to gross domestic product each year. There is no withholding and no tax, and she is "earning" more than me. She promptly suggested that we move to a new house, take care of the kids' orthodontics, and take a much-postponed vacation.
In addition to the indirect boost that it will give to the economy, this change will remove millions of people from poverty. The GDP in China and India will explode, and the resulting affluence will enable them to buy our Treasury bonds. That in turn will drive down interest rates, reduce the deficit, and set in motion a vicious cycle of economic growth and prosperity.