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Does the primacy of economics help to achieve a good life?

Refining our beliefs and Values

One of the core areas of philosophy is the examination of the beliefs and values that we as individuals and as societies hold to be true.  One of the twentieth centuries great philosophers of logic, Gottlob Frege said that ‘engaging in philosophy means you take the responsibility of always trying to think deeply and with integrity.    Thinking deeply must involve imaginative new ways of thinking and this will place severe demands on intellectual integrity.’

Today, in the twenty first century we are confronted by many conflicting ideas of what is valuable and true, all fervently supported by different intellectuals, politicians, and sections of the media.  So how do we, as individuals, navigate these ideas and make sense out of them?  This is where philosophy demands more than a superficial nod of the head, either in the negative or the affirmative, when we are told how we should live our lives.  It takes critical analysis to unpack some of the ideas we have been inundated with lately, and it appears to many of us that there is a need to focus on bigger picture ideas and do that work, no matter how busy we are.

The announcement of the OECD today, that women who stay at home to raise their children or who work part time because of caring responsibilities are a drain on the economy is one of those ideas that we need to really unpick.  There are several inherent philosophical issues in this claim that need to be addressed.  

The first is that human beings are simply a resource or tool to be used by the entity called the ‘economy’.  That human well being is only served by increasing productivity, and that the only valuable tasks are those that are paid for in the context of employment.  The OECD used the notion that women are happier and more fulfilled if they have a job, to justify their position.

Secondly it demonstrates that the OECD believe that psychological and emotional tasks of parenthood and family relationships, that include caring and that take time away from employment, are of no value either to the individual, or society as a whole. This failure to recognise the value of parenting and maintaining caring relationships has a long history in human society, and is a feature of entrenched patriarchy. It is a glaring failure of the project of equality that the philosophical discussion of the valuing of all areas of human life has been swamped by the strident and arrogant assumption, that for women to be fulfilled they must join men in the world of men. Just as men cannot find fulfilment outside of the stereotypical characterisation of them as providers rather than carers.

The really unsettling aspect of this, is the response of some groups that the only issue to be discussed is the lack of affordable day care that stops women from working full time.   This standard answer to the complexities of managing a work life balance and our responsibilities as parents and family members, reflects our failure as a society to think deeply and with integrity about the philosophical problem of what we value about being alive.  What do we think constitutes a good life?  

This is the question that we need to think about imaginatively.  We need to take a deep breath and step back from this ever increasing pace of our lives, and really examine if we believe that the economy, driven by ever increasing consumerism and the exploitation of our environment, is in fact our society’s higher order value.   

Is this really what will give us a good life?