Understanding Value

I’ve been neglectful of this blogging project as my mind has been pre-occupied with other projects. I finally have one space to get back into writing.

A little while ago I did an interview with US based podcast macro ‘n cheese on a general chat about MMT and an understanding on how we understand and perceive value.

The podcast spoke about value in the sense of valuing forms of employment tied to cultural customs, particularly around different groups of people. I used my experiences of my own observation with my family and some lateral thinking that a similar concept could be applied into a formal Job Guarantee structure.

For example in the podcast I discussed ways family members interacted with each other at a social level and how that interaction brought meaning and provided for their families. I recall my grandmother would pick broadbeans with friends and prepare them for dinner but this activity was done as a social task amongst a group. The labour input required brought about other socially beneficial outcomes. Conversations were had, food was prepared, people felt a sense of purpose and meaning.

That sort of activity and outcome is similar to the lived experiences from the Jefe’s program in Argentina. The income aspect was a secondary benefit by the participants who valued the sense of self and community the employment program brought about. Many of the participants then used those skills to develop further projects such as bakeries, textiles – making clothes etc…

The program has allowed local and municipal governments who are most familiar with the economic needs of their communities to administer the program. In addition, it has recognized certain kinds of activities as socially useful, thereby helping redefine the meaning of work

http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp_732.pdf

If we use some lateral thinking the sorts of tasks described above that this communities value, such as agriculture/permaculture, cultural services – such as crocheting and sewing can be brought into a JG structure alongside a skills development framework and can be used to create ‘public value’. Things like community gardens, arts workshops etc…

Adapting that thinking to bring about employment to communities that are heavily disadvantaged (such as indigenous communities in Australia) a voluntary JG – democratically run at a local level, could have those communities deciding what they consider productive employment.

I draw that from the paper The Uluru Statement: “A First Nation’s perspective of the implications for social reconstructive race relations in Australia.”

“…we believe that Aboriginal people and Torres Straight Islanders will be able to refocus their energies on the everyday requirements for self-determination. Importantly this will include participation in the labour market and, for many, forms of employment that occur on Country in ways that strengthen and add contemporary value to Indigenous forms of knowledge.”

https://ijcis.qut.edu.au/article/view/532/704

That understanding of value that contributes to our well-being is neglected when studying economics. It’s not really something you can measure. How do measure the social impact children gain by seeing a parent go to work each day? How do you measure the social and community relations people develop by going to work? How do measure the impact employment brings on someone’s sense of self?

In today’s societies a sense of self is largely tied to employment and the institutions you belong to. I use the sociological definition of the term institutions. An institution in this context is an entity that a collective belongs to. For example education, law, family, religion, politics, economics all are institutions or contain institutions within them.  

What it means to be a person is anchored in your belonging to an institution.  An institution is lasting. (e.g  A widow belongings to the institution of marriage even though her partner has passed away.  They’ve participated in an institution that has approval of the collective consciousness and this forms part of their identity.)

Using that same structure our identities are intrinsically linked to our occupations. We already know the devastating effects unemployment and underemployment brings on an individual’s physical and mental health and the social implications that not being able to provide for yourself or family and participate in society brings.

The institutions we belong to bring about a ‘social solidarity’. Durkheim outlines this in his Division of Labour that “being imbedded in a group that provides cohesion, a sense of participation, togetherness” is how societies provide for integration and regulation. By virtue of being employed it brings about a sense of self identity and being gainfully employed allows one to participate in a meaningful way in society.

By implementing a Job Guarantee with an emphasis on changing the definition of productive employment we can bring about valuing different forms of cultural knowledge and practice that currently go unrecognised or unpaid.

By way of example I’ll recite my examples above, activities such as community gardens, arts workshops, flora rehabilitation, surfing can all be included within a JG framework provided they allow for a public purpose.

It may be that a group of people participate in a community garden and sand dune rehabilitation while studying horticulture with an goal of becoming a Ranger for a National Park. Indigenous forms of land management can be incorporated into this program. Out on country it may be that a community wishes to teach the ways in which they care for country. Learning about this cultural practice and partaking in the program can be a Job Guarantee. It is our imaginations that are the limit to what type of activities are included.

Conclusion

There is a lot more I wish to write and a lot more research I wish to delve into. I should conclude by saying a JG is not there to replace work to lower wages in the public sector. It is there to value forms of work that currently go unrecognised in our society.

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