Abandon all hope ye who enter here. That is the writing that first appears when one opens up Tumblr. It is dark corner of the world where ghoulish denizens use strange words and try to apply their undergraduate studies to understand the root of all social injustice. As a intrepid explorer of exotic tribes, I had to look around and discover their ways. One bizarre artifact, an unholy relic from times immemorial: an image macro about women’s domestic work being a form of economic oppression. Naturally I had to take this curiosity back and examine it for dispassionate review.

To begin, what is value? The economist Carl Menger defines it thusly:

Value is a judgment economizing men make about the importance of the goods at their disposal for the maintenance of their lives and well-being. Hence value does not exist outside the consciousness of men.

And what is capital? I allow Frédéric Bastiat to explain:

What is capital, then? It is composed of three things:

1st. Of the materials upon which men operate, when these materials have already a value communicated by some human effort, which has bestowed upon them the principle of remuneration — wool, flax, leather, silk, wood, etc.

2nd. Instruments which are used for working — tools, machines, ships, carriages, etc.

3rd. Provisions which are consumed during labor — victuals, stuffs, houses, etc.

Without these things, the labor of man would be unproductive, and almost void; yet these very things have required much work, especially at first. This is the reason that so much value has been attached to the possession of them, and also that it is perfectly lawful to exchange and to sell them, to make a profit of them if used, to gain remuneration from them if lent.

With this knowledge of economics in mind, we can take a hammer to the ideas expressed in this image. The labor of a person is subjectively valued; it is a service that can paid for or bartered for. It is subjectively valued by everyone involved; both the employee and the employer do so. The value of the labor involved can be expressed in monetary wages (the price of labor) or barter (direct exchange of goods\services). One can be paid, let’s say, $10 per hour for their labor. One could also do day’s work for another, in exchange for a certain amount of beef. If this is done freely and voluntarily, then each benefits by getting what they want.

What determines the values? The subjective valuation of each participant involved. As such, different forms of employment have different wages associated with them. This is not contingent upon gender; it is contingent upon the subjective valuation of each person involved. Consider the words of Ludwig von Mises, who was influenced by Menger:

Value is the importance that acting man attaches to ultimate ends. Only to ultimate ends is primary and original value assigned. Means are valued derivatively according to their serviceableness in contributing to the attainment of ultimate ends. Their valuation is derived from the valuation of the respective ends. They are important for man only as far as they make it possible for him to attain some ends. Value is not intrinsic, it is not in things. It is within us; it is the way in which man reacts to the conditions of his environment.

An objection may be raised. Why does “daddy” make more money than “mommy”, when he is a professor and she is a homemaker? Surely “mommy” works just hard as he does and surely her work is just as vital, so therefore the conclusion we reach must be patriarchy. But is it so? No. In a society where occupation is not intrinsically linked to gender (such as in a free market economic system), gender does not dictate wages. If your society has an economic system where men and women can both be professors, then your conclusion is not applicable; it is drawn from a faulty premise. In this case, there are multiple errors in reasoning. The first is that labor creates value; it does not. The second is that every form of work is valued in the same way; they are not. The third is that gender necessarily dictates occupation; this is not so.

Let us dwell upon this third erroneous premise for a moment. This third premise is dependent upon each individual culture and therefore cannot be necessarily true, as a maxim of human action, across the board. In the united states, as of 2015, this premise is patently false. In a third world rainforest village, this premise may be applicable. Why is this? The division of labor in these two cultures are vastly different. Indeed, the division of labor in the former case actually increases productivity and allows each individual access to wealth never before dreamed of. Even the poorest underclassmen of an American state have cellphones; something outside the reach of even the wealthiest kings of old.

Another objection arises. Isn’t the division of labor harmful? Far from it. The division of labor increases productivity and wealth. For example, Hans-Hermann Hoppe states:

For economic theory the question of how to increase wealth and get rich has a straightforward answer. It has three components: you get richer (a) through capital accumulation, i.e., the construction of intermediate “producer” or “capital” goods that can produce more consumer goods per unit time than can be produced without them or goods that cannot be produced at all with just land and labor (and capital accumulation in turn has something to do with (low) time preference); (b) through participation and integration in the division of labor; and (c) through population control, i.e., by maintaining the optimal population size.

We can also return to Bastiat for an elaboration:

If Shem is located upon a plain that is fertile in corn, Japhet upon a slope adapted for growing the vine, Ham upon a rich pasturage — the distinction of their occupations, far from hurting any of them, might cause all three to prosper more. It must be so, in fact, for the distribution of labor, introduced by exchange, will have the effect of increasing the mass of corn, wine, and meat that is produced, and that is to be shared. How can it be otherwise, if you allow liberty in these transactions? From the moment that any one of the brothers should perceive that labor in company, as it were, was a permanent loss, compared to solitary labor, he would cease to exchange. Exchange brings with it its claim to our gratitude. The fact of its being accomplished proves that it is a good thing.

Coming back around to our premises, now, we can see things clearly. Different occupations between people is good, as far as the division of labor goes. It allows for specialization, wealth accumulation, and a greater variety of jobs for us to perform. It also means that if I want a new hat, I don’t have to go out and attempt to make it myself; I can pay my fellow man to do so for me, to the benefit of all involved. Different occupations between people are valued differently by each person, for all individuals with their own valuations. Prices are indicators of this. What we can understand from this is that each job has its own requirements and skills associated with it, and this is reflected in wages (the price of labor). When a culture has an economic system without gender-based restrictions upon labor, like with a free market, then how can there be a gender-based economic system of oppression?

If individuals care for a proper understanding of this matter, it cannot be through a hypothesis of gendered economic oppression. We cannot deduce the conclusion that such a system of oppression is present; it does not bear out economically nor even logically. The answer likely lies in an examination of gendered division of labor ranging from nonhuman primates up to the least technologically complex cultures now surviving. But that is not the purpose of this writing. The purpose of this was to take an economic view of the matter, and it is found to solely lacking.


Further Reading:

Capital and Interest by Frédéric Bastiat

What Is Money? by Frédéric Bastiat


Principles of Economics by Carl Menger

Human Action by Ludwig von Mises