Thursday, November 17, 2005

Never a Net Loss in Love

I was at a conference in Oxford where a woman presented a true-cost accounting model for the global trade in caring labor. Let’s say a poor woman from India leaves her children with their grandmother and moves to Dubai to help a rich woman there take care of her kids. She sends money back to India, the grandmother does the unpaid labor of raising her grandkids, and maybe the mother in Dubai works for a real estate agency. Lots of clear economic questions to consider. When the presenter got to the question of love – the love and affection the children in India did not receive – she said, “I didn’t need to include love in the model because there was no net loss in love.” The children in India, she argued, were loved by their grandmother like they would have been by their mother.

Many people at the conference were outraged. The No Net Loss in Love theory was widely discussed at the cafeteria tables in the lunch hall. How dare she! Love isn’t a commodity like shoes or oranges that you can model with supply and demand curves. Love is the stuff of poetry. Unmeasurable.

I think the presenter was brave enough to at least try to talk about the global trade in caring labor. The LA Times ran a story November 3, 2005 about an Salvadoran woman who leaves her kids with a neighbor everyday so that she can help a rich Anglo woman take care of her kids on the other side of town. She’s one of an estimated 62,000 Latina nannies in LA County alone. These stories of poor mothers having to leave their children behind, like Nuris who we met when we staid with the Navas family in Panama, are heartbreaking. I know I don’t want to be at the demand end of this trade in love. It’s immoral. Like buying baby shoes made by children in sweat shops. I talked to my friend Ruben and he said, “when we have a baby, it’s going to be raised by family.” But you know, my mom hired daytime nannies -- white women in Mobile -- to help take care of me so that she could work. Dorothy was so nurturing to me and having a career was good for my mom, my family, and for me as a child. So I'm already a benficiary in the unequal trade of caring labor and I experienced a net gain in love.

I just want there to be another way where we think differently about how we live in our communities, where extended families are reimagined, where poor women don't have to leave their kids behind to take care of rich kids, where the state helps, and where men and women have more flexibility to leave and enter the world of paid work.

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