Work that gives and Work that takes

You know how in different parts of your life you interact with people differently? When you are settling in with your kid to go over homework you have a different approach than when you go over an employee review at work. Or, how you resist and then conceed to taking an older parent to their doctor’s appointment, whereas at work you would fear that taking on a coworker’s responsibilities would lead to a pattern of being taken for granted.

One might say that the different types of work we do– depending on whether it is driven by public needs, like caring for a family, or done for private ambitions like earning a paycheck– have different traits. I think we’ve come along far enough to acknowledge both are work, paid or unpaid. Both generate value. But the workers who perform the various acts become accustom to the various formats.

A few days ago, Arnold Kling wrote on his substack In My Tribe

But I would like to see women better assimilate to the institutional values that are worth preserving. A few years ago, I wrote

1. The older culture saw differential rewards as just when based on performance. The newer culture sees differential rewards as unjust.

2. The older culture sought people who demonstrate the most competence. The newer culture seeks to nurture those who are at a disadvantage.

3. The older culture admires those who seek to stand out. The newer culture disdains such people.

4. The older culture uses proportional punishment that is predictable based on known rules. The newer culture suddenly turns against a target and permanently banishes the alleged violator, based on the latest moral fashions.

5. The older culture valued open debate. The newer culture seeks to curtail speech it regards as dangerous.

6. The older culture saw liberty as essential to a good society. The newer culture sees conformity as essential to a good society.

7. The older culture was oriented toward achievement. The newer culture is oriented toward safety. Hence, we cannot complete major construction projects, like bridges, as efficiently as we used to.

I agree that a worker should take on the role that the job requires. But before judging the new culture too harshly, let’s see how the traits of the new culture fit into another activity. Say the work done to have a successful Little League team.

  1. The old way of doing things was to say winning the game was all that mattered. The proof of performance was simply in the W’s. The new way is to point out that when a stronger league plays a weaker league and always wins, then perhaps it would be better for everyone is the leagues were redrawn.
  2. The old culture was to say if X neighborhood Little League wins because they have the best coaches, better parent turnout, and reliable transport to practice and games, then their success is just the way it should be. The new way might be to say, it would be more interesting if the other neighborhood leagues could beef up their competency a bit and challenge the stronger leagues. Can they get some sponsors? Who can be put in touch with who to strengthen the network and bring the others along?
  3. The older culture thought that promoting one or two-star players on a team was all that mattered. The new culture wants to rotate the player a bit to build exposure to the kids as they age. Building up one or two shining lights might make the other kids quit.

I think you get where this is going. There is a type of work where workers are always shoring up the weaker players on a team or in a league to make the sport more interesting. Some people think developing a deep set of players means the teams will be able to compete more broadly in the long run. But you really need both. You need the individuals to want to be the superstars and enjoy and thus work hard to get to the tippy top. And you want to do activities that help a broader public.

It’s just that women were brought up and trained to be the latter type of worker. So it shouldn’t be surprising when they show up in the private sphere with some of those traits. As the reshuffling of workers continues to transition from separating workers by domestic obligations to partitioning based on professional ambitions, these inherited work traits should dissipate.

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