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A Very Interesting Paragraph From …

Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy, by Viviana A. Zelizer, an economic sociologist at Princeton:

Suppose for a moment that this is the year 2096. Let’s take a look at American families: although by now money often takes postelectronic forms unfamiliar to the twentieth century, in the “traditional” home, “housewives” and “househusbands” receive monthly stipulated sums of money as salaries from their wage-earning spouses. Salaries are negotiated yearly; fines are imposed for sloppy cleaning, incompetent cooking, careless child care, or indifferent lovemaking. Midyear raises or cash prizes are awarded for exceptional performance. An arbitration board solves domestic financial disputes. In other forms of households, spouses have separate accounts, distribute domestic and emotional tasks equally, and pay cash for the performance of any extra chores and activities: from housekeeping to child care to sexual relations. In all households, children have a piecework scale for their various domestic responsibilities. Good report cards bring a bonus, and bad grades a deduction. As they enter college, children sign a contract to repay all their parents’ expenses within a stipulated number of years after graduation. (p. 136)

The book is a compilation of Zelizer’s research over the past 30 years, much of which has long fascinated me. Some section headings in the book: “Valuation of Human Lives,” “The Social Meaning of Money,” and “Intimate Economies.” I finally had occasion to interview Zelizer, for tonight’s Marketplace radio segment on holiday gift-giving and deadweight loss (a segment that you all helped out with as well: thanks!).
Zelizer also informed me that she is the maternal half of the first-ever mother-and-son faculty team at Princeton, where Julian Zelizer is a prominent young political historian.