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In my last post, I explained how experiences during my dissertation fieldwork in Brasilia  led to the idea for Who Does The Dishes? This led me to write quick sketch of the book idea to share with a few people. I knew I needed to set it aside until I finished my dissertation.

Here is is, with a few minor edits:

The things I want the reader to take away from the book:

  1. Politics and economics are deeply connected. We often need to look at both to understand something.
  2. Politics and economics extend to the level of the household and relations between individuals.
  3. There is no such thing as a natural social order. The status quo’s distribution of resources and labor is the result of a history of social conflicts. Had these played out differently the social order would be different.
  4. There are multiple tools for understanding the principles by which society operates. There is no one best tool. The usefulness of a tool depends on (a) the question being asked and (b) the object being studied.

Chapter 1: Playing games
You live with four roommates: E.M., Pat, Chris and Joey. Three are away for spring break, leaving just you and E.M. Presents the idea of Economic Man and his approach to doing dishes (leave them for you to wash). Looks at strategic approaches to make him do his dishes (put them in his room, threaten to move out), showing how they might play out in a game tree.

Chapter 2: Making rules
The roommates return. Discusses the relevance of the property regime in which you live: who is on the lease, what are the local laws, who owns the dishes? Then, assuming the house is democratic, looks at how, given a set of preferences for each roommate, the “policy” adopted regarding dishes depends on the rules about making rules: consensus, plurality, preference voting. Explains idea of veto points.
Exit, voice and loyalty probably belongs in one of these chapters.

Chapter 3: Women’s work? 
Players who are simply a list of preferences is pretty far from the world in which we live. Note we gave them all gender neutral names. People don’t just pop into the world with preferences, they grow up in groups (are socialized) which influence these preferences and teach them how to behave. One of the things they learn is about gender roles. Pat is bad about doing the dishes because his mother always did them and that taught him the lesson (even if it were never verbalized) that this is “women’s work.” A discussion of research about gender equity in domestic labor and a method used to study it.

Chapter 4: Get a maid?
Chris’s parents were both high-paid surgeons. So they hired Betty to do the domestic work. Presents the ideas of specialization and efficiency: it makes more sense for her parents to pay someone to clean and to spend time making money than to clean themselves. Okay, but why are Chris’s parents the doctors and Betty the maid instead of the other way around? A discussion of the role of endowments and labor economics. Chris wants to hire someone to do the work in the house, but the rest of the roommates can’t afford it.

Chapter 5: Go out to eat.
One solution is to decide that the cost of eating out instead of cooking is worth the savings in mental health. So who does the dishes in the restaurant? Building on the discussion of the last chapter, we look at class but add the idea of capital. We explain the difference between the independent restaurant owned by one or two people and the Applebee’s, a corporate chain. We extend the efficiency argument to show that it makes more sense for some people to make money from their capital than to work. We ask where that capital came from and show how all this helps explain who is doing the dishes in the restaurants.

Chapter 6: The color of people who wash dishes for money
Discusses race and why the people washing the dishes in the restaurant are more likely to be people of color. Surveys some research on discrimination and the methods employed.

Chapter 7:  The international political economy (of dishes)
Looks at why people risk their lives to migrate to a foreign country to wash dishes. An overview of immigration and related topics, including research about how cracking-down on the border has simply caused more people to die crossing and the ones who are here to bring their families and to stay in the U.S. long time instead of migrating back and forth.

Chapter 8: Paper plates
You try the solution of buying paper plates so there won’t be any dishes. Looks at environmental economics and the problem of externalizing costs.