Clean conscience

By Megan McArdle

I understand this guilt; I've wrestled with it myself. But it's logically all wrong. Why shouldn't we pay people to clean our houses? I don't get all vaporish because I pay people to cook my food or wash my clothes, two jobs that were the province of the lady of the house-or if she was very lucky, her hired servants-until very recently in human history. I've never had a boyfriend say to me, "Well, I should be able to install those shelves, so darn it, I'm not going to debase myself and the handyman by turning my solemn duty as a homeowner into a mere market transaction." I've known lots of men who felt that they ought to be able to do traditional manly tasks like fixing an engine or keeping the lawn a beautiful, even emerald green. But I've never met one who felt that these jobs were some sort of sacred trust that could not be farmed out to a hireling without demeaning both employer and employee.

Paying a cleaning lady to clean your house is good for the cleaning lady. She wouldn't take the job if it weren't better than her next best alternative. And it's good for you, since presumably you have something to do that you value more highly than the money it costs you to pay her. It's probably also good for your family, since that's one less fight you have to have about whose turn it is to scrub the toilet. That's the awesome beauty of trade: everyone wins.

In an ideal universe, your cleaning lady would be too rich and highly skilled to be willing to work cleaning houses, unless she is some kind of freak who just really gets off on mopping floors. (And if she is, mind sending her my way?) In the actual world, however, she isn't, and if you didn't hire her, she'd be even worse off than she is now. Every time you hire a cleaning lady, you marginally increase demand for same, helping to raise wages some small fraction. You get a clean house and a poverty reduction program. What's not to love, here?

Moreover, the idea that cleaning houses is somehow degrading is the product of exactly the kind of pernicious class bias that people who feel guilty about hiring cleaning ladies are usually trying to fight in other areas. The job of cleaning houses has become tainted by association with the people who do it, the poor and unskilled. But there is nothing inherently undignified or unworthy about either the work, or the people who do it. Nor, for that matter, in any other job, provided employer and employee treat each other with respect.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2007/09/clean-conscience/2032/