Grandma Gloria once crocheted my sister and I a matching set (orange for me, blue for her) of gloves, hat, and scarves. I didn't appreciate the significance of this gift until years later.
Grandma served as a nurse in WWII, and left home to enter the workforce at a time when many other young women were also serving in the war effort. Before the war, Grandma and other women like her participated mainly in the household economy--an economy where most goods and services consumed in and required by the household were produced in the household. Grandma knew how to sew, knit, and crotchet, among other household skills.
As the market economy expanded and women entered the workforce in droves, many previous household economies were replaced by the larger market. Instead of canning the family jam for the year, mom could just buy it at the store. Clothing creation was outsourced to far flung corners of the world. Almost everything that was labor intensive, from washing clothes (the washing machine or dry cleaners) to childcare (daycare, nannies, school) became something that most people purchased instead of did themselves. Home economics classes in high school and whole departments devoted to the subject in universities across the country withered on the vine.
Many folks more educated than myself can and do claim that this shift towards a market economy liberated women to have their own careers and money and direct their own lives, including gaining the financial agency to leave abusive husbands or boyfriends. As recently as the early 1970's, women couldn't apply for their own credit. Widespread employment and income discrimination and even sexual harassment or spousal rape was legal.
This post could be about how far we still have to go. I could drone on about how women still don't have equal rights, sometimes due to legal issues and sometimes due to systemic oppression. I could talk about how free-market capitalism may have liberated some women in some places, but only on the backs of others who are less privileged. I could talk about rape culture and how prevalent it still is.
But fuck that noise. Something was lost when we lost the household economy, something that no amount of growth in GDP or supposed liberation can ever capture. In fact, household economic activity doesn't do very much for GDP, which is one of the reasons folks have been encouraged to just buy everything they need or want, from pre-made frozen food to socks.
Think about it: If I go to Goodwill and buy a giant bag worth of yarn for $5 (instead of $10 a skein from Wal-Mart where it's brand new), and then I use the resulting yarn bounty to make gifts for all my friends and family for the next 27 years, that's about 25k of cheap crap from Bangladesh I ain't buying, and the amount of cheap crap from Bangladesh Americans buy (labeled: Christmas shopping) is a significant part of our economy and so-called prosperity.
The something that was lost when people stopped knitting scarves for their loved ones wasn't money, though. The economy is doing great! All the important numbers are up! Why should we care about home-made scarves and jam? About fixing our own flat tires, and preparing our own food? Raising our own children, taking care of our own parents?
Well, because money is an awfully poor substitute for human happiness. Social connection, community bonds, meaningful relationships with our loved ones--these threads are what a joyful, contented life is made of. The latest fidget spinner is no substitute for having someone willing to hold your hand as you take a walk through your neighborhood. Spreading store-bought red corn syrup on your toast as you frantically dash out the front door is no replacement for a leisurely afternoon spent canning summer strawberries with your daughter. Filling up someone's house with more useless junk can't beat gifting them with a warm wool scarf you made yourself...especially if they live in a place with nine months of winter.
I could go cite plenty of research that proposes to high levels of confidence that what I'm saying is accurate, but I don't need to. In your heart of hearts you know that spending meaningful time producing goods and services for and with people you care about is healthier for you in every respect--socially, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Even if you think that taking the time to make fresh strawberry jam is economically an opportunity cost (because you'd make more money at two hours at your high-falutin coding job and could therefore buy more jam than you could make yourself in two hours), the economic picture is only a small fraction of the whole. If all you think about is money, then all you'll have is money. The Ghost of Christmas Future would like to have a word with you.
So what's a modern wage slave to do? I'd start by picking up a crotchet hook or knitting loom (easier than needles--and yes there's some real irony in linking to a product on Amazon. Buy it once for $16, it'll last you the rest of your life and then some).