Northern Advocate Column

Bananas and the home economy in the time of coronavirus

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I want to start off talking about bananas. Specifically, the bananas ripening in a large bunch on the plant next to my garden shed. It’s the second bunch we’ve had, and I’m very proud. I bought one plant from the Tikipunga Markets in Whangārei six years ago for less than $10. A slow return on the initial investment, but with two bunches I’m now showing some profit. And I’m likely to show more as time goes on, as a banana sends out shoots from the base of an established tree, which you can dig up and plant somewhere else. So I’ve got banana trees growing at multiple spots around the section. More bunches of bananas will follow.

All this banana activity involves a little bit of work, planting and harvesting. You could call grating the hard green bananas and making plantain fritters work as well. Or even putting the ripe bananas in a blender to make a smoothie. It’s work, however, that’s not going to show up in New Zealand’s GDP figures when they officially come out. A smoothie purchased and drunk in a cafe before the lockdown will. That’s because money was used to pay for it, so it’s work done that’s part of the measurable monetary economy.

When released, New Zealand’s GDP figures will show a big fall in economic activity due to the struggle to keep coronavirus out. But those GDP figures won’t accurately reflect all that’s been going on during the lockdown. Because GDP doesn’t measure unpaid work. Since so much store is put in the GDP figures (which must always go up), and we’re all caught in the necessity of earning money, we tend to value paid work over unpaid work.

Mike Hosking, in one of his recent columns, said that we can’t have everyone at home doing nothing for much longer. Yes, we need to get back to the workplace and earn some money, but I doubt many of us have been doing nothing, as Hosking claims. For instance, I’ve put in two new vegetable gardens. I’ve finally finished painting the house (hallelujah!). I’ve cooked and I’ve cleaned. I’ve done dishes until they’ve come out my ears (we don’t have a dishwasher and four people at home all day generates a lot of dishes). We’ve made our own bread, tortillas, muffins and pizza bases. I’ve helped the kids with their school work.

And when walking around Hikurangi, I would say my neighbours have been busy too. Sections are looking good. All sorts of odd jobs are being done. My immediate neighbours have three children under the age of 7. Stuck at home with kids that young for four weeks is hard work.

Kiwis haven’t been doing nothing. The national economy, as measured in monetary terms, will have contracted significantly, but home economies have undoubtedly expanded. The word “economy” actually comes from the ancient Greek word, “oikonomos”, which means “household management.” The original economy, you could say, was the home.

Now, I don’t want to deny the financial hardship many are experiencing right now, especially with the cost of housing, but there is work you can do for yourself at home that saves money. Maybe think about how you can expand your home economy. Grow, bake, cook, repair, paint, tend, nourish, fix, preserve, care, build, and teach. Plant bananas, the Northland climate is excellent for them. It might be that if you’re a couple, you can live off one income instead of two if you consciously develop the home economy.

And if you do become unemployed, temporarily or longer-term, don’t listen to anyone who says you’re not doing anything. There’s plenty that you can do that’s valuable to yourself and other people in your life. Household management is an important role.

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