Home is the household where you feel you belong.

The household is by far the most productive part of our political economy. It makes people. It teaches near-perfect grasp of a language. It creates and makes in us the essential skills of conversation, listening, looking at the person who is talking to you; it transmits humour, loyalty, love, manners, reciprocity; it builds confidence and identity; it enables its members to discover which sex they are; given a chance, it arranges its own food, cooks it, serves it up and sustains a conversation while it is eaten; it is a library and reading room, a first aid centre, a support service for the new-born, and a source of comfort for the elderly and dying. For its friends, it is a provider of food and drink, comfort and conversation, bed and breakfast. It is the building block from which society is made. It is self-regulating and self-sustaining; it provides its services free, and renews membership indefinitely.

And it has a past. There was an ideal of the household supported by an accustomed, ceremonious sense of good humour and continuity, which would bear the hope of quiet days, fair issue, and long life. Ben Johnson paid tribute to the “high huswifery” and “the mysteries of manners, armes and arts” at Penshurst Place; Andrew Marvell reflected on Appleton House—“that dear and happy isle”; and the idea of the gentleman, with “a full appetite of fame by just and generous actions [but] an equal contempt of it by any servile expedients” reflected the domestic values enjoyed by the early seventeenth century circle which gathered regularly at Great Tew to think about them. It is the locus of happiness, thy fortress and thy ease. As Lionel Trilling writes, “The hope that animates this is the almost shockingly elementary one [which] has to do with good harvests and full barns and qualities of affluent decorum.”H29

This was not just an upper class conceit; William Cobbett’s recipe for happiness for the labouring classes of his day was focused on sound economic management of the household, and H.J. Massingham writes of an English village at the start of the twentieth century,

For both yeoman and master-craftsman, the holding of property was the guarantee of economic freedom and a dutiful right. Home, as the centre alike of the family and of industry and the nucleus of neighbourliness, was the ruling concept for them both.H30

For the market economy, however, the household, and the home it becomes if you feel you belong there, is not all that important. Its virtues fade into insignificance in comparison with the personal fulfilment that lies ahead on the journey to work and equality targets outside the home. The unpaid, informal work done at home contributes nothing measurable to Gross Domestic Product and makes it invisible to a society with eyes only for money. Individualism and ideology have abandoned the home as obsolete. The post-war story has been a long goodbye, leaving home to those whose competitive aspirations have come to little.

The social worker’s tale

Violence, drugs, chaos: that’s what I deal with every day. I can’t take children into care for that. There’s not the space for them. There’s so many families like that, I don’t think the public has any idea.

I go into houses and they don’t live like we’d live. There can be dog faeces all over the floor, and beer cans, and so much rubbish that there’s only a narrow path from the front door to the kitchen. There might be a lot of swearing and aggression, and the children are missing school, and no one works. But it’s not my job to make value judgments on how adults live their lives. We’re not allowed to do that.

Our only concern is whether the children are at substantial risk of harm, and that’s the criterion we use to ask them to change. And they’re often a bit sullen, but next time you go there’s a bit less muck on the floor, and the kids are in school half the week, and the health visitor’s been, and you think things are getting better. You hope it is, because the pressure’s on you to keep that family together. Then a couple of months later it’s all gone back again, and the kid might be in a bit of trouble with the police—but it’s hard to tell when that all crosses the line and when you should be thinking, “Hang on, this really isn’t working and the children shouldn’t be here”.

A social worker talks about her clients in South Yorkshire, England.H31

Many households are still in good heart; some are less so (see “Not Coping” sidebar); overall, this sector of the economy is in a state of decay. Its declining—or, in some cases, extinguished—ability to provide any of the services noted above deprives the rest of the state of the enabling capability it needs, leaving it with the task of picking up the pieces as households break down. But that’s now. When there is no longer an office to travel to, when the brief interlude of full employment in a confident growth-fed civic society no longer—looking back—seems to be a good basis on which to build our understanding of what interpersonal ethics and fulfilment is all about, some revisions to the evaluation of households and their community habitat will be needed.

The social order of the future will be built up from its households. As its small groups, they will be the holons from which the Lean Economy is made. They will transmit the core cultural, social and practical skills which enable people to live with each other in love and cooperation. Household production will be the key enabling property for local self-reliance.

And yet, we cannot quite leave it there—for, surely, our home is nature itself? William Hazlitt sorts this out for us:

Thus Nature is a kind of universal home, and every object it presents to us an old acquaintance with unaltered looks. . . . For there is that consent and mutual harmony among all her works, one undivided spirit pervading them throughout, that, if we have once knit ourselves in hearty fellowship to any of them, they will never afterwards appear as strangers to us, but, which ever way we turn, we shall find a secret power to have gone out before us, moulding them into such shapes as fancy loves, informing them with life and sympathy, bidding them put on their festive looks and gayest attire at our approach, and to pour all their sweets and choicest treasures at our feet. For him, then, who has well acquainted himself with Nature’s works, she wears always one face, and speaks the same well-known language, striking on the heart, amidst unquiet thoughts and the tumult of the world, like the music of one’s native tongue heard in some far-off country.

William Hazlitt, “On the Love of the Country”, 1814.H32


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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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