How capitalism is setting washerwomen free

How capitalism is setting washerwomen free, by Chelsea Follett.

Has anything changed the world more than the internet? South Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang thinks so. He would argue that one invention — an engine of liberation — has had a far more powerful effect on daily lives. He means the washing machine, of course, which the late Hans Rosling called the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. It freed women from the chore of laundry — or at least from spending one full day a week every week doing it.

As a result, Americans now lose less than two hours a week to the task, and today a greater proportion of poor US households own washing machines than average American households did back in the 1970s. While washing machines are far from being the only reason that women’s options have multiplied in the West, they have certainly helped. “Without the washing machine,” claims Chang, “the scale of change in the role of women in society and in family dynamics would not have been nearly as dramatic.” …

Water storage basins with built in washboards that are commonly used for washing both clothing and dishes in Honduras.

One 2013 study estimated that, in 2010, 46.9 per cent of households worldwide owned one. That means the market for washing machines has significant room to grow – and that there is a vast amount of latent human potential still out there, yet to be unleashed. …

In 1981, less than 10 per cent of urban Chinese households had a washing machine … but by 2011, 97.05 per cent did. …

It’s a slightly different story in India, where liberalising economic reforms didn’t begin until 1992, rather later than in China. From 1992 to 2016, India’s economy grew four-fold. Only 11 per cent of Indian households owned a washing machine in 2016. …

Not only has competition and the profit motive incentivised the washing machine’s invention, it is the capitalist drive that is ensuring ongoing marketing to new customers in developing countries. Innovation stagnates under socialist systems, but capitalism has created more life-transforming innovations than any other economic system and sown the greatest rise in living standards in history.

hat-tip Matthew