In Defense of Nanny Consulting

The original article, by the New York Times’ Caroline Tell, is here.  Matthew Yglesias’ trenchant comments are here.  The precis is that there’s a consulting firm called marc&mark that’s training rich people’s nannies to cook better for their charges.  As Yglesias notes, basically everyone in the world thinks that this is somewhere between ridiculous and vulgarly ostentatious.

But as Yglesias also notes, it’s kind of hard to see where the harm is here.  Wealthy employers train their employees, who now have more and more-upscale skills for their lives down the road.  Who loses?  Well, probably the employers, but it’s their money to spend.

Consider: saying that Americans should eat better is banal in the extreme.  If I were to mention to people that sometimes I’m eating quinoa instead of mac and cheese, I suppose there might be a little eye-rolling, but not universal, and not extreme.  If I choose a slightly less trendy “healthy” food, then probably not a single person would complain.

Similarly, if I had kids, and I told my friends that I was trying to push a healthier diet on them, would that not be lauded?  Even if I wasn’t strictly trying for “healthy,” and was instead just trying to combat little-kid-devotion to boring foods like unending diets of mac and cheese or burgers or whatever, isn’t that what every parent does?  Why is it suddenly the end of the Republic for me to help my professional caregiver provide the same meals that would be unobjectionable if I did it?

Okay, sure, the parents in the original article sound pretty obnoxiously trendy.  But a lot of that could be spin, and even if it isn’t, the basic idea is sound.

And pursuant to Yglesias’ point that everybody finds the idea of a nanny job pretty servile in a way that (bizarrely) working on an assembly line is not, isn’t this a way to get people into the growing service industry in less “servile” jobs?  The titular Mark and Marc, for example, are indirectly employed in taking care of people’s kids, but they’re chef-consultants, not nannies.  This is much like my job: ultimately, I’m in the taxi business.  But I have a more prestigious job (software engineer) that provides services for the less prestigious job (taxi driver).  That’s a win all around, isn’t it?  Even the nanny seems like she’s possibly less shoehorned into a servant role if she’s got a bunch of high-end cooking skills.  It also sounds like it could at least theoretically provide her with a path into more pure cooking jobs, which for whatever reason, have at least routes to higher prestige careers (like restaurant chef).

I’m also going to throw out the idea — which I’m not entirely sure I want to defend — that perhaps some of our discomfort with “servile” jobs is institutional sexism, and we should get the fuck over looking down on nannies and housekeepers.

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