Building a Caring Economy and Society* Beyond Capitalism, Socialism, and Other Old Isms

7. Economics, Values, and Gender

We are not used to the idea that the status of women has anything to do with economic success. However, this connection has been empirically verified by international studies.

Already in 1995, a study conducted by the Center for Partnership Studies, “Women, Men, and the Global Quality of Life,” compared statistical measures from 89 nations on the status of women with measures of quality of life such as infant mortality, human rights ratings, and environmental ratings. It found that in significant respects the status of women can be a better predictor of quality of life than Gross Domestic Product (GDP).20

Since then, other studies have verified the relationship between the status of women and a society’s general quality of life and economic success. The World Values Survey is the largest international survey of how attitudes correlate with economic development and poli- tical structure. In 2000, this survey focused attention on attitudes about gender for the first time. Based on data from 65 societies representing 80 percent of the world’s population, it found a strong relationship between support for gender equality and a society’s level of political rights, civil liberties, and quality of life.21

More recently, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Reports show that the nations with the lowest gender gaps (such as Norway, Sweden, and Finland) are also nations that are regularly in the highest ranks of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Reports.22

There are many reasons for a correlation of the status of women with national economic success and quality of life for all. One, of course, is that women are half of humanity. But the reasons go much deeper – to the still largely unrecognized interconnected social and economic dynamics inherent in domination or partnership systems.

We have already seen the correlation between the higher status of women and values and policies that support caring for people, starting in early childhood. But there are also a myriad of other factors. In cultures where women are rigidly subordinated, the distribution of household resources also tends to be skewed in ways that fail to invest in children’s well being and development. There is empirical evidence across diverse cultures and income groups that in these dominati- on-oriented cultures women have a higher propensity than men to spend on goods that benefit children and enhance their capacities. In “Intra-Household Resource Allocation,” Duncan Thomas found that $1 in the hands of a Brazilian woman had the same effect on child survi- val as $18 in the hands of a man.23 Similarly, Judith Bruce and Cynthia B. Lloyd found that in Guatemala an additional $11.40 per month in a mother’s hands would achieve the same weight gain in a young child as an additional $166 earned by the father.24

Of course, even in rigidly male-dominated cultures there are men who give primary importance to meeting their families’ needs. However, men in such cultures are socialized to believe it’s their prerogative to use their wages for non-family purposes, including drinking, smoking, and gambling, and that when women complain, they are nagging and controlling. As Dr. Anugerah Pekerti (chair of World Vision, Indonesia) notes, many fathers seem to have no problem putting their immediate desires above the survival needs of their children.25

The effects of the subordination of females to males on intra-household resources distribution go even further. In some world regions, parents (both mothers and fathers) often deny girls access to education, give them less health care, and even feed girls less than boys. These practices obviously have extremely adverse consequences for girls and women. Indeed, they are horrendous human rights violations. But giving less food to girls and women also adver- sely impacts the development of boys, as children of malnourished women are often born with poor health and below-par brain development.26

So, this gender-based nutritional and healthcare discrimination robs all children, male or female, of their potential for optimal development. This in turn affects children’s and later adults’ abilities to adapt to new conditions, tolerance of frustration, and propensity to use violence—which impede solutions to chronic hunger, poverty, and armed conflict, as well as chances for a more humane, prosperous, and peaceful world for all.

Indeed, there is no realistic way to end cycles of poverty without taking into account another gender-related matter: that women represent a disproportionate percentage of the poor worldwide. According to some estimates, 70 percent of those who live in absolute poverty, which means starvation or near starvation, are female.27 Even in the rich United States, woman-headed families are the lowest tier of the economic hierarchy. And according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, the poverty rate of women over sixty-five is almost twice that of men over sixty-five.28 This is not only due to wage discrimination in the market economy; it is largely due to the fact that these women are, or were for much of their lives, either full or part-time caregivers—work that was neither paid nor later rewarded through social security or pensions.

None of this is to say that economic inequities based on gender are more important than those based on class, race, or other factors. These inequities are all inherent in domination systems. But a basic template for the division of humanity into those to be served and those that serve, which children in dominator families internalize early on, is a male-superior/female inferior model of our species. And this is a template for relations that can then automatically be applied to ranking one race, religion, or ethnic group over a different one. In addition, with the ranking of male over female comes the devaluation of anything stereotypically associated with the “feminine.” So, it is not realistic to expect more caring policies and practices as long as care and caregiving are systemically devalued as “soft” or “feminine.”

I here want to emphasize that what we are dealing with are stereotypes of masculinity and femininity based primarily on gender-specific socialization processes, not with innate biological differences between women and men. I also want to emphasize that none of this is a matter of blaming men for our problems. Indeed, most women, like most men, have in domination systems not just been passive victims but often active collaborators in main- taining rankings of domination – including the ranking of man over woman – in conformity with religious and secular teachings that such rankings are divinely or genetically ordained.

What we are dealing with are systems dynamics in which the social construction of the roles and relations of the female and male halves of humanity plays a key role in shaping social and economic institutions and the values that guide policies and practices.

8. Valuing Nature and Caring for People

Even our environmental crisis is largely a symptom of the distorted values inherent in domination systems. We’re often told that the Western scientific-industrial revolution that began to gain momentum along with the Enlightenment in the 18th century is to blame for the havoc we’re wreaking on our natural life-support systems.29 But the “conquest of nature” worldview goes back much further.

We inherited an economics based on the premise that man is entitled to control both woman’s and nature’s life-sustaining activities. In Genesis 1:28, we read that man is to “subdue” the earth and have “dominion . . . over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” In Genesis 3:16 we read that man is to rule over woman, who is to be his subordinate.

However – and this is an important point – this notion of male control over nature and woman is not exclusive to the West. And it was not introduced in the Bible, but much earlier.

For example, the Babylonian Enuma Elish tells us that the war god Marduk created the world by dismembering the body of the Mother Goddess Tiamat. This story, claiming that the violence of a male deity brought forth the world, superseded earlier myths about a Great Mother who created nature and humans as part of nature through her life-giving powers.

Such stories clearly signal the beginning of a period when female deities, along with women and anything associated with them, were subordinated. And they signal a shift to a domination system in which masculinity is equated with domination and conquest – be it of women or of nature.30

This ethos of domination has led to enormous suffering and damage for thousands of years. But the plunder of nature, now aided by powerful technologies that cause terrible harm in a matter of years, even months and days, today threatens our planetary life-support systems.31

There are other crises that stem from the distorted values we inherited from more rigid domination times. One of these is what we might call the caring crisis. It is generally agreed that the aging of the world’s population requires more attention to their care.

In addition, with the move to the post-industrial knowledge/service era, more support for parenting and high quality early childhood education is also urgently needed – especially in light of the findings from neuroscience that the quality of care and education children receive affects nothing less than how their brains develop.32

These two crises – the eldercare and childcare crises – require a whole new way of thinking about what is, and is not, productive work. Indeed, a redefinition of productive work is essential given the rapidly changing job landscape.

9. Redefining Productive Work

Robotics and other forms of automation have already altered the employment landscape in unprecedented ways, with the continuing loss of manufacturing and white-collar jobs, and increasingly also of programming and other high-technology jobs. Predictions are that many mid- and high-level jobs will also disappear because of the expansion of automated intelli- gent systems capable of decision-making, advisory, and analytical functions. While these artificial intelligence systems are not likely to replace humans altogether, they will markedly reduce the number of people needed to support business and government activities.

As we move further into the post-industrial economy, the industrial job base will shrink as radically as the agricultural job base shrank earlier, from employing a majority of workers to less than 5 percent. But unlike industrialization, automation does not offer large numbers of replacement jobs, especially in the nonprofessional occupations that until now provided mass employment.

To meet the challenges of the post-industrial world we need policies and practices that support and reward activities that machines and high-technology devices, no matter how sophisticated, cannot perform. It requires educating and remunerating people for caregiving.

Doing this will not only help close the caring gap – the worldwide lack of care for children, the elderly, the disabled, and the sick and infirm. It will also eventually lead to a redefinition of “productivity” that gives visibility and value to what really makes us healthy and happy – and in the bargain leads to economic prosperity and ecological sustainability.

But this requires fundamental changes in economic thinking. It requires getting past the old distinction between “reproductive” and “productive” work. It also requires new ways of measuring economic productivity.

10. New Economic Measures

As noted earlier, conventional indicators of economic health such as GDP (gross domestic product) place activities that harm life on the plus side. At the same time, they giveabsolutely no value to the life-sustaining activities of the household economy, the volunteer economy, and the natural economy. So, an old stand of trees is only included in GDP when it’s cut down – whereas the fact that we need trees to breathe is ignored. Similarly, econo- mists often speak of parents who do not hold outside jobs as “economically inactive”—even though they often work from dawn to midnight.

Thanks to the activism of organizations worldwide, many nations now have “satellite” accounts that quantify the value of the work of caring for people and keeping healthy home environments. For example, a 2004 Swiss government report showed that if the unpaid “caring” household work still primarily performed by women were included, it would comprise 40 percent of the reported Swiss GDP.33

Nonetheless, even most indicators currently being developed as alternatives or supplements to GDP still fail to include this kind of information. A recent survey by the Urban Institute of a cross-section of such indicators, The State of Society: Measuring Economic Success and Human Well-Being, found that most of these “alternative” indicators still fail to give adequate visibility and value to the work of caring for people or the contributions of women.34

As a follow up to this report, in 2012 a meeting was convened by the Urban Institute and the Center for Partnership Studies in Washington DC to pave the way for the development of Social Wealth Indicators as a step toward more accurate and inclusive measures of human well-being and economic success as the basis for more appropriate government and business policies. Twenty economists, including experts on the value of care work in both the paid and unpaid economic sectors and scholars specializing in the return on investment from high quality early childhood education, discussed the development of Social Wealth indicators and their inclusion in the new U.S. Key National Indicators System authorized by Congress as well as in other national accounts.35 These are all steps toward a new way of thinking about business and economics that can help us meet the unprecedented challenges our world faces today.

11. Conclusion

As Jakob von Uexkull noted, “we need to build a new story re-connecting us with our common future.”36 In our environmentally threatened and inextricably interconnected world, fundamental changes in how we think about economics are essential.

We can no longer tolerate indiscriminate consumption, the continuing devastation of our natural environment, and chronic hunger and poverty. Neither can we afford to ignore the fact that, especially in the post-industrial knowledge/service era, we must invest in our human infrastructure – in caring for people, starting in childhood.

We already saw how caring policies in Nordic nations played a major role in their movefrom dire poverty to economic success and a high quality of life for all. Other examples abound, like the enormous financial benefits from investing in parenting education and assistance, as shown by the Healthy Babies, Healthy Children Canadian program,37 and investing in high quality early childhood education, as shown by follow up studies of the U.S. Abecedarian Project.38

There are many ways of funding investments in our world’s human infrastructure – investments that should be amortized over a period of years, as is done for investments in material infrastructure, such as machines and buildings. One source is by shifting funding from the massive, often unnecessary and wasteful, investment in weapons and wars characteristic of domination systems. Another is through savings on the immense costs of not investing in care and caregiving: the huge expenditures of taxpayer money on crime, courts, prisons, lost human potential, and environmental damage. Taxes on financial speculation and harmful activities such as making and selling junk food can also fund investment in caring for people and our natural habitat.

These investments are essential for business and economic success today. Good care for children will ensure we have the flexible, innovative, and caring people needed for the post-industrial workforce.39 As shown by psychology and neuroscience, whether or not these capacities develop largely hinges on the quality of care children receive. Indeed, neuros- cience shows that the quality of care and education children receive affects nothing less than the neural structures of the brain.40

Even many of those who are privileged are today re-examining what makes for a good life. They recognize that after a certain level of material need has been met acquiring more possessions does not make for happiness – something also verified by social research.41 They recognize that what really matters is the quality of our relationships, the opportunity to do meaningful work, and a healthy natural environment.

Especially in our time, when “high quality human capital” – flexible, creative people who can work in teams and think in long-term not only short-term ways – is essential for economic success, it can be argued that the caring activities still generally categorized as “reproductive work” are actually the most productive of all work. Similarly, caring for our natural environment is today a prerequisite not only for sustainability but for humanity’s future survival. And a major contribution to the necessary shift in economic and business priorities can be made by scholars reframing the economic and policy conversation – and moving beyond the idea that our only alternatives are either capitalism or socialism.

All this takes us back to the need for policies and practices that are good for children – today and for generations to come. If this goal guided government and business policies, continuing to use advanced technologies to pollute and destroy our natural habitat would be inconceivable. Also inconceivable would be the financial drain of chronic wars, corruption, and greed, and the unnecessary deaths of millions of children every year, not to speak of slashing government investment in childcare, health, and education.

Through new ways of thinking and new economic inventions we can pave the way for a future where all children have the opportunity to realize their potentials for consciousness, empathy, caring, and creativity – the capacities that make us fully human. But this will only happen if we leave behind old ways of thinking, and take into account key matters that until now have been left out, or at best marginalized, in both popular and scholarly discourse.

20. R. Eisler, D. Loye and K. Norgaard, Women, Men, and the Global Quality of Life (Pacific Grove: Center for Partnership Studies, 1995).
21. R. Inglehart, P. Norris and C. Welzel, “Gender equality and democracy,” Comparative Sociology 1, No. 3-4 (2002): 321-346.
22. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Human Development Report 2010 (New York: UNDP, 2010); R. Hausmann, L. D. Tyson and S. S. Zahidi, The Global Gender Gap Report (Cologny/Geneva: The World Economic Forum, 2011).
23. D. Thomas, “Intra-household resource allocation,” Journal of Human Resources 25, No. 4 (1990): 635.
24. J. Bruce and C. B. Lloyd, “Finding the ties that bind: beyond headship and household,” in Intrahousehold Resources Allocation in Developing Countries: Methods, Models, and Policy, eds. L. Haddad, J. Hoddinott and H. Alderman (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).
25. N. D. Kristof, “As Asian economies shrink, women are squeezed out,” New York Times, 11th June 1998.
26. R. Eisler, “Human rights: Toward an integrated theory for action,” The Human Rights Quarterly 9, No. 3 (1987): 287-308.
27. “Women, Poverty and Economics,” United Nations: UN Women
28. U.S. Census Bureau, Appendix: Selected Highlights from 65+ in the United States: 2005
29. F. Capra, The Turning Point (New York: Bantam Books, 1982).
30. S. N. Kramer, The Sumerians (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963).
31. L. R. Brown, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009); Global Footprint Network, Living Planet Report 2010 (Gland: WWF, 2010)
32. B. Perry, “Childhood experience and the expression of genetic potential,” Brain and Mind 3, No. 1 (2002): 79-100.
33. U. Schiess and J. Schön-Bühlmann, Satellitenkonto Haushaltsproduktion Pilotversuch für die Schweiz (Neuchâtel: Statistik der Schweiz, 2004).
34. E. De Leon and E. T. Boris, The State of Society: Measuring Economic Success and Human Well-Being (Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, 2010).
35. E. de Leon, National Indicators and Social Wealth (Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, 2012).
36. J. von Uexkull, “How to Save Our World,” Strategy Paper for 2012 World Future Council meeting, Abu Dhabi 2012.
37. Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Healthy Babies Healthy Children Report Card
38. L. N. Masse and W. S. Barnett, A Benefit Cost Analysis of the Abecedarian Early Childhood Intervention (New Brunswick: National Institute for Early Education Research, 2002).
39. G. Cleveland and M. Krashinsky, The Benefits and Costs of Good Childcare: The Economic Rationale for Public Investment in Young Children – A Policy Study (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1998); P. Kershaw and L. Anderson, “Smart Family Policies for Strong Economies,” University of British Columbia.
40. D. Niehoff, The Biology of Violence: How Understanding the Brain, Behavior, and Environment Can Break the Vicious Circle of Aggression (New York: Free Press, 1999); B. Perry, “Childhood experience and the expression of genetic potential,” Brain and Mind 3, No. 1 (2002): 79-100.
41. R. Layard, Happiness: Lessons from a New Science (New York: Penguin Press, 2005).

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