Written By: - Date published: 11:22 am, January 14th, 2014 - 97 comments
Categories: capitalism, democratic participation, Economy, employment, equality, patriarchy, political alternatives, sustainability, unemployment, vision - Tags:
The dominant measure used by economists and governments to measure economic well-being, GDP, fails to account for the huge amount of unpaid work on which societies depend. It is a model based on giving a high value to competition, ignoring human diversity, and fails to account for the ways people contribute to the economy and social well-being through cooperative activities.
Internationally women do the majority of the informal, unpaid, or underpaid caring work that are essential to keep society functioning. A gender-blind approach to the economy, society and politics will most often result in failing to understand the significant role of cooperative and caring activities in a sustainable society. Focusing on all the ways men, women, children and others contribute positively to society can lead to an alternative way of living: one based on positive life-sustaining values; a way that is not blind to differences between people.
This was highlighted in an excellent article that joe90 linked to under the post, ‘Obama’s TPPA bid to over-ride democracy’: Dr. Vandana Shiva: The Connection Between Global Economic Policy and Violence Against Women.
Dr Shiva begins by stating that, “violence against women is as old as patriarchy”, indicating that it predates capitalism. However, in her article Dr Shiva focuses on the way violence against women in India has intensified since the rise of neoliberalism there:
And while we intensify our struggle for justice for women, we need to also ask why rape cases have increased 240 percent since 1990s when the new economic policies were introduced. We need to examine the roots of the growing violence against women.
She goes on to argue that the “new economic model” is one based on various kinds of violence. This begins with the alienating, dysfunctional, and life-destroying violence brought about by the GDP model; a model which ignores vast areas of women’s activities:
The transformation of value into disvalue, labour into non-labour, knowledge into non-knowledge, is achieved by the most powerful number that rules our lives, the patriarchal construct of GDP, Gross Domestic Product, which commentators have started to call the Gross Domestic Problem.
Shiva goes on to explain the problems of the GDP model:
… all women who produce for their families, children, community and society are treated as “non-productive” and “economically” inactive. When economies are confined to the market place, economic self-sufficiency is perceived as economic deficiency.
This ignores two areas vital to the survival of the eco-system and of humans within it:
They are the areas of nature’s economy and sustenance economy. In nature’s economy and sustenance economy, economic value is a measure of how the earth’s life and human life are protected. Its currency is life giving processes, not cash or the market price.
Others working in the area of feminist economics in other countries have come to similar conclusions about the destructive impact of the GDP measure. Some have put forward an alternative model based on human capabailities, which measures what people can do:
This approach emphasizes processes as well as outcomes, and draws attention to cultural, social and material dynamics of well-being.
Elsa Duhagon argues that the 2008 economic crisis shows that an understanding of the impact of gender inequalities on society and the economy is crucial:
To the current economic conception, growth equals economic development and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the most used indicator to measure the “wealth” generated. However, feminist economics has shown that over 50% of all human work is unpaid and therefore is not recorded in GDP.
If this invisible work were considered we would see that nearly 2/3 of wealth is created by women.
Consequently, a new economic model is required that includes ” activities that are essential for the existence of the family and community“:
These include maintaining a household, voluntary work, child rearing, caring for the elderly and a large part of food production and crop maintenance. Since these activities are carried out in the context of the family, without any exchange of money, they are considered “noneconomic activities” …
Duhagon goes on to argue that gender blind responses to the 2008 GFC were not helpful. An ILO report shows that the crisis caused a major and long term drop in wages. Most of the mainstream attention given to raising employment levels fails to account for the way women have been impacted by the crisis: women
accept lower wages, work all day, they do more unpaid hours or they enter the informal economy. […] government spending cuts will always tend to cause an increase in unpaid work.
I would also add that in response to an economic/employment crisis, women do more part time, precarious and udnerpaid work. And before any recovery in the measured economy or employment levels gain traction, there is a lot of social destruction that damages lives.
Any alternative model that aims for a sustainable, inclusive, cooperative and life-affirming society needs to attend to gender and other differences between people, as well as focusing on our collective aims and processes.