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Good for the economy

  • 24 November 2022
‘It’s good for the economy.’ It’s the routine mantra accompanying all policy reveals — including, most recently, the Federal Government’s promise to revamp its paid parental leave scheme by obliging both parents to share it more equally. In this case, the mantra fits and the economy will likely benefit. The policy will offer mum greater opportunities to ‘lean in’ at work if she wishes to — to direct some energy towards advancing her career, even with a young family, by leaning on dad to regard himself as a caregiver as much as a breadwinner. The new policy will also be good for the economy because it will encourage a more expansive view of what the economic good really is.

Usually, when I hear the ‘good for the economy’ line, I also hear Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride in my head: ‘You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’ Or , in this case, that ‘economy’ means only what we often think it means. When we talk about ‘the economy’, we assume there’s only one worth knowing about: the market economy. That’s why we speak about the economy and GDP in the same breath: we treat the sum of goods and services produced and sold — and the profits we hope they’ll add to the bottom line — as our measure of the health of the nation. Which would be fine if the market economy was the only one that existed. 

Except that it isn’t. The care economy encompasses all the work required, both paid and unpaid, to take care of the needs of others. It includes volunteer or paid care in childcare centres, schools, healthcare facilities, and disability and aged care facilities. It also includes the unpaid care of children, the elderly, and people with disabilities or chronic illnesses in the home. It is an economy that is powered mostly by women, often in poorly paid or unpaid roles. The value of the unpaid component of the care economy alone as equivalent to more than half of Australia’s GDP, and yet it is not included in the calculation of the GDP.

As care feminists have long insisted, the care economy underwrites the market economy. In other words, the work of caring for people and the places they live both precedes and props up the work that counts towards GDP. The trouble is, we don’t recognise the huge social and