Thursday, August 10, 2017

Economy of Care and the Future of the World


With one election out of the way, and a new one in the offering, we will come back to the mantra of the Bill Clinton era -- "it's the economy, stupid." Much of the current debate over immigration, climate change, health care, has economic roots. I don't think that Donald Trump is a true populist, but he  got the votes of many working class Americans who voted for Barack Obama in places like Michigan and Pennsylvania and Ohio. My concern is that both parties are offering economic solutions that are intended to solve 20th century concerns. We're at under 5% unemployment, which is a good number. It's considered full employment. The problem is that we seem intent on bringing back an economy that is no longer feasible. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders appealed to so-called blue collar manufacturing workers, promising to bring back jobs either through trade policy or immigration policy. The problem is that most unskilled manufacturing jobs are lost not because of immigration or sending plants overseas. They're being lost to robotics. That isn't going to change. So, maybe its time to rethink the economy, and begin to look to other places for employment that has a future.


I want to come back to a book I reviewed earlier -- Beyond the Modern Age (IVP Academic) by Gob Goudzwaard and Craig Bartholomew. They offer an interesting take on economics, contrasting "directly productive labor" and "transductive labor." "Directly productive labor" is something like manufacturing. You create a product and you sell it, producing income. Transductive labor, includes raising children, caring for the elderly, the environment, inclusion of people with special needs, music performance, education, and activities like this. These vocations, whether paid or not, do not produce a product, but enhance society and culture, and thus life. They are also less damaging to ecosystems, human health, and the like. The problem is judging the economic value of transductive labor, and so we place less value on such vocational choices. Because transductive labor can't be judged on the basis of productivity, the ability to sustain this needed sector of the economy is increasingly challenged, even as it is increasingly needed. 

A market-based economy ultimately degrades the environment and health, because it focuses on increasing productivity. We already live in a disposable economy, but this is not sustainable. So, we need to rethink our economy, with the future in mind not the past. Coal, for instance, is not the future. But, whole economies, such as West Virginia, are based upon it. How do we move forward?  

Perhaps the answer is an economy of care, where instead of setting a goal of increased levels of luxury consumption, we focus on "higher levels of meaningful employment, increased health care, better care for the environment, and poverty alleviation around the world become the core issues of public policies, including for major international institutions and organizations." [Beyond the Modern Age, p. 239].

Of course, this will require rethinking our understanding of wealth, of productivity, or relationships. I'm not an economist. This whole idea of "transductive" labor is new to me, but it's intriguing. Of course, I am a contributor to that form of labor. Unless you consider a sermon a product, it's hard to judge ministry on that level (though we try). We do the same with education. We put production standards on education, focusing on "outcomes," using tests to judge effectiveness. Of course, that means we put less emphasis on things like the humanities, music, and the arts. Yet, these may be the key to the future economy, rather than the hallowed "STEM."  Not that I have anything against STEM, but it's not the end of all things. Maybe, if we spent more time on economies of care, we would shift our priorities away from military production to civilian production -- like maybe high speed trains and public transportation that works for all. 

For more on this I recommend reading the final chapters of this book, Beyond the Modern Age.


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