Building Caring Economics: Beyond Capitalism and Socialism

Rather than trying to just patch up a system that isn't working, let's use our economic crisis to work for a system that really meets human needs.
Caring Society, Illustration by Don Baker

Building a caring society.

Illustration by Don Baker for YES! Magazine.

Imagine a world where economic systems support our real needs and aspirations: a world guided by a "caring economics" where the main investment is in caring for people and nature.

In this world, the most valued work is the work of caring for people, starting in childhood, as well as caring for our Mother Earth. Leaders recognize that, particularly in the post-industrial knowledge/information era, our most important asset is what economists call "high-quality human capital"—and that neuroscience shows this largely depends on good physical, mental, and emotional care starting at birth. Consequently, childcare in families is supported by caregiver tax-credits, stipends, paid parental leave, and social security credit for the first seven years of caring for a child—whether the caregiver is a woman or a man. Workplace rules such as flex time, and job sharing are commonplace, as businesspeople recognize that when employees feel they and their families are cared for they work better and harder. Training for childcare, primary-school teaching, and other caring professions is a top priority, as is training for elder care. And these jobs are highly respected and well-paid. Parenting education is another top priority. And so it maintaining a clean and healthy natural environment.

There is already movement in this direction, especially in Nordic Nations such as Sweden, Finland, and Norway—nations that often call themselves "caring societies." These nations were so poor at the start of the 20th century that many thousands fled famines (Minnesota was populated by these Nordic refugees). But because they invested in their people through universal healthcare, childcare, generous paid parental leave, parenting education, investment in solar and other alternative power, and other caring policies, today these nations are in the top tiers of both the UN Human Development Reports and the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Reports.

These nations show that caring pays—not only in human and environmental terms but in purely economic terms. They also show that the main obstacle to building a more caring world isn't economic, it's cultural.

The Nordic nations are in the forefront of a cultural transformation toward what research identifies as the configuration of a partnership rather than domination system. Two major characteristics of this configuration are real democracy in both the family and state and equal partnership between the female and male halves of our species. So in these nations women are about 40 percent of the national legislatures. And as the status of women rose, so also did the value given by both men and women to caring, caregiving, nonviolence, and other traits stereotypically associated with the "feminine.".

We too can, and must, move in this direction. Indeed, in this time of unprecedented environmental and social challenges, the movement from domination to partnership is more urgent than ever before.

To build a new economic system, we need new economic indicators. Consider, for example that current economic indicators like GDP fail to include as "productive work" the work of caring in households—although already in 1995, the U.N. Human Development Report estimated the value of women's unpaid work as a whopping $11 trillion per year. Not only is the work of caregiving in homes—without which there would be no workforce—still generally given little support in economic policy; it's paid substandard wages in the market economy. So in the United States, people pay plumbers, the people to whom we entrust our pipes, $50 to $100 per hour. But childcare workers, the people to whom we entrust our children, according to the U.S. Department of Labor are paid an average of $10 an hour.

This is not logical, it's pathological—and we can, and must, change it! Now is the time to build on the frustration with the economic and ecological disasters this irrational system of values is causing—and change the rules and social structures that support it.

Interested? Riane is leading a series of training workshops to build momentum for a grassroots movement to create a more realistic, humane, and sustainable economic system. Find out more  at


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