April 22, 2019 | 56° F

PETRUCCI: Investment in care work is true public infrastructure project

Opinions Column: The Annoying Vegan Millennial

You open an economics textbook and the first chapter is entitled “Modes of Reproduction." You quickly close the book to ensure you did not accidentally order some Planned Parenthood propaganda or a biology textbook instead. 

You ordered the correct textbook because, yes, in order to produce, people must reproduce. President Donald J. Trump’s golf courses did not just spawn from a maple sapling but from the union of Frederick Christ Trump and Mary Anne MacLeod Trump. The mode of reproduction to production follows as such: egg, orange egg, orange person, Trump and finally golf courses. These golf courses then employed a variety of workers who were also created through reproduction. 

We talk a lot about the gender pay gap whereby women make less money than men for doing the same job, in some cases, due to the “glass ceiling” — which refers to the invisible barriers which limit a woman’s advancement in a job or career. This could be gender stereotypes about a woman’s ability to lead or the suspicion that a woman might not be present if she is hired during childbearing years because you know she is too busy taking a few months to care for new life.

In speaking about the gender pay gap in this way, we do two things. One: define labor as solely work done in the public sphere, and two: exclude work done in the private sphere like child rearing or care work. Or as Dr. Silvia Federici said in her book "Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation," "In the new monetary regime, only production-for-market was defined as a value-creating activity, whereas the reproduction of the worker began to be considered as valueless from an economic viewpoint and even ceased to be considered as work." 

Women do 75 percent of the unpaid care work, according to a 2015 study by the McKinsey Global Institute. This is equivalent to approximately 13 percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is the value of all of the “stuff” produced within a country in a given time period. 

Unpaid labor is converted to a market-based “value” in a couple of ways. In the study above, the figures were based on the opportunity cost, which is the dollar amount a woman would earn if she used the time she spent doing unpaid labor, on a job in the market

The other way one can measure this figure is by its replacement cost. This is how much it costs to do the job — e.g. caregiving, cooking, cleaning. Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” plan involved investment in public infrastructure both to repair public goods but also to stimulate the economy through job creation. Workers were paid based on the cost of the labor.  

Enter: social infrastructure. A 2016 study titled "Investing in the Care Economy" regarding several European nations and the U.S. confirms that investment in social infrastructure would create more jobs than investment in public infrastructure, creating approximately 13 million jobs in the U.S. alone for both men and women.

So if investment in social infrastructure too serves a public utility, why does this not fall under the umbrella of public infrastructure worthy of public investment like a road or bridge? 

“This neglect of social infrastructure projects reflects a gender bias in economic thinking and may derive from the gender division of labour and gender employment segregation, with women being over represented in caring work, and men over represented in construction," according to the 2016 study. 

Erika Bachiochi, a prominent anti-abortion advocate and author of an article in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, has penned a variety of arguments not only rejecting abortion but offering insight into how we value caregiving and motherhood duties. Her view of abortion might be limited, yet her thoughts of motherhood are noteworthy. She poses one important question: “Rather than structure society around the wombless, unencumbered male, ought not society be structured around those who, in addition to being able to do all that men can do, can also bear new human life?”

A better question we might ask is not whether it is a good idea to grant unpaid work access into the “market," but rather why is this work not already compensated for as a means of stimulating the economy? If investment in “public” infrastructure jobs employs men to stimulate the economy, then maybe it is time to equate the “public” sphere as a male sphere of work and feminist economic practices as an investment in everyone, literally everyone. 

Francesca Petrucci is a School of Arts and Sciences senior double majoring in journalism and media studies and political science and minoring in Spanish. Her column, "The Annoying Vegan Millennial," runs on alternate Tuesdays. 


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Francesca Petrucci

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