By Valerie Young , Center for Partnership Studies
When a few people have managed to concentrate the power of the economy to benefit themselves at the disadvantage of most others, we demand to know: What the heck is going on here?
As a public policy analyst and outreach director of the Center for Partnership Studies' Caring Economy Campaign, I spend lots of time looking at the exercise of democracy in our US Congress.
We work to shift economic measurements, policies, and practices from the current focus on GDP and Wall Street to a humane and prosperous economy that recognizes the enormous return on investment in the most important, yet undervalued, human work: the work of caring for and educating people, starting in early childhood.
As a mother of school-aged children, I know firsthand the importance of investing in care for children starting from early childhood.
From this perspective, it’s clear how true workings of democracy have been so grossly distorted and how this has concentrated wealth and influence in a group too small to represent the diversity of the citizens it is intended to serve. We see now that our political process is effectively hijacked and the economy sputters.
This, undoubtedly is a contributing factor to the 20% of American children live who in poverty. When the pursuit of cash is so heavily prioritized over the provision of care, those who provide it and those who depend upon care are increasingly disadvantaged and pushed to the margins. As women are the majority of caregivers and the majority of single parents, they are also the majority of the poor. Many struggle to furnish their children with the basic necessities for a successful life because the distribution of power and influence across society is so out of balance.
The number of women in positions of leadership and power, in both the public and private sphere, is egregiously low. In the land of equal opportunity, women as a whole earn significantly less than men, women of color or those with children earn only a fraction, and in our wealthy nation women as a group are disproportionately poor. So we need to take a broader look at income inequality -- one that takes into account the failure of U.S. policies to include the "women's work" of care and instead diverts wealth to the extremely rich.
The CPS’ Caring Economy Campaign is designed to change how we look at economic inequality from this more inclusive perspective. It tells a different story of what is and is not economically valuable and shows that the failure of U.S. policies to provide adequate funding for paid parental and sick leave, high quality early childhood education, and other family supports must be remedied if we are to have less poverty and more economic democracy.
An important way to help achieve this is by electing more women across all age spans, and of different ethnicities, to make economic decisions, to work with enlightened men for fundamental economic changes. Why? Because women as a group tend to back more caring values as well as forging relationships that move things forward, as a result of the societal roles they play.
We also have to look at the way a handful of donors run political campaigns, wealthy corporate interests lobby their way to preferential policies, and 158 families have contributed half the money raised so far in the 2016 presidential elections. Personal fortune plays an out-sized role in US politics that locks up the democratic process. Most of these donations are made by white men “of a certain age”, and most are made to the Republican Party.
At the same time, the Rising American Electorate is younger, black or brown, with the numbers of unmarried women and Latinos growing fastest. The contrast between the money and power on one side, and the diversity of voters on the other, is stark. Control of the government, and the power of the governed, are distorted far beyond the Founders’ reckoning. Representative democracy is held hostage when candidates need millions to be elected and voters must hop through an ever increasing number of regulatory hoops to get into the booth.
Income inequality strangulates representative democracy. Gender disparity functions the same way. Recent research by Riane Eisler reveals the connection between women’s leadership, parity of opportunity, economic expansion, social cohesion and elective government. “The ideals of democracy are served by enhancing gender equity, and the relationship between support for gender equity in politics and the society’s level of political rights and civil liberties is shown to be remarkably strong.” (SOCIAL WEALTH ECONOMIC INDICATORS A New System for Evaluating Economic Prosperity, Indradeep Ghosh & Riane Eisler, November 2014).
An economy should be a group participation project that serves our personal and collective interests. It is a means to the realization of our possibilities, not an end in itself. We must envision the economy as a means to human fulfillment and social progress instead of a device for the accumulation of personal power. One way to accomplish this is the election of more women leaders, people of color, and people with disabilities to our representative offices. Documenting the enormous value of care and promoting caring policies will move us towards a more equitable and caring economy. This is a better option for everyone, including the 1%
Valerie carries the message and mission of the Caring Economy framework to advocates and policy makers in Washington DC and throughout the country. Her work appears extensively in social media, @WomanInDC on Twitter, Your (Wo)Man in Washington on Facebook, and blogging for Mom-mentum.org. She also has written for The Shriver Report, Brain/Child Magazine, and is frequently featured onBlogHer.com as well as the CPS and CEC blogs.