I recently encountered a brilliant new essay by German writer Ina Praetorius that revisits the feminist theme of “care work,” re-casting it onto a much larger philosophical canvas. “The Care-Centered Economy: Rediscovering what has been taken for granted” suggests how the idea of “care” could be used to imagine new structural terms for the entire economy.
By identifying “care” as an essential category of value-creation, Praetorius opens up a fresh, wider frame for how we should talk about a new economic order. We can begin to see how care work is linked to other non-market realms that create value -- such as commons, gifts of nature and colonized peoples --all of which are vulnerable to market enclosure.
The basic problem today is that capitalist markets and economics routinely ignore the “care economy” -- the world of household life and social conviviality may be essential for a stable, sane, rewarding life. Economics regards these things as essentially free, self-replenishing resources that exist outside of the market realm. It sees them as “pre-economic” or “non-economic” resources, which therefore don’t have any standing at all. They can be ignored or exploited at will.
In this sense, the victimization of women in doing care work is remarkably akin to the victimization suffered by commoners, colonized persons and nature. They all generate important non-market value that capitalists depend on – yet market economics refuses to recognize this value. It is no surprise that market enclosures of care work and commons proliferate.
A 1980 report by the UN stated the situation with savage clarity: “Women represent 50 percent of the world adult population and one third of the official labor force, they perform nearly two thirds of all working hours, receive only one tenth of the world income and own less than 1 percent of world property.”