By Valerie Young for the Center for Partnership Studies
When a few people have managed to harness the power of democratic capitalism to benefit themselves but disadvantage many others, curious minds want 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 power in our US Congress. As a mother of school-aged children, I spend a lot of time supervising homework and prepping the kids for endless tests and quizzes. I figure I’ve been through American colonial history 8 times at various grade levels now, between their schooling and my own. This has given me (perhaps too many!!) opportunities to consider the yawning gulf between the common historical narrative taught in our schools and our current political reality.
Our economy should be a means to the realization of our possibilities, not an end in itself.
Income inequality is not wholly unexpected in a competitive economy. Too much of it, however, distorts the workings of democracy and concentrates 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, the economy splutters, and 20% of American children live in poverty. 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.
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 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.
Some time ago my son and I were reviewing all the words in bold print in his 3rd grade US history book. The only one I now remember is this: compromise. As in, our governmental mechanism can only function when the various members are willing to work together and compromise. In the interests of investing some power in every citizen, the architects of our country made compromise absolutely necessary in the operation of our governmental machine.
Strangely enough, the night my son and I sat down to go over this material was in early October, 2013 – during the shutdown of the federal government. The irony was lost on my 3rd grader – but certainly not on me. The self-righteously self-interested hadn’t managed to hijack the machine to secure their own ends. Our government isn’t made for that. No, they’d just gummed up the works enough to shut it down entirely. What we have here, ladies and gentlemen of the Congress, is a failure to compromise…
That particular deadlock was broken by a bipartisan handful of women senators. They devised a compromise, risking their political futures to attack for not being “strong” enough or loyal enough to party identification. They were able to supply that essential grease required to get the wheels of government turning again. Maybe not forever, and maybe grinding and squeaking, but turning.
We face a similar pivot point right now in this country, where 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. Envisioning the economy as a means to human fulfillment and social progress, instead of a device for the accumulation of personal power, electing more women leaders, and documenting the enormous value of care and caring policies, are first steps toward a more equitable and caring economy.
Visit the Caring Economy Campaign at caringeconomy.org
For a complete listing of all Caring Economy classes and webinars, see caringeconomy.org/onlineclasses