The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
The pandemic has made it clear how much the economy relies on unpaid labor – mostly taken on by women – as well as undervalued jobs in female-dominated industries. How can governments now begin to raise these jobs and integrate them into broader economic growth policies?
Covid-19 has greatly increased our focus on what is of value in an economy – which equates to what we can price and what we can trade. It turns out that the areas we see as “high value” – finance and real estate, for example – are not the parts of society that we rely on as “fundamental.” Covid-19 has led to government definitions of “key” or “essential” work: our most valuable and irreplaceable citizens are those who work in health and social services, education, public transport, supermarkets and delivery services. These jobs are disproportionately occupied by women, as well as people of color, in Europe, the UK and the US. Suffering is not inevitable for these groups more than for others – it is a political choice like any other.
Is it a moon to think that unpaid household work could be counted in measures of GDP? How would that actually work?
Well first of all, we shouldn’t try to fit everything and adjust to take into account GDP.As a measure, GDP is inherently imperfect, because within it, economic value is determined only on the basis of market transactions – only goods and services sold in markets are counted. GDP is used to justify excessive inequalities in income and wealth while trying to turn value extraction into value creation.
There are components and evaluation parameters that are much more dynamic than GDP
In Wales, planned public sector projects are appraised and evaluated by the Commissioner for Future Generations, whose mandate is to make recommendations based on impacts on the unborn.
In New Zealand, the government launched the first ‘well-being budget’ in 2019. The authentic progress indicator attempts to separate environmental and social costs from benefits, to value household and volunteer work and ‘adjust to inequalities.
If a mixture of these types of evaluative approaches were encouraged and adopted, then perhaps we would have a better indication of the real direct and indirect implications for society of something like working in a household.