Caring and economics: Can these two words fit together? In her book, “The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics,” which will be published by Berrett-Koehler in April, author Riane Eisler says that not only can the two fit together, but for our very survival, they must. She will present her views at an event on March 24 sponsored by Honoring Women Worldwide. Eisler spoke to the Minnesota Women’s Press about her work and why she thinks it’s crucial to change our economic system to one in which the essential human work of caring and caregiving is a priority.
Gender is at the core of Eisler’s theories. “The reason caring is not given economic value is because of inherited stereotypical values,” she said. “Caregiving is viewed as ‘women’s work’ and throughout history has been devalued. The aim of my work is to bring the two halves of humanity to center. Gender balance [equality between men and women] is needed for a sustainable culture and future. To really empower women, we have to change our current economic model.”
By “caring,” Eisler means having an orientation or taking actions based on empathy, responsibility and concern for human welfare and optimal human development. A caring orientation gives visibility and value to caregiving in all areas of life-from your home, to your workplaces and communities, in government, and in the natural environment. “Just putting the words ‘caring’ and ‘economics’ together creates a shift in itself,” Eisler said.
“The Real Wealth of Nations” is a logical progression in the long line of books by this pragmatic visionary. In Eisler’s 1987 book, “The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future,” Eisler introduced the concept of a partnership model in contrast to a dominator model for structuring belief systems, institutions and relationships. In the dominator system, or top-down control system, humans have just two possible roles-the dominator(s) or the dominated. Instead, Eisler promotes a partnership system based on mutual respect and caring relationships.
“The domination system is still very strong,” Eisler said, “and we’re in a period of regression to domination worldwide.” Citing the rise in religious fundamentalism, a growing reliance on violence and domination in global relations, and a bigger discrepancy between the “haves” and “have nots,” Eisler believes that a partnership model is critical in creating a more humane world.
As she states in her introduction to “The Real Wealth of Nations,” Eisler looked to her own life experiences and she began her quest wondering, “Why, when we humans have such a great capacity for caring, consciousness, and creativity, has our world seen so much cruelty, insensitivity and destructiveness?” This question has led Eisler to envision a world where the underlying foundation is caring and mutual respect.
Change the conversation
In “The Real Wealth of Nations” Eisler outlines how an economics with an emphasis on caring can save costs for businesses and government, raise the welfare of women and children-and men as well-and build world peace. The first step, she said, is to “change the conversation,” She advocates that we need to include the word caring when we talk about economics. Next, she suggests, start talking. She advises us to talk to our friends and organizations we belong to about caring economics. She suggests writing to public officials and even running for office. She reasons that the more a caring economics is talked about, the more the concept will seep into the mainstream conversation.
Just as important as the macro view is the personal one, Eisler said. She suggests that women examine their personal relationships. If you find you are in a dominator relationship at home or work, she advises, work toward shifting the relationships to ones of partnership.
Seven practical steps toward a caring economics
Riane Eisler shares, with Minnesota Women’s Press readers, practical information and examples of how you can help make this change to a caring economics.
1. Encourage your organization or business to incorporate caring practices and policies by showing them how support for caring is good for families, business, and the economy. For example: In Northern European nations that have more caring policies there is less personal stress and crime, higher educational performance, and a better general quality of life.
2. Phone call-in shows, write letters to the editor, and post comments on blogs about how shifting to an economic system that gives visibility and value to caregiving can solve seemingly intractable problems. For example, 70 percent of those living in absolute poverty in the world are women (the people who do most of the caregiving).
3. Form a group using “The Real Wealth of Nations” in your community, church, or school to discuss caring economics and decide on specific actions, such as asking your state legislators to introduce a bill to provide paid parental leave along the lines of the first such U.S. bill in California. Highlight the enormous economic value of caregiving as shown by a recent Swiss government survey documenting that the unpaid work in households (still performed mainly by women) is 70 percent of Gross Domestic Product.
4. Send copies of “The Real Wealth of Nations” to your elected representatives and ask them to support tax credits, training, and social security for caregivers.
5. Buy only from companies that have caring policies and let those that don’t, know why you are no longer patronizing them.
6. Organize a community forum on the Caring Family Policy Agenda posted on www.partnershipway.org.
7. Organize a university forum to talk about the link between a higher status of women, more caring economic policies, and a generally high standard of living, highlighting how nations where women have greater representation in government, such as the Nordic countries, have pioneered policies that are more environmentally responsible and more caring, such as universal healthcare, childcare, and generous paid parental leave.