Towards a Care-centered Global Economy

1. Women: A Crypto Service-Class
John Kenneth Galbraith’s book “Economics and the Public Purpose”[1] appeared in 1973.  In this book he stated in his unmistakably ironic boldness that women, in the emergence of modern consumerist economies, had been made a “crypto service-class”, and that this “conversion” was an “economic accomplishment of first importance”.[2]
This statement can serve as a firm analytical base for today’s conversation on “Perspectives on Gender and Re-Globalization”. Equipped with the authority of a canonical (albeit controversial) 20th century economist Galbraith confirms that women’s notorious complaint about an undue workload that is accompanied by inappropriate gaps in payment, social security, recognition and participation lasting to the present day is by no means an idiosyncrasy. Rather it is rooted in actual structures that don’t work for women’s and a livable world’s interest but in favor of a powerful “technostructure” of “large corporations who really run the show.”[3]

2. Gender Deconstruction
Galbraith’s statement was made long before the disruption of gender deconstruction and queer theory that started in the nineties. He used the term “woman” in the traditional binary way based on the assumption of two and only two biologically determined genders.
In the meantime, many have learned to speak of “woman*” as a category that doesn’t denote this allegedly unambiguous sort of human any more that is defined simply by being non-male, by its ability to become pregnant and give birth and – often – by carrying certain natural traits such as weakness or servility. Rather, in the deconstructionist view, “woman*” denotes a group of humans that ideologists have excluded from full “manhood” by the dualistic trick of contrasting higher and lower, dependent and independent realms of being human: woman and man, black and white, child and adult, hetero and homo, emotional and rational, subdued and free, body and mind, poor and rich etc.[4]

3. A Pervasive Mechanism of Hierarchization
This pervasive mechanism of hierarchization has also affected the conceptualization of humanity’s relationship to nature which has for centuries been perceived as a dominion of “man” over his “environment”: The subordination of woman* and the exploitation of the habitat Earth are analogous mechanisms of dissociation in a comprehensive symbolic order that is centered around the reductionist model of the adult white man who is identified with “the human being” as such[5]and surrounded by a “service-class” that consists of women, children, slaves, migrants, (grandmothers, au-pair girls, prostitutes, housekeepers, nurses, cleaners…) and nature (from lat. nasci=being born). Not accidentally, nature is often imagined as a mute nurturing mother (materia from mater=mother) or, for example by Francis Bacon in the founding discourse of modern science, as a “slave” or a “bride, who requires taming, shaping and subduing by the scientific mind.”[6]

4. Deep Roots in the Western Mindset
As the following quote from Aristotle’s (384-322 BC) “Politics” illustrates, this symbolic order is deeply entrenched in a long history of ideas:
“The living creature … in the first place, consists of soul and body: and of these two, the one is by nature the ruler, and the other the subject… for the soul rules the body with a despotical rule …. And it is clear that the rule of the soul over the body … is natural and expedient; whereas the equality of the two or the rule of the inferior is always hurtful… Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled… This principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind. Where then there is such a difference as that between soul and body, or between men and animals (…), the lower sort are by nature slaves, and it is better for them as for all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master… It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right… The rule of a household is a monarchy, for every house is under one head: whereas constitutional rule is a government of freemen and equals.[7]

5. Quasi-Ontological Ascriptions and Socio-Economic Regulations
This message from one of the West’s founding masterminds gives evidence not only of the time-(dis)honored hierarchical mindset itself, but also of the early interconnectedness of quasi-ontological ascriptions and economic regulations: From the definition that “the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior”, follows that “the rule of the household is a monarchy” controlled by “one head” – which was the male pater familias still in the Roman Empire, then throughout the European Middle Ages, the age of (partial) European Enlightenment and straight into our (post-)modern globalized present. 
For example, despite all emancipation in my first home country Germany there is still a Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth”. What do senior citizens, women and young people who seem to need a common political treatment have in common? One thing only: They don’t fit into the model of the adult employable man who, often in the form of the disconnected “homo oeconomicus”, still seems to serve as standard in all other ministries: the “Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs”, the “Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action”, the “Federal Ministry of Finance” etc.
So, the ingrained, often unconscious praxis of separating the normative male adult from a multifaceted serving class is still in our midst, not in distant “underdeveloped” countries, but in the so-called “Free West” – and in most other regions elsewhere on the globe. 
The seemingly innocent term “family”, by the way, is derived from the Latin noun “famulus” which means servant. It would be easy to transform all the “Ministries for Family Affairs…”, for example into Ministries “for Gender-and-Generation-fair Social Structures”.

6. The Symbolic and the Global Socio-Economic Order
Given these etymological, historical and cultural facts that could be endlessly multiplied[8] it is not astonishing that Oxfam figured out in 2017 that “eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity”,[9] and in 2020 that “women and girls spend about 12.5 billion hours every day on unpaid care and domestic work. If we were to monetize this for women aged 15 and older, it adds up $10.8 trillion a year—three times the size of the world’s tech industry.”[10]
In 2018, having analyzed the huge amount of “bullshit jobs” produced by late capitalism, David Graeber spoke of “caring classes”.[11] The difference to John Kenneth Galbraith’s “service-class” is slight, but crucial: Whereas “service” sounds like a luxury that could easily be omitted, “care” is something no human being of any gender or identity can refrain from and that could – and in my view should – become a basic and central criterion for the global economy of our future.[12]
According to global data stock there are no big differences in regard to the gendered division of labor, income, wealth and recognition between all the seemingly different world regions: Africa, the Americas, Australia, China, Europe, Oceania, Russia … all suffer from the fact that the essential inputs of nature and of care-work mainly done by women* and other marginalized groups are made invisible and extremely undervalued compared to the “productive”[13] work typically done by adult local men in the industrial, technological and military sectors.[14]
The COVID19-pandemic seems to have worsened the imbalance.

7. Movements to Change and Movements to Restore the Symbolic Order
All over the world, there are strong movements to change the situation: Based on their unalienable human rights that have been declared and accepted by almost all nations after the atrocities of the Second World War, women, lesbians, queers, people of color, nurses, midwives, domestic workers, sex workers, migrants, refugees and more fight for dignified life conditions. Care workers in private households demand recognition, for example through an inclusion of the largest, the unpaid economic sector in national accounts or an unconditional basic income. Underpaid and overloaded care-workers in hospitals, nurseries, retirement homes, homes for differently abled people, kindergartens, farmhouses, supermarkets, schools etc. strike for higher wages or decide to quit their jobs. Global movements like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter or #FridaysForFuture denounce ongoing exploitation and violence. The Federal Constitution of my second home country Switzerland integrated the “dignity of living beings” as article 120.2 through a popular vote in 1992 already.[15]Ecological parties, scientists and climate activists call for a careful handling of natural resources in the interest of a good life on Earth for future generations. 
There are, however, counter movements, too: Autocrats, conservative, neoliberal and right-wing populist parties in all parts of the world try to restitute the hierarchical symbolic, political and economic order through legislation, repression, exploitation, and even wars. 

8. Conclusion: Basic Insights on this Side of the Dualistic Mindset
According to Roland Benedikter, re-globalization is “the process of deep change globalization is currently undergoing, including its reform and renewal – one that may also fundamentally affect local and regional realities”.[16]
Proceeding from my above analysis I propose to introduce into this ongoing process some undeniable basic insights about the human condition that become evident on this side of the outdated dualistic symbolic and social order:
a) All humans of all genders and backgrounds, including future generations, are born, natal,[17] vulnerable, needy and mortal.
b) All humans of all genders and backgrounds, including future generations, are dependent on mutual care and an intact habitat Earth.
c) As far as we can see, all humans of all genders and backgrounds, including future generations, have one and only one life each that they are entitled to live in dignity and to the best extent possible safety and happiness.[18]
d) All humans of all genders and backgrounds, including future generations, are free-in-relation[19] and capable of careful actions that nourish what is nourishing them from the first to the last day of their lives: their fellow humans and the habitat Earth which they inhabit together with myriads of other living beings. 
e) Care must become a criterion for everything humans do. 

9. To begin with…
To begin with, we can actively leave behind the fossilized mindsets that are centered around the adult man as model of humanity, and instead put the dependent, needy, curious newborn baby into the center of all. A starting point could be to remove the “spirit of brotherhood” from Art. 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,[20] since, seen in the context of the fading dualistic symbolic order, the “spirit of brotherhood” contradicts human rights. Let us insert, for example, an “awareness of dependency and a spirit of mutual care” instead. 

(This text was written for the EURAC Conference “Doing Global Gender” which took place from May 2nd to May 6th, 2022, online and in Bozen/Bolzano, see youtube videos, video)


[1] John Kenneth Galbraith, Economics & the Public Purpose, Boston (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 1973. See also: Richard Parker, John Kenneth Galbraith, His Life, His Politics, His Economics, New York (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) 2015, p 515f; Helena Znaniecka Lopata, Circles and Settings: Role Changes of American Women, New York (Suny Press) 1994, 162 https://bit.ly/3KjVEPp

[2] John Kenneth Galbraith 1973, 79.

[3] Michael Stewart, JK Galbraith. Visionary economist who defined, and defied, the ‘conventional wisdom’, in: The Guardian, 1st of May, 2006, https://bit.ly/37sDxrG

[4] See Ina Praetorius, The Care-Centered Economy. Rediscovering what has been taken for granted, Berlin (Heinrich Böll-Stiftung) 2015, Chapter 1.

[5] Ina Praetorius, Anthropologie und Frauenbild in der deutschsprachigen protestantischen Ethik seit 1949, Gütersloh (Gütersloher Verlagshaus) 1992.

[6] Keller, Evelyn Fox, Reflections on Gender and Science, New Haven (Yale University Press) 1985, 43. See also: Ina Praetorius 2015, 19.

[7] Aristotle, Politics (translated by Benjamin Jowett), the Internet Classics Archive:  http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/politics.1.one.html

[8] For a more detailed overview see Ina Praetorius 2015 (note 4).

[9] https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/just-8-men-own-same-wealth-half-world

[10] https://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/stories/all-work-and-no-pay/

[11] David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs. A Theory, New York (Simon & Schuster) 2018, 269 and passim; See also: Ina Praetorius, Should We Start Speaking of a “Caring Class”? in: ConFusion May 24th, 2019. https://bit.ly/3KuJAuK

[12] Caroline Krüger, Care – ein Kriterium nicht nur in der Krise, in: beziehungsweise-weiterdenken 26.06.2020, https://bit.ly/3uo6UEA; Ina Praetorius, Care: from Sector to Criterion, in: ConFusion 24.09.2021, https://bit.ly/3LTcKnm; See also the #economyiscare short film (in five languages): https://www.economy-is-care.com

[13] For a critical analysis of the current understanding of “productivity” see Ina Praetorius, Production, Reproduction and the Desire for a Language Spring, in: Confusion Blog, 04/16/2021, https://bit.ly/3Jn0I43

[14] See Anna Saave, Einverleiben und Externalisieren. Zur Innen-Außen-Beziehung der kapitalistischen Produktionsweise, Bielefeld (transcript) 2022.

[15] See Ina Praetorius, Peter Saladin, Die Würde der Kreatur, Bundesamt für Umwelt, Wald und Landschaft (BUWAL) ed., Bern (Schriftenreihe Umwelt Nr. 260) 1996.

[16] What Does Re-Globalization Mean? eurac Research 01/21/2021 https://bit.ly/3LPndQP

[17] See Ina Praetorius, Natality as a New Anthropological Paradigm. Reflections of a Protestant Christian, in: Lorella Congiunti et al eds, Oltre l’individualismo. Relazioni e relazionalità per ripensare l’identità, Citta del Vaticano (Urbaniana University Press) 2017, 391-397, https://bit.ly/37udRen. Ina Praetorius, The Economics of Natality. A Postpatriarchal Perspective, in: Concilium 5/2011, 82-91.

[18] Ina Praetorius, Im postpatriarchalen Durcheinander. Unterwegs mit Xanthippe, Rüsselsheim (Christel Göttert verlag) 2020. English translation: https://bit.ly/3ut6KMr

[19] Ina Praetorius Hg., Sich in Beziehung setzen. Zur Weltsicht der Freiheit in Bezogenheit, Königstein/Taunus (Ulrike Helmer Verlag) 2005

[20] https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

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