Caring Economics: A New Framework for Conceptualizing and Measuring Economic Activity

By Ghosh, Indradeep | Creative Nursing, April 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Caring Economics: A New Framework for Conceptualizing and Measuring Economic Activity


Ghosh, Indradeep, Creative Nursing


This article introduces the reader to a new framework for conceptualizing and measuring economic activity called caring economics. Going beyond the conventional understanding of economic activity as that which unfolds in markets, caring economics highlights the work of care and caregiving that occurs within households and is often unpaid. This article also unveils a new set of measures based on the framework of caring economics that are urgently needed by policymakers and business leaders to foster personal, business, and national economic success.

Keywords: caring; environment; family; partnership; social wealth; women

The dominant metric of economic prosperity, widely used in the media and in academic economics, is gross domestic product (GDP). In recent decades, however, the practice of measuring economic and social progress by GDP has come under criticism. Stiglitz, Sen, and Fitoussi (2010) state many of the objections, among which are that GDP overlooks (because of its focus on market activity) economic activity such as household work or the work of a stay-at-home parent, does not factor in the environmental impacts of economic decisions, and offers no account of economic inequality, so that much of society might be worse off even as it gets richer.

In this article, I will argue that to arrive at a genuine measure of human flourishing, it is imperative that policymakers work with new categories of indicators. These new indicators improve on measures such as GDP because they are underwritten by a new understanding of economic activity. Although the measurement of GDP, financial wealth, and the like are based on the principles of neoclassical economics, the new indicators are based instead on the principles of "caring economics." Caring economics is centered on the work of caring and caregiving, or care work, whose economic value is greatly underappreciated in neoclassical economics. The primary objective of this article is to introduce readers to this new paradigm in economic thinking and to illustrate its principles by proposing a list of indicators that will measure social and economic progress in a much more holistic way than conventional measures such as GDP.

These new measures are called social wealth economic indicators (SWEIs) because they provide an authentic picture of the accumulation of social wealth in an economy. Social wealth not only includes financial wealth but also includes the quality and quantity of a society's social interactions. Furthermore, the notion of social wealth encompasses a concern for the environment and for various forms of social inequities that hinder the full development of the innate capacities of every human being in a society. According to caring economics, building social wealth is not only creating a culture of care, trust, collaboration, and generosity, but also recognizing that such a culture allows for the full flourishing of human capacity and thereby for social and economic prosperity.

A NEW CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

There is now an extensive literature on what comprises care work and how crucial it is to the economic well-being of societies (see, e.g., Antonopoulos & Hirway, 2010; Eisler, 2012; Esquivel, 2011; Folbre, 2006; Landefeld et al., 2009). But the idea of caring economics as a new way to think about economic activity was first proposed by Eisler (2008) in her book The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics. Eisler 's exposition reveals three distinct innovations of caring economics over neoclassical economics.

The first is that caring economics extends the definition of the economy beyond the neoclassical compartments of the market economy, the government economy, and the illegal or black economy to a "full-spectrum economic map" that also includes the household economy, the unpaid community economy, and the natural economy. In particular, the household economy is positioned as the core inner sector of the economy and the real heart of economic productivity. …

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