Caring, core of our humanity
Citizen collectives and commons in Amsterdam … Billions of hours in unpaid care work keep the economy going, but are not integrated into our current economic model. Even though care is a fundamental need that helps to connect people and ensure reciprocity.
We care for our loved ones, our family, the sick, and take care of domestic work and nature. Taking care, providing and giving care – both paid and unpaid – is about fundamental human needs, social connection and reciprocity. By acknowledging our connection to each other and our natural environment, we also automatically acknowledge the pivotal position of care in our human existence.
A healthy urban economy
Care is the foundation of our society, and of our economy. Economics refers to the system we put in place to provide for one another’s wants and needs, in the interconnected realms of the household, the community, the market and the state. In an economy that serves the wellbeing of people and planet, it is crucial that these spheres collaborate on the basis of mutual trust. This means that care must take centre-stage the design of our economy.
> Read: the future of socioeconomic security by the Commons Network.
‘The economy is the way we provide for one another’s wants and needs. Is not something given, it is us, and we have the power to produce and provide things to one another in a way that heals injustices, empowers individuals, and regenerates our natural world.’ - The Wellbeing Alliance
The domain of the caring economy
Care needs time and flexibility. Which is why much of our care work takes place inside households and the community. This is known as the domain of the caring neighbours’ economy or the caring economy. The English term care encompasses much more than the Dutch concept of zorg: care refers to giving care, taking care of, being careful, taking responsibility, looking after and caring about something or someone.
Family care, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, collecting the kids from school, volunteering: it is still women taking on the bulk of the unpaid, informal care work in households and communities. In the Netherlands too, for decades, women were positioned to take care of the home, in the margins of the wider economy.
Those billions of hours in unpaid care work remain invisible in our current economic modelling. They do not count towards the gross domestic product (GDP) as the current measure for growth and productivity. But without care there wouldn’t be an economy: this invisible labour constitutes the foundation of our (family) life and our economy. Markets, geared towards productivity and efficiency, could not exist without these caregivers.
The caring economy is not about chasing productivity. It is reproductive. Instead of exploiting the planet, animals and people, the caring economy is about improving the wellbeing of people and the environment, in a healing, regenerative way.
> Read Care needs time and flexibility and about care as a system opposed to the exploitation of our planet, animals and people.
Upcoming alternative thinking
In recent years, we have witnessed the emergence of many alternatives and radical thought about how we might reshape our economy and society. Women have been taking on a prominent role in this intellectual revolution making short work of standard linear economic views. They are picturing an economic model that puts people and planet first, in which GDP growth is a means and not an end and which has room for values that cannot be expressed in monetary terms.
Examples of these new schools of thought are Doughnut Economics, the Wellbeing Economy and Degrowth. They build on concepts that have been around for years and that are increasingly pushing back against dominant economic thought – including feminist economics, ecological economics and social solidarity economics. They all emphasise a shift towards an economy and a society in which the caring economy is given the space and the means to flourish. Together, they offer a paradigm which is much more in tune with the current reality and an inclusive, sustainable future for all.
A caring Amsterdam economy
Amsterdam is a frontrunner in the new economic school of thought: the city council has embraced Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics and a wide array of organisations and residents founded the Amsterdam Donut Coalition. This offers great opportunities for a circular economy. But this is about more than the ecological side of the donut; it is the foundation for the social side. If the city wants to build an urban economy that serves the wellbeing of all Amsterdammers, it must actively support and promote the caring economy, the commons in particular
Central to commons thinking is the concept that people should have a say in that which is essential to a decent standard of living. In the commons, it is they who manage basic resources: food, energy, water, data, culture, public space, nature, knowledge, information, care…
Society shows the way: citizens and commons
Amsterdam has scores of active residents united in neighbourhood networks and community initiatives. They put into practice an organisational model for caring, democratic communities that we call a ‘commons’. The commons comprises a segment of our society and economy where a community autonomously manages a shared resource with little interference from the market or the state. Examples are food cooperatives, city farms, informal care networks, but also things like Wikipedia. A wide range of commons constitutes and enriches the caring economy. Here, care for people and the environment merges with reciprocity and the intrinsic need to connect.
The commons offer crucial building blocks for a fundamentally different urban economy for Amsterdam. And only if we are prepared to alter policy approaches, will we be able to follow the transition paths that residents are already plotting. The national government won’t be taking the lead in this: neoliberal concepts are (still) too deeply enshrined in that arena. This is up to the cities.
The care revolution
In an upcoming blog we will delve deeper into what Amsterdam’s caring economy looks like in practice. We will also look at two policy plans for the city of Amsterdam: a cooperative incubator and the public-civil collaboration directive. We believe in Amsterdam and Amsterdammers as the trailblazers of a care revolution in the economy, in politics, in society. These coming weeks, we hope to show you why.
> by Winne van Woerden and Sophie Bloemen, Stichting Commons Network Amsterdam