Globally, macro and micro economic policies currently feature the liberalisation of prices (including currencies and factor prices) in the belief that this will improve the allocation of resources and facilitate the achievement of internal and external balance. These policies often also feature ‘supply-side’ practices that emphasise fiscal restraint (reduced government expenditure and lower corporate and personal tax rates). Typically, the espoused aims of all such policies include improved economic efficiency, the maximisation of incentives to engage in market-based activity, and, ultimately, higher measured living standards.
A gendered perspective of these policies is likely to challenge their efficacy, especially in relation to the expressed aim of increasing living standards. From a gendered perspective current economic and social policies need to be evaluated not only in terms of the level of direct consumption and income taxes, but also in terms of the level of reproduction taxes. These later taxes are produced when the burden or cost of social reproduction is allocated to certain groups within the community without compensation. Some current ‘supply-side’ policies add to these taxes. As an important example, current Australian social policy is characterised by relatively low levels of government expenditure on early childhood education and the allocation of most of the responsibility for, and cost of, the care of young children to families, especially mothers.
The importance of taking reproduction taxes into account in any evaluation of economic policy relates to the straightforward argument that social reproduction is essential to the creation of each country’s future community and productive capacity. As Ingrid Palmer expresses, the caring (social reproduction) work performed by individuals creates “a positive externality, akin to a free public good”. However, if economic and social policy settings cause the private costs of social reproduction to become too high and they undermine the “incentive” for women to invest in caring activities, future productive capacity and living standards will be threatened. Adding to the above example, there has been much public discussion recently, in a large number of countries, about how the large private costs associated with raising a child are contributing to a fall in fertility rates, potentially undermining future economic growth prospects.
We believe that the analytical concept of reproduction taxes provides both a method for examining the economic costs associated with caring that are borne by women in a variety of life circumstances; and for evaluating current economic and social policies, not only in terms of their gendered impacts, but also in terms of their contribution (or otherwise) to long term economic and social sustainability. In addition to the aboveexample relating to Australia’s relatively low levels of public support for early childhood education, current policy issues that can be examined within this framework include:
- Changes to the public provision of public health and age care services. These often cause women to substitute their own labour in order to cover the deficit of state provision in order to provide for the needs of their children, partners and parents. However, concerns have been expressed about the likely future availability of ‘unpaid” care for elders and others if the “private” costs of this care become/stay too high.
- Anticipated changes in the provision of publicly-funded age pensions and increased emphasis on “private” savings for retirement. These increase the costs and risks for women who spend time out of paid work to care for other family or community members and, as explained above, potentially undermine the provision of this care.
- Increases in the “private” costs of education, which increase the costs of labour market absences, such as those associated with the care of children.
- Labour market re-regulation (such as the “liberalisation” of hours of work and other employment conditions), which can reduce the ability of women to simultaneously achieve economic security and care for their children.
To date, the potential for the concept of reproduction taxes to provide a framework to help unify the analysis and communication of the gendered impacts of economic policies and practices has not been directly explored by the relevant academic and policy community in Australia.
The planned workshop is designed to respond to this. It aims to bring together social scientists from a range of disciplines to examine:
- The magnitude and current distribution of reproduction taxes in Australia by providing detailed examples of the impacts of women’s current (typical) caring roles on their lifetime access to economic independence;
- The role played by current economic and economic policies in determining the size and distribution of reproduction taxes in Australia; and
- The likely sustainability of Australia’s current economic and social arrangements given the nature and extent of reproduction taxes.