Children: Secret Saboteurs of the Economy

Here’s the introduction of a Newsnight report on the childcare crisis (11-12-12)

Tonight, the initiative planned to help mothers get back into work. We reveal what the government hopes will happen to make childcare more affordable, and the economy a little more vigorous.”

(shot of cute toddler playing at home…)

Looks sweet, doesn’t she? But are she and her friends secret saboteurs of the nation’s economy? Can we afford to have a million mothers priced out of work by the cost of childcare?”

 Children vs. the economy is a humourous suggestion but it’s also true: Children are the saboteurs of the economy, with good reasons. What troubles me is that the idea isn’t considered the other way around. Perhaps it’s the economy that is sabotaging our children. Do our children exist to serve the economy or does our economy exist to serve our children? What can we say about life on the ground where human life has become a means to that higher ends… the economy!

This is a testy subject because the fight to make way for women to work has been long and hard, but now there is another fight against mothers or fathers who choose the work of being a stay-at-home parent. They’re shouted down, not by some strand of feminism, but by the demands of the economy itself – that beast we must continually appease.

The rhetoric used in the Newsnight report completely delegitimises the work of being a parent. One soundbite from a stay-at-home mother went like this:

We want to be active members of society, that’s all… and earn enough to feed our kids.”

Are stay-at-home-mothers not active members of society? As far as the will of the economy is concerned: no they’re not.

The report goes on to say:

In amongst the hurly-burly of the British economy, mothers have retreated to bring up baby while the hustle and bustle carries on around them…”

Is motherhood a retreat? Is everything outside of the workings of the economy just a dream? Can capitalism not acknowledge any life outside of its slobbering reach? Are news programs today obliged to be its mouth-piece and speak with its disapproving voice?

In the whole report, the question of the wellbeing of children* was barely raised. We’re talking about children as a logistical problem. We no longer think of the economy as an equation to be balanced to serve the interests of our children, we think of our children as an equation that must be balanced to fit the interests of the economy. We used to work in order to take care of our children, now we ponder what to do with our children so that we can work.

Parenthood as day to day work has already been made extremely difficult by the silent dismantling of community that our consumer economy has effected over the last century. The economy now frowns in disapproval at parents for not obediently depositing their children into a situation that will generate capital. Such parents are “retreating”, they’re not “active members of society.” The economy will not compute the idea that human beings can know of any happiness or fulfillment apart from through the churning of capital, or that we might value the growth of human beings over the growth of wealth. It will barely even concede that the growth of wealth ought to be purely for the purpose of human life, and not an ends in itself. And so life on the ground wastes away, in subjugation to some soulless and shape-shifting centralised monster.

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 *In their 2007 study, Unicef concluded that the well being of children in the UK is the lowest in the developed world. They said that we in the UK tend to spent less time with our children but buy them more stuff to make up for it. I don’t mention this to moralise. I mention it because it is just one more example of how we’ve been herded towards the options that churn the economy (like buying kids gadgets) and away from those archaic options that don’t (like just spending time). You can read the whole report here.

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