Acton Institute Powerblog

A Policy Solution to Fix Inequality and Boost GDP

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Leighblackall-76202405Andrew Biggs of AEI has a piece up today at Forbes addressing the gender pay gap and provides a neat solution: “forbid women from staying at home with their children.” As Biggs points out, such a policy would address perhaps the greatest root cause of gender pay inequality: varied work experience attributable to choices women make. “Most mothers who stay at home or work only part-time are doing what they wish to do and what they view as best for their kids,” writes Biggs. This results in gaps in pay when those women re-enter the work force or increase their labor participation.

Biggs’ proposal to “make staying at home with kids illegal, just like child labor is illegal” would have another benefit favored by many: it would be a boon to GDP. As I point out in a review essay in the latest issue of Christian Scholar’s Review, the work that stay-at-home parents do is not counted toward GDP. When those parents pay someone to take care of their children as part of a business transaction, however, as in the case of day care centers, then that exchange does count towards GDP.

My piece, “Affluence Agonistes–A Review Essay,” takes a look at the book The Poverty of Nations by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, in addition to a couple of other recent publications. The CSR essay expands upon a review of the Grudem/Asmus book I wrote for Public Discourse, “Life to the Full: The Dangers of Material Wealth and Spiritual Poverty.” As Grudem and Asmus put it simply, to combat poverty “the goal must be to increase a nation’s GDP.”

So not only are stay-at-home moms a major source of wage inequality, they are also “a drag on GDP.” As one press report put it, “With female participation stagnating, potential growth isn’t rising as quickly.”

Biggs’ proposal to ban stay-at-home mothers should logically be embraced by both anti-gender inequality progressives as well as GDP growth fundamentalists. As I argue in the essay, “If a nation were to pursue GDP growth as its highest goal, it would probably institute policies and incentives to induce women to work outside the home and professionalize child care. GDP incentivizes specialization and the division of labor, since such transactions are the only things taken into account.”

But the Grove City College economist Shawn Ritenour rightly concludes, “We ought not give into the temptation that all of human welfare is encapsulated in GDP.” Another way of putting it is that men, women, and children do not “live on GDP per capita alone.”

Update: For those readers who might not bother to read Biggs’ piece, he does not (and neither do I, for that matter) actually advocate for this policy.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.

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