‘Childcare Is Infrastructure’: Linda Scott’s Model for Economic Growth Relies on Women

The Double X Economy by Linda Scott Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Linda Scott is a social scientist and activist whose new book, The Double X Economy: The Epic Potential of Women’s Empowerment, sounds the alarm on the systematic economic exclusion of women and their jaw-dropping subjugation throughout history. What Scott sketches in this volume is an economy that not only empowers and protects women, but increases the global GDP. Why haven’t economists considered a model like this before? “Because economists mostly have a tendency to think that women don’t make much of a contribution,” Scott tells Observer over Zoom in late June.

With a  background ranging from history and anthropology to finance and marketing, Scott is an Oxford scholar who works with multinational corporations, international agencies, national governments, and global NGOs “designing and testing programs to better include women in the world economy.” From Scott’s research in collaboration with Avon to her work distributing sanitary pads in Ghana, which proved to extend young girls’ schooling and financial independence, Scott is a feminist force.

Scott spoke with Observer about actionable changes we could make to our economic system and what the global pandemic should teach the world about childcare, with a cameo from her granddaughter in the background. Like the perfect metaphor for working women, Scott has been balancing childcare while her daughter is at work as an ER doctor, battling COVID on the frontlines.

Observer: Tell me if I’m describing what you term “the Double X Economy” right. It is an untapped economy that can bring trillions of dollars to the GDP and greater peace and humanity to our world. Women’s equality creates prosperity and not the other way around. When women spend money they are more likely to spend it on their community and family. For instance, you write that domestic violence against women costs the nation five percent of the GDP, and that the World Bank estimates that, because of unequal pay, the local economy loses US$160 trillion every year. Basically, male domination is bad for the world and for the economy.
Linda Scott: It is. The only thing I would qualify is that women are largely untapped in the sense that they’re underutilized. When so-called “advanced nations” let women into the workforce there was a big bump in GDP. However, married women, in a very traditional economy—including women in the United States—normally look askance at married women working outside the home. In Bangladesh they practice a form of seclusion where they don’t even get out of the house. So they have not been included in the economy yet. It is important to say that women who work in countries where there isn’t that much formal work, all the women work. They work in the fields and they’re largely exploited. So sometimes it’s tapped, but it’s exploitive. 

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That’s a big distinction. Often it is women who work on the lower tiers.
The way I often think about it is the percentage of female labor force participation starts on one end of the spectrum with the Scandinavian countries and China and goes to a smaller percentage through the middle and then jumps up real big again when you get to the very poor countries because those countries don’t have any industry developed and those women are just out there breaking their backs.

You write that 80 percent of the Earth’s farmable surface is owned by men and that their economic dependency leads to violence. As I was reading your book, every page was another hell-hole of what women have gone through and continue to go through. So how do we change the culture of violence towards women?
I thought so too. I think we should be rooting out anything about warriors in boys’ toys and not encouraging warrior worship in girls. We need to move as far away from it as we can. There is no question at this point that the whole package of traditional masculinity is poison and is very damaging to little boys. It leads them to think manhood equals violence. 

A culture of violence has a big impact on women’s ability to engage economically. Economic empowerment can protect women from some forms of violence because it gives them the means to get out, whether the toxic environment is home or work.

We have seen a phenomenal purge and uproar over the egregious murder of George Floyd. It feels like there is a real possibility for systematic change. You wrote that it was only due to civil rights that certain protections were made for women. While second wave feminism was notorious for excluding women of color, how do you believe the feminist movement and the Black Lives Matter movement will intersect on a policy level?
They are absolutely intertwined. All the women’s rights have come under civil rights, specifically designed for race. It is also the case that people who have issues with gender equality almost always are racist and homophobic. Those kinds of prejudices do tend to travel together, so the fact that that’s the case should help these movements move together. 

Linda Scott. Rick Bern

Let’s talk about patriarchy and capitalism. Many feminists argue feminism and capitalism cannot coexist.
I’m not a big fan of capitalism either, I have to say. I think it’s just gotten really untethered to anything reasonable and that process has been going on since Reagan, but has gotten so much worse in the last five or ten years. On the other hand, I don’t think socialism is the solution either. So basically where I stand is sort of a controlled capitalism Elizabeth Warren called “markets with rules,” and that’s where I think we need to be. 

I am basically arguing these days that patriarchy is the main piece, that’s the main problem for women,and that capitalism is just a plug in. So is socialism. 

Do you have hope that we really can shift? I mean, do you think the Double X Economy is actually doable?
Oh gosh yes. I would not have written this book if I didn’t think it could be done. I absolutely think it can be done, and now is this time. Economics is such that there’s so much drive to growth. It’s crazy if you’re about growth to be ignoring, in some cases, almost half your economy. It’s just nuts!  That’s the other thing I wanted to say about untapped potential. In the United States, for example, you only have about 66 percent of the women working, but it’s not [untapped] in the sense that they produce 40 percent of GDP. Right now with the pandemic there is a need to get the economy going really fast, to get the GDP back up, but there’s not very much attention being paid to how the women need to be handled to get back in, and it’s becoming very clear all over the world right now, at least across the western nations, that women are being differently affected.

So how do we get women to raise the GDP and how are women being differently affected?
There are two lessons I hope come out real strong during this pandemic. One is the value of unpaid labor—that those are serious demands—and the second is childcare. The idea that you are ever going to solve this whole inequality problem by letting women work from home—I don’t know, I’ve been with a four year old for three months and I had three big deadlines coming when the pandemic hit, and trying to work those deadlines and take care of her with no babysitter, no nothing—how do people expect that to be done? Well, you can’t.

How do we solve that?
The answer to that is always childcare. The answer to everything, honestly is universal, affordable, high-quality childcare.

How do we pay for that?
So as far as I can tell, it really does look to me like you can pay for it, and you can pay for it almost immediately. But the government thinks of childcare as an unarmed gift to women, something that has to come out of the pocket change at the end of the budget. I think one of the things that is going to come out is the idea that childcare is infrastructure. Not only because it allows female work, but also because you really need to have a better investment in children than what we have.

Do you think unpaid labor can be paid for?
I don’t necessarily think it can be paid for. A lot of other economists and people in this area are saying we need to at least attach a dollar figure to it so we can value it [for the GDP]. You know even when women work, they still do more of the unpaid labor. So there’s a big drive to try and quantify that, because it’s invisible to people. And I kind of think this experience of everybody having to go home and either do it themselves—or watch it being done by their partner, mother, or sister or whoever it is—is going to really slap people in the face. I mean, I have not done this many loads of dishes… I don’t think ever. 

So obviously we need more women in power—women judges, women in politics, women CEOs. But what should women be fighting for on a policy level?
I think it’s really important to start being very specific so you know what you need done. One thing we’ve just been talking about is that women who stay at home really have not been addressed by the feminist movement. There was a bifurcation that should have never happened and I really feel like those women have become more vulnerable not less. They are hugely vulnerable at the time of divorce, and if they start working again, they’ll have smaller pensions, smaller social securities, smaller everything when they retire.

I’ve heard some men complain about how the divorce laws are all in favor of women, which can’t be true. I really liked that you distinguished the good men from the bullies throughout history.
There have never been as many good men as there are now, so I think it’s really important not to tar everyone with the same brush. But yes, I’ve heard those kinds of things too. “Oh, well she cleaned my clock,” kind of thing. I’ve got to tell you. That just really doesn’t fit with the statistics. The statistics say that the women really take a slide, the children take a slide. They are very likely to fall into poverty. So that is just BS. I think another thing I would want to see is women taking a better look at the issue of capital. People don’t invest in them, and women also don’t exercise as much control within the family over family assets. And that has to do with custom, really. And it’s something that did come up in the second wave, but that nobody really follows as much.

So if you look at the epilogue, I’ve listed what I think the priorities should be. I’ve listed them according to how low the fruit is hanging. The first one is this business about these contracts that nobody notices, especially in the press, so let’s fix that.

You mean the arbitration contracts that many American companies force employees to sign? You wrote that those laws were held constitutional by the conservative Supreme court.
Yes. That’s the first thing. Those have to go and that’s in everybody’s interest. The second thing is childcare. It’s difficult, but doable. There’s no question that’s going to make the most difference. They need to push on that until they win. I mean seriously until they win and don’t ever give up.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

‘Childcare Is Infrastructure’: Linda Scott’s Model for Economic Growth Relies on Women