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What If Our Economy Valued What Matters?

In an economy that treats gross domestic product as the ultimate end, people and the planet are mere means, and much of the work that sustains society is ignored entirely. This status quo is not only pathological, unsustainable, and bad for our health; it is also entirely unnecessary.

LONDON – Care is the life-giving force that sustains health and well-being, binding together societies and ecologies. But everyday forms of care, though essential, are systematically undervalued. Most care is provided by women, whose contributions are celebrated on International Women’s Day, even though they should be marked every day of the year.

The COVID-19 crisis has stretched our caring capabilities and highlighted the fundamental but underappreciated role that they play in our society. As we take stock of the pandemic’s wreckage, we must use this moment to overhaul how we measure value, and thus how we organize the global economy. The goal should be to create an economy that supports the health and well-being of every person on the planet, as well as the health of the planet itself. We currently have the inverse: a system that values health only as a means to the end of economic growth.

The World Health Organization’s all-woman Council on the Economics of Health for All was established to lead this paradigm shift. We believe that this year’s International Women’s Day is the perfect occasion for launching a radical revaluation of care and the economy. Even though the pandemic is still taking lives and creating a political impetus for transforming economic governance structures, the window of opportunity is closing. We are in grave danger of returning to the old siloed approach, whereby only “formal” economic sectors are said to create value.