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Justice in Caregiving

Parties, as we have described them, would choose this list of lexically ordered principles:

1. Each person (cooperating and not) has the same indefeasible claim to the satisfaction of basic needs, including the need for caregiving to survive and thrive.

  • 2. Each person has the same indefeasible claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all. (Among the liberties is being free of forced caregiving for particular others, including socialization to the discrete social role of caregiver.)
  • 3. Each person has the same indefeasible claim to being able to provide or procure the caregiving their (cooperating or non-cooperating) dependents need to survive and thrive (so long as they are willing and otherwise able).
  • 4. Social and economic inequalities satisfy these conditions:

a. They are attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.

b. They do not track caregiver status.

c. They do not track historical patterns of injustice.31

d. They are to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members of society.

I lack space to explore each of these principles and how they relate to other sets in the literature.321 will highlight one contrast, however. Asha Bhandary argues that parties would choose a principle that would recognize, as an injustice, when members of an historically disadvantaged group are over-represented among those providing caregiving (Bhandary 2020, 90). The principles I have presented here don’t capture that as an injustice. Instead, they suggest what is unjust is when receiving less care when one needs it, and being able to provide less care to one’s dependents (as long as one as willing and otherwise able), tracks being a member of an historically disadvantaged group. Bhandary argues also that parties would choose a principle that requires that providing caregiving is spread broadly through the population, so that no one group comes to specialize in caregiving (91). The principles I have presented here don’t capture that as an injustice. Instead, they suggest that a just society could include groups that specialize in caregiving, so long as their doing so is fully voluntary and not disadvantaging.

This conception of justice is presented as a freestanding view. First, to use Rawls’s words, it is “a moral conception . . . worked out for a specific subject, namely ... for the basic structure of a democratic society” (2001, 26). On this account, as we have seen, the basic structure includes the full array of institutions and social arrangements through which society’s caregiving needs are satisfied. (It does not cordon off some of this structure, the way Rawls’s conception does.) Including in the basic structure the institutional and associational framework through which society’s caregiving needs are satisfied is not to propose principles of justice as an ethic to govern the internal workings of institutions and associations involved in caregiving. For example, it is not proposed as an ethic to govern the internal workings of family life. To be sure, all political conceptions of justice have implications for the internal workings of institutions and social arrangements. But these implications apply to institutions and associations insofar as they are parts of a system of institutions and associations that make up the basic structure. Second, this conception does not rely for its grounding on any particular comprehensive moral doctrine. It is “formulated ... solely in terms of fundamental ideas familiar from, or implicit in, the public political culture of a democratic society” (2001, 27).

What arrangements might allow our society to comply with these principles? To ensure receipt of needed caregiving, measures may be necessary to support the supply of caregiving. Caregiver allowances could free individuals from remunerative work so (if they choose to) they could be available to provide hands-on caregiving. Affordable or free replacement caregiving could ensure that dependents receive the caregiving they need when their loved ones are unable to provide it or choose to pursue other activities. Educational institutions and workplaces could be regulated to allow the combination of education and paid work with caregiving. And, as Bhandary argues, schools might teach caregiving skills to boys as well as girls, in a way that validates the public and nongendered value of providing and receiving caregiving (Bhandary 2020, 138-156).

To ensure the voluntariness of caregiving, family planning services are necessary. Access to replacement caregiving could ensure that those with dependents are not forced to provide all needed caregiving. Nongendered instruction in caregiving in schools could undermine the association of women with caregiving, freeing up boys and men to take on caregiving. This, in turn, could reduce any tendency of families to raise girls to the discrete social role of caregiver. Caregiver allowances could free persons up to choose caregiving and could protect those who might otherwise become vulnerable to domination by a partner on whom they are economically dependent.

How to secure caregiver nondisadvantage? To avoid disadvantage vis- a-vis income and wealth, adequate pay for those employed as caregivers, but also a caregiver allowance for those providing caregiving for their own dependents, whether full- or part-time, might be called for. Free replacement caregiving services could ensure that those who choose education or paid work full-time do not carry caregiving’s financial cost. Nondisadvantage could also be served by adequate pay and benefits for part-time work by policies that facilitate the combination of caregiving with education or remunerative work and by on-ramps for caregivers entering or re-entering paid work. Replacement caregiving services could serve to promote the fair value of the political liberties by freeing up caregivers for political participation, and representative bodies could take steps to ensure representation of caregivers on party slates or proportional representation in elected bodies.

How to ensure that arrangements don’t track historical patterns of injustice? The measures described earlier would go a long way toward addressing this and thus communicating the equal worthiness of each person to receive and give needed caregiving. But additional measures may be necessary to avoid the clustering of members of historically disadvantaged groups among the least well-off with respect to caregiving. What measures are likely to be effective will be highly contextual, responding to social and historical specificity.55 We can imagine something like the Head Start program, where members of historically disadvantaged groups receive an extra helping of caregiving. Some have proposed a care corps (Brake 2017). Principles of justice in caregiving insist that whatever measures are undertaken support the caregiving capabilities of caregivers in historically disadvantaged communities and not replace them.

The point is not that justice requires these particular arrangements and institutions. Presumably, a society could satisfy principles of justice, including justice in caregiving, in a variety of ways. Precisely what arrangements we should have is a matter for constitutional and legislative deliberation.

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