Why Families are the Economy’s Building Block
In all the talk about economic policies, the family is usually ignored. Yet, it is the family that should be a basis for economic development, argues IMELDA DIOUF.
Big things start with small things — Or, to put it in more technical terms: macro-economics is founded on micro-economics. A skilled nation starts with education and training of children; a healthy population starts with lifestyle choices within the home; non-violence starts with peaceful families; and a non-corrupt society starts with norms and values passed from generation to generation.
And yet we find that legislators, policymakers, economists and planners continue to focus on the big issues, and in the process marginalise “soft” issues. Their debates are fixated on words like macro-economics, infrastructure development, labour market, capital accumulation, technological advancement. Powerful topics discussed by powerful people! National and international interest groups craft and package language in a way that excludes matters of family.
But raise the topic of family, and suddenly an unsexy subject is placed on the agenda. It would appear that the subject of family is to be avoided. The temperature in the room drops and the excuses start. “Not our mandate. We don’t deal with family. This should be taken to Social Welfare. A local issue.” Or one of my personal favourites: “Not now. Be patient. Functioning systems will lead to trickle-down and members of the family will eventually benefit!” But these oft-repeated statements defy logic.
Societies comprise systems. Political, economic, technological, ecological systems and many others are connected and interdependent. Just like a family! The individual components are linked. Even dysfunctional and struggling families are interdependent. The status, position and behaviour of one member will profoundly affect the situation of others; often into future generations. Therefore the economy of the family is the foundation of a post-Covid economy. Entrepreneurial and caring families are part of the future.
In all the policy talk, there’s one spark of hope. The government’s White Paper on Families views the family as a key development imperative to overall socio-economic development in the country. One of the specific objectives is to “empower families and their members by enabling them to identify, negotiate around, and maximise economic, labour market, and other opportunities available in the country”.
Economic success within families will improve self-sufficiency through expanded opportunities to work and thus earn a living wage that provides for the basic needs of the family. It will also help to build an asset-base that will grow the family over time. Owning and maintaining a home and being financially secure into old age are part of being a secure family over generations.
Macroeconomics starts with household-budgeting and financial planning. The role of the family in society is not only about the care-economy, but it is also about economic development. The strengthened family is fundamental to the hard business of an economically skilled and productive society. So let’s move the family firmly onto the agenda of big players.
Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ details the need to correct models of growth to include concern for family, social equality and rights for future generations. In a letter to young people, Pope Francis pleads that future economists and entrepreneurs, based on the teachings of St Francis of Assisi, must be interested in a different kind of economy: one which brings life and inclusivity, humanity and care for the environment. None of this can take place outside the basic unit of society — the family.
Imelda Diouf is the director of the Sekwele Centre for Family Studies, based in Bethlehem, Free State (www.sekwele.org).