No less a deep thinker than New York’s junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, told us.
Paid leave is infrastructure.
Child care is infrastructure.
Caregiving is infrastructure.
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) April 7, 2021
Is that it? Not necessarily.
“And that, my friends, is why bananas are infrastructure, too.” pic.twitter.com/RwxhUfCaj2
— Andy Grewal (@AndyGrewal) April 8, 2021
As the paper of record, the New York Times gave up some of its valuable real estate to clear things up.
I have spent the past two weeks reading about the infrastructure debate with mounting rage. When a reporter asked me recently why I felt so strongly, I sputtered, groping for the words. Ultimately, however, the answer is simple. Insisting that there is actually a fixed definition of what infrastructure is — bridges, but not baby care — perfectly encapsulates the ways in which the world is still shaped by men. Not just conservative men, but men across the political spectrum.
It’s unclear what Anne-Marie Slaughter’s feelings of rage have to do with anything, except perhaps her need to inform readers of her emotional issues that cause her to sputter and grope(?).
But that idea is foreign to Republicans who are framing their fight against the Biden infrastructure plan in terms of what some call “real infrastructure” — roads, bridges, ports and airports — versus what has been dubbed “liberal social programs,” including supporting home-based and community care. This is a view shared by many men on the center and the left who would otherwise support care provisions as a matter of social policy. As Jordan Weissman, a Slate business reporter, blithely tweeted: “We don’t have to pretend that every good thing is ‘infrastructure.’”
Her argument is that the “care economy,” meaning child and elder care, are important factors contributing to the growth and vibrancy of our economy. You may well agree, whether because it personally serves your self-interest or addresses a serious need that can no longer rely on women as the predominant care providers to shoulder the burden so men can go out and achieve success in the workplace.
Even though child care is no longer in issue in my household, and elder care has yet to be a personal issue as well, there is a very real need to address these questions. Care is a big deal. Care is complicated. Care is necessary, even as it presents a great many serious hurdles which can’t be sloughed off by fantasies or platitudes.
But what care is not is infrastructure. So why is anyone making the ridiculous argument that infrastructure, the durable physical assets necessary to a functioning nation and economy, include “paid leave, childcare, caregiving,” as the sage Gillibrand says? Because it’s in there.
This is not a matter of semantics. Infrastructure “of a country, society, or organization,” according to the Collins Dictionary, “consists of the basic facilities … which enable it to function.” I’ve inserted an ellipsis in place of the clause “such as transportation, communications, power supplies, and buildings.” That is the hard physical infrastructure that seemingly everyone agrees is what infrastructure “really” means.
Hard physical infrastructure? Fair enough.
But let’s take at face value that infrastructure are those facilities that are essential for everyone to do their jobs. It makes sense that men with wives at home to take on the 16-hour-a-day care responsibilities involved in raising children, supporting aged parents or otherwise tending to the sick, those with disabilities and the vulnerable would need roads and bridges to grease the wheels of commerce and allow them access to their desks and deals. But let’s imagine — it’s not that hard — a scenario in which those same men didn’t have wives at home and yet still wanted to have children, or to ensure that their own parents received love and support in their final years. In that case, they, too, might just find that care facilities were themselves just as “essential” to their ability to do paid work.
How did “hard physical infrastructure” magically morph into “facilities that are essential for everyone to do their jobs”? Slaughter didn’t even try to play the game. She just went there, expecting no one to question her blind leap of faith in humanity not to notice. Or care.
But I care. I care about caregiving. I agree that it’s essential to figure out how we’re going to deal with the problems of raising children when women remain the primary caregivers and yet want to enjoy the same right to succeed in the workplace as men. I care about what our aging population, alive because medical science has kept us breathing if not quite functional, will demand of younger people. I care a lot. It’s just not infrastructure, and sneaking it in under the guise of infrastructure means we won’t discuss it, think hard about it, debate it, agree upon it. All we’ll get to do is pay for it. So yes, I care. But it’s still no more infrastructure than bananas.