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The Commodification of Care




This paper discusses the question whether care work for dependent persons (children, the elderly, and disabled persons) may be entrusted to the market; that is, whether and to what extent there is a normative justification for the “commodification of care.” It first proposes a capability theory for care that raises two relevant demands: a basic capability for receiving care and a capability for giving care. Next it discusses and rejects two objections that aim to show that market-based care undermines the caring motives essential to care, one of them because of its reliance on contracts and the other because of the corrupting influence of payment on motivation. If market care is in principle legitimate, the commodification question transforms into one about the appropriate combinations of market and non-market care. This question can be answered only by adding an additional complication: care is to be balanced against other activities, most notably work for the labor market. This brings in the problem of gender inequality, since paid work has been traditionally distributed to men and caring activities to women. I show how the capability theory of caring presented in this paper can help resolve the dispute between competing models for balancing work and caring.