Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick points out today that the employment rate of Australian mothers with a youngest child under six (49.6 per cent) is 10 per cent below the OECD average of 59.2 per cent. She further writes that although Australia is rated number one for women's educational achievement, we are ranked 41 in women's workforce participation. This is a waste of the nation's resources ...
So according to the editor of The Age it is a waste of the nation's resources for women to look after their young children at home. Motherhood, it seems, fails the test of efficiency.
The thing to remember here is that paid maternity leave is a radical policy. It assumes that it is not men as husbands who are responsible for providing for their wives, but the state. It is a further shift toward the idea that the fundamental relationship in society is between ourselves as an individual and the state.
Why are the elite so keen on it? Sometimes it's justified in terms of autonomy. The argument runs that autonomy is the key good; that money and a career is the basis of female autonomy; and that therefore as a matter of justice women should aim primarily at careers. Paid maternity leave means that women's lives are organised through their careers rather than through membership of a family.
When I first read the editorial I was also reminded of Jim Kalb's descriptions of the modern managerial elite. This elite assume that society is a system for the equal satisfaction of desires. They therefore look to organise society in a technocratic way to achieve this aim. This means creating a system which is centralised and which only recognises distinctions relevant for the functioning of a market or a bureaucracy.
Kalb describes the attitude of the managerial elite as follows:
Their affiliations lead them to look at society from above, as a neutral system to be supervised, controlled and reconfigured by experts and functionaries to advance the goals that seem sensible to them. They think it rational to replace traditional institutions like the family, religion and local community by principles that seem simpler, more direct, and easier to understand and manage - contract, expertise, individual choice and bureaucratic regulation. (The Tyranny of Liberalism, pp.276-277)
The fundamental principle—the demand for the abolition of distinctions that relate to social arrangements other than markets and rationalized bureaucracies—remains the same, while its application has grown ... to yet more fundamental institutions such as the family.