Hillary: What about "Womenomics"?

Maybe Hillary just has bad timing. She just so happens to be running for Prez when the country is suffering from a virulent strain of Bush fatigue, exacerbated by a recurring post-Clinton hangover, having downed a bottle of vintage 1990s neoliberal economics served in a really hot-looking stock-bubble glass. Now, we're all on the rocks.

That's one part Newt Gingrich eye, two parts corporate-friendly trade agreement, preferably NAFTA brand, with a few shots of right-wing Monica Lewinsky pucker to really give you that warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

Throw in the fact that Hillary is running against a political Barackstar and -- man -- she's really up against it. (Though it's possible she could pull it off, with the help of superdelegates and a few million stubborn voters in Texas and Ohio).

Not that Hillary hasn't talked about the historic possibility of being the nation's first female president. But, why hasn't she played the "gender card" -- to the hilt? And I'm not saying that just because March is Women's History Month.

Ever hear of "womenomics?"

Though the term has been around since at least 1999 (and probably longer in feminist circles), "womenomics" really made a splash in April 2006 when The Economist chose to focus on the untapped Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth to be had in closing the gender gap.

"Arguably, women are now the most powerful engine of global growth," The Economist observed, laying out the case for why it makes economic sense to increase the participation, and pay, of women in the workforce, the world-over.

Anticipating the (sexist?) counterargument that the more women work, the fewer children they will have, Economist editors offered this rebuttal:

"It seems that if higher female labour participation is supported by the right policies, it need not reduce fertility. To make full use of their national pools of female talent, governments need to remove obstacles that make it hard for women to combine work with having children. This may mean offering parental leave and child care, allowing more flexible working hours, and reforming tax and social-security systems that create disincentives for women to work."

Again, last year, The Economist trumpeted the blessings of "womenomics," perceptively noting: "men run the world's economies; but it may be up to women to rescue them."

The editorial cited a study by Goldman Sachs economist Kevin Daly. Analyzing workforce participation rates, Daly's study found Sweden to have the smallest gender gap, with less than five percentage points separating the sexes. In Italy, Japan and Spain, the spread is 20 points.

"Suppose, says Mr. Daly, that women's employment rates were raised to the same level as men's; and suppose that GDP rose in proportion with employment. Then America's GDP would be 9 percent higher, the euro zone's would be 13 percent more, and Japan's would be boosted by 16 percent."

If you read Goldman Sach's Japan portfolio strategy -- Womenomics: Japan's Hidden Asset -- you'll get a better sense of what the economic enthusiasm is all about.

"Don't underestimate the power of the purse," Goldman Sachs alerted their Japanese investors. "Womenomics is likely to become a secular investment theme, and we identify potential beneficiaries."

The "potential beneficiaries" include: daycare facilities and nursing homes; real estate and financial services; apparel and accessories; beauty products; and yes, temp agencies, just to name a few.

Then, there's the 2005 World Economic Forum study -- Women's Empowerment: Measuring the Global Gender Gap. That report, complete with charts and graphs, looked beyond workforce participation and identified five criteria of female economic empowerment, including benchmarks that analyze the quality of women's involvement in the economy.

The quality question, "is a particularly serious problem in developed countries, where women may gain employment with relative ease, but where their employment is either concentrated in poorly paid or unskilled job 'ghettos,' characterized by the absence of upward mobility and opportunity."

Among the 58 nations studied, in terms of gender gap size, the U.S. ranked 17th -- behind Lithuania and Estonia, for the love of Susan B. Anthony!

What if Hillary had made "womenomics" the centerpiece of her platform? With the likes of Goldman Sachs and a manly magazine like The Economist heralding the endeavor, we might not be talking so much about the Senator from Illinois.

Of course, the problem with all this economic growth stuff is: how long can our planet survive metastasizing GDP growth before it turns into a cancer?

Sadly, those kind of disturbing questions are anathema to presidential politics. There's "change" and then there's change.

Sean Gonsalves is a syndicated columnist and an assistant news editor for the Cape Cod Times. He can be reached at sgonsalves@capecodonline.com

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