Women and the Economy, a project of the UN platform for action committee, provides an excellent synopsis of Marilyn Waring's work Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women are Worth:
Many people have heard the terms GDP and GNP thrown around by political leaders and economists, and perhaps even people we relate to in our daily lives. Some of us may even use those words ourselves. GDP (or Gross Domestic Product) is probably the most commonly used economic indicator in our society. However, few of us know where this system originated. Feminist economist Marilyn Waring tells us that GDP and GNP come from a small calculation in the UN System of National Accounts (UNSNA). Waring's ground-breaking book Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women are Worth, first published in 1988, is devoted to demystifying the UNSNA. Why does Waring believe the structure of the UNSNA is so important to understand? She explains:
When international reports and writers refer to women as statistically or economically invisible, it is the UNSNA that has made it so. When it dawns on you that militarism and the destruction of the environment are recorded as growth, it is the UNSNA that has made it so. When you are seeking out the most vicious tools of colonisation, those that can obliterate a culture and a nation, a tribe or a people's value system, then rank the UNSNA among those tools. When you yearn for a breath of nature's fresh air or a glass of radioactive-free water, remember that the UNSNA says that both are worthless.
The UNSNA is the mechanism that has allowed women's work and much of the rest of life to be made invisible and subsequently ignored and deemed unimportant in measures of economic progress. In order to change this, women need to know how the system works.
Read more here.
One aspect of Waring's book that I find particularly interesting is her historical account of the the Gross Domestic Product or GDP. The GDP, according to Waring was invented during the Second World War by the British economists Gilbert, Stone, and Keynes. Given the task of determining whether the war was economically viable, they came to the conclusion that war could be good for the economy in that it would have a positive impact on the national growth rate. In fact, one of the papers, co-authored by Keynes and Stone, was titled 'The National Income Expenditure and How to Pay for the War'.
It is disturbing to think that economic measures which count war as productive, while discounting caring activities and subsistence agriculture, are guiding the global economy. These measures are used by such institutions as the World Bank and most countries have been encouraged to adopt these methods of measuring 'productive activity'.
Coincidentally, I viewed the recently released film Why We Fight right around the time I was reading Waring's book. The film makes a frighteningly strong case that war is fueled by the highly profitable military-industrial-complex. You can watch the trailer here.
These issues are too vast for me to cover in one blog post (at least, with my brain running at about 20% capacity with ongoing illness). But, I hope to have provided some food for thought. I'd love to hear people's thoughts on these issues.
Books and Film:
Waring, M. (1999). Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women are Worth (2nd Ed.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press
Who's Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics (1995), directed by Terre Nash and distributed by The National Film Board of Canada
Mies, M., & Bennholdt-Thomsen, V. (1999). The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalized Economy. London: Zed Books.
More Related Links:
'Military Keynesianism', Wikipedia
'Alternative Economic Measures', Women and the Economy Project of United Nations Platform for Action Committee