10. Opposite Sex Economics

I am writing this entry because I believe women might really be good at rethinking the very basis of our failed economic system. A new approach to resolving our current economic problems is essential. We have to get out of the box into which we have packed ideological economics.

Women endorse a more socially just way of living in harmony with the natural world. They try not to let economic problems rule their lives or dictate their choices. They frequently give voice to greater income equality and sharing. They generally endorse sustainability, a greener economy and embrace life support systems not only for children but also for air, water and land. Above all they are more flexible in their positioning.1

Men have proven themselves to be excessively rigid. Perhaps this is just a physiological inevitability? In the UK, for example, David “Bedroom Tax” Cameron has been unable to shift his stance on austerity despite the widespread criticism of economists and the widespread suffering of the population.

Women, as opposed to men, are not opposed to a larger role for the government in managing the economy. They generally do not consider the economy as being over-regulated. But they are troubled by the fact that such an economic power-house as Goldman Sachs has almost no women at top levels of management and at the same time can place these men at the top levels of government and banking not only in the United States but in many other countries as well.

The general lack of acceptance by men of the views of women when it comes to economics is rather startling. Contentious females, like Naomi Klein and Naomi Wolf, both of whom write wonderful books (which I openly admire) analyzing the dangerous direction in which our global societies are moving, are not listened to (or read) by many men. Neither of these Naomis is an economist — they are more into sociology — but both believe the  overly intense focus by elected officials on economic policy to resolve problems of population changes, global warming, or growth is not tenable.

Curiously, although open-market trading has often been dominated by women and still is in countries like Nigeria, men — starting with Adam Smith — have dominated economics since its very beginning as a dismal science. Back in 1898, the American sociologist and writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman suggested “the economic independence and specialization of women as essential.”2 Gilman proclaimed that “When the mother of the race is free, we shall have a better world, by the easy right of birth and by the calm, slow, friendly forces of evolution.”

Two generations later, Joan Robinson one of the foremost female economists of the 20th Century (whom I had the honor to know in Cambridge) asserted somewhat cynically that “The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.” Being a devoted Marxist, which caused her to be dismissed by the predominantly American-dominated schools of economic scholarship, she claimed that “The fundamental differences between Marxian and traditional orthodox economics are, first, that the orthodox economists accept the capitalist system as part of the eternal order of Nature, while Marx regards it as a passing phase in the transition from the feudal economy of the past to the socialist economy of the future.3

A generation later, Naomi Klein, writing from her outlook as a Canadian observed that “A term like capitalism is incredibly slippery, because there’s such a range of different kinds of market economies. Essentially, we’ve been debating over what parts of the economy are not suitable to being decided by the profit motive.” She pointed out that in the United States, Canadian ideas on unsuitable areas for the profit motive, like firefighting, were simply absent from male dominated discussion.4

A broader female perspective on our global economic structure has been given by the sociologist Naomi Wolf : “The economics of industrialized countries would collapse if women didn’t do the work they do for free: According to economist Marilyn Waring, throughout the West it generates between 25 and 40 percent of the gross national product.”4

Christiane Lagarde, as the first female head of the IMF, has said that “The financial industry is a service industry. It should serve others before it serves itself.” But then she was never an economist. Discussing global finance she has said that “left to themselves men are apt to make a mess of things.”

The male dominated world finds it hard to accept the logical consequence of such female declarations. Re-directing the economy to accommodate these positions would require  more radical rethinking than they are willing to contemplate.

I also want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that women collectively or individually cannot make grave economic errors. Margaret Thatcher was as inflexible as any man. She shifted the UK economy from being a manufacturing and merchandising one into one which became dependent on the banking strength of The City (of London). She also privatized large sectors of the economy such as the railroads, British Airways, British Telecom etc., and crippled Britain’s mining industry. The UK is now suffering because of her often brash and narrowly motivated political decisions.

Generally women, unlike men, try not to let economic problems rule their lives or dictate their own choices. They are eager to express their appreciation of joy in life. Perhaps that is ultimately what is most missing in the continuing gray-suited image of all those long-faced males still directing the global mishandling of economic policies. Consequently I am proposing that one of the truly radical economic alternatives open to us is to give women the opportunity to bring a breath of fresh air into the global economic atmosphere.

2Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
3Joan Robinson, Essays in the Theory of Economic Growth,1963, p. 1.
4Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, 2007
4Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women, 1991

4 thoughts on “10. Opposite Sex Economics

  1. “The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists”. Funny – that is EXACTLY why I did a Masters in Economics!!

  2. Interestingly, the only banks that survived the financial crash in Iceland were entirely run by women….

    The challenge of course, is that feminism or feminist economics has to include men. So its perhaps not about just giving women a voice, but enabling both men and women to express themselves in non-traditional male ways.

    Yorick, you may be interested in reading this article I co-authored sometime ago which parallels your thinking. (chapter 4) http://www.1010global.org/sites/default/files/COM_Good_Society_Green_Society_04%5B1%5D.pdf

  3. Fabulous article, Yorick! I wholeheartedly agree, and there are many areas of modern life and politics where women should have a much more prominent role. Men are in crisis. In a post feminist world we have neglected to look at what is wrong with how men perceive themselves and what their role should be. Consequently men, quite rightly forced into considering the rights of women, and yet still operating within an essentially patriarchal society, are confused about who they are. A lack of confidence in young men and male schoolchildren has been hampering performance and growth for some time. And so it is that men, in this under-confident and diminished state, seem to be holding on to their old systems and ways of being rather than relinquishing power or inviting advice from women. Thank you for the thought-provoking words you write. Very refreshing!

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