If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics

Marilyn Waring (author); Harper Collins, 1988

By Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg (reviewer)

AS A MEMBER of Parliament in New Zealand, economist Marilyn Waring used to chair the Public Expenditures Select Committee, working with economic measurements that made women's work invisible and disguised the value of the environment and of peace. In her book she documents how these invisibilities have been institutionalized, skewing policy and neglecting the needs of half of humankind. In particular, she blasts the United Nations System of National Accounts (UNSNA), with which all countries calculate the economic value of transactions. Waring was shocked to realize the importance of the UNSNA and that it did not account for the things that she valued in her country: a pollution-free environment; trees that give oxygen, shade, and beauty; mountain streams with safe drinking water. These counted for nothing when it came to calculating private consumption expenditure, government expenditure, or gross domestic capital formation. It was virtually impossible for her, as a politician, to prove that child care facilities were needed. "Nonproducers" (housewives and mothers) are not in the economic cycle and cannot expect to be visible in the distribution of benefits that flow from production.

Such injustices result from the use of the UNSNA, the international system of economic measurement which is the language of international finance. The statistical reports of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the the U.N. agencies of nation-states are based on these measurements. These reports in turn become the basis for assessing annual contributions, evaluating development programs, and deciding which nations deserve aid. Multinational corporations use these statistics for overseas investments and governments use them to plan and to forecast trends. Yet the figures are rigged!

National income accounts evolved in such a way as to justify paying for wars. Only cash-generating activities were taken into account to ensure that countries could determine balance of payments and loan requirements. The debt crisis in the developing countries has resulted from this system. Banks are interested only in the cash-generating capacity of debtor countries, not in their productive capacity.

Waring shows that death is more "valuable" than life, according to this scheme. She contrasts the amount that nations provide for killing (a trillion dollars per year) to the tiny amounts spent on health, education, food, preventive medicine, environmental protection, and clean water. Calling the realms of economics "murderous," she proposes a different, feminist economic conception that would reflect the worth of the planet and the human population. Men, she says, make most of these decisions and exclude the value of environment, peace, women, and children. Militarism comes from attributing little or no monetary value to peace.

Valuing Life

A nation's annual budget should reflect real wealth. It should enable us to answer such questions as: Who does the work-paid and unpaid-and where is it done? What is the position of the children and the aged? Who is not housed adequately? Who has the poorest health? What changes have occurred in the water and air quality, and why? Where does pollution exist? What causes it, and what the its health costs? What national resources have been harvested or conserved? Who carries the burden of caring for others? What is the scope of subsistence production and what are the nutritional results? Waring says that such a budget would terrify many politicians, but that some are beginning to change. U

Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg is a Toronto feminist and environmentalist.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1992

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1992, page 27. Some rights reserved.

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