Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

98: Marilyn Waring Part II:
The UNSNA a History

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

The UNSNA “system acts to sustain, in the ideology of patriarchy, the universal enslavement of women and Mother Earth in their productive and reproductive activities [(Q1)]….The profession of economics is that of a limited social group – economically privileged, university-educated, white men. [(Q2)] It serves neither the majority of humankind nor our fragile planet. Its structure and content have a design and a beguiling propaganda.” (Q3)

The UNSNA is the latest in attempts to measure what is valuable in economic terms. It has proven very useful in justifying public policy and in fact due to its selective and incomplete facts, the system predetermines what policies are thinkable. Its information serves not to teach but to legitimize the methodology that generates its system. “‘The system has become accepted as so self-evident that is hard to realize that someone had to invent it’” (Q4)

Various schemes have been around since antiquity but the author starts her history of the attempts to measure the national income in 1665 with Sir William Petty, then Francois Quesnay to Adam Smith then all the who’s who of economic thinkers to John Maynard Keynes: all well off, dead, white men describing their experience. Starting in 1909 income from market activities became the defacto definition of income. However, “If we are concerned solely with market measurements, we are unable to establish the true living conditions (as opposed to average standard of living) of a population.” (Q5) In 1939 John Maynard Keynes and Richard Stone adapted the existing system in order to organize the economy and pay for WWII. Material production was paramount, for example war machines and war supplies were more likely to win the war than consumer products or immaterial affective goods and services. The war was the priority. The welfare of the people was a distant secondary (if existing) concern. Their ideas were disseminated in the paper: “The National Income and Expenditure of the United Kingdom, and How to Pay for the War”. In the US, in June 1943, the system in this paper allowed Roosevelt to get a war budget to appear feasible and passed through Congress where the older model would not have allowed the war expenditures to appear feasible. After the war this paper was the foundation of Stone’s work with the UN in developing the UNSNA. It is the system that has now been adopted by virtually every nation on earth.

The UNSNA is a system designed to win a war with (war) material production. The size of a country’s GDP is indicative of the resources that can potentially be (or are) directed to a war effort. Thus the manufacture of consumer products is indicative of resources that can be retooled and repurposed to fight a war. The UNSNA has no ability or at least a hobbled ability to measure reproduction, poverty, wellbeing (individual, societal or environmental), equality, or immaterial production or value. Consumer spending is a measure of the money that can be taxed or excised to help direct future war effort. In between wars it helps a future war effort if consumer spending is ever growing as it maintains production facilities and creates a store of funds for “emergencies”. This means that, “much of the economic discipline is a matter of perception, and what does or does not constitute production could depend on the way you see the world. And it does.” A system designed to marshal productive forces to fight and win a war is not likely the best economic system for people. (Q6)

The world view created by the UNSNA, like all world views, privileges some groups and disadvantages others; makes some notions appear self-evident and others unthinkable. Questions like: “what constitutes production?” and the relative placement of economic entities within or outside an arbitrary production boundary create the UNSNA’s world view. Consider the work done in subsistence farming: it is work; it keeps households alive. But since there is no surplus produced that could be directed to market activity or to a war effort, subsistence farming is outside the production boundary of the UNSNA – as is almost all unpaid labour. This boundary systematically excludes traditional women’s work from the notion of production. (The only information on unpaid women’s work that the UNSNA is concerned with is “fertility rates, the size of the economically inactive female reserve labor force, and the educational level of the current and future female labor force.” (Q7) This is perhaps because nothing else that women produce, in men’s estimation, is useful for a war effort (which, the author points out, indicates what kinds of activities are more inherently peaceful).

Q1 The author claims that patriarchy uses economics and specifically the UNSNA for to enslave women and the earth through chains in the mind that prevent unorthodox thoughts and maintain the status quo. Is this hyperbole? How easy is it to imagine a different world or a different system? How easy is it to find common cause and unity for a different world? This is an inkling of the power of patriarchy in our world today. Do you agree or disagree?

Q2 While there may be many more women in the profession today, the material and traditions with which modern economists work was formulated almost entirely by dead white men. Do the ideas that we inherit really exercise such a powerful determining force on current generations?

Q3 Many people believe that there is nothing that can be done to fix the world; or they believe that they cannot do enough on their own; or they believe that technology will find solutions to all our current problems. These viewpoints are products of a beguiling propaganda designed to keep the patriarchy and its values dominant in the world. The result will be that we will continue to exploit and enslave the reproductive powers of women and the planet. Have you ever held any of these three views? If so the system has you and your imagination has been stunted. How does this strike you?

Q4 The author claims that the current system had to be invented. Like all inventions it did not have to be invented and/or it could be radically different. Can you accept that the system was invented and that it could be radically different? If not then the system really has you. If you can see that it was invented then there is higher hope that it can be changed. Do you believe the system can be changed? Does it need to be changed?

Q5 Income from market activity became the standard of national accounts in Great Britain in 1909. Compared to today the amount of market activity in 1909 was negligible. Did counting and measuring the market mean that the economists of the time were prescient or did their obsession with measuring market activity lead to and encourage more market activity? (Or were they just lazy and measured the easiest activity to measure?)

Q6 The basic indicators of economic performance in our world are measures of war readiness. How does this strike you? The next time you hear that our country’s GDP when up it means that there are more organized resources that can be repurposed to fight a war. Does this give any insight as to why The US is overly concerned with China’s or Russia’s growth rate being too high but not when an allied state grows quickly?

Q7 Can you see how these concerns of the UNSNA are important if we went to war (we would need women to fill the manufacturing jobs of men; or we need surplus female labour in uniform on the front lines) or were preparing for another war (fertility rates will determine the size of a future army)?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren