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

99: Marilyn Waring Part III:
The Household as a Problem for Women in the UNSNA

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

The UNSNA uses two terms to distinguish between production and consumption: enterprises (or firms) and households. This is a sexist starting point and minor “allowances” to household production do not alleviate it. This leads to a factually correct sarcastic feminist comment: “when a man marries his housekeeper the GNP goes down.” The work continues but the labour is not recognized in this UNSNA definition. (Q1)

This UNSNA starting point is also neocolonial in that it “clearly imposed the values of industrialized countries on agrarian and subsistence (non-monetary) societies”. (Q2)

Additionally, the UNSNA describes a notion of “primary producer” which “includes all the stereotypical male roles.” and then the author quotes from a UN primary source: “In practice no other imputations of this kind [that are not supportive of neocolonialism, sexism and patriarchy] are made since primary production and the consumption of their own produce by non-primary producers [women] is of little or no importance.” The author clams this statement “embodies every aspect of the blindness of patriarchy, its arrogance, its lack of perception – and it enshrines the invisibility and enslavement of women in the economic process as ‘of little or no importance.’” (Q3)

While these short comings and biases have been pointed out before, two types of reasons have been given by the professional economists for not addressing the problems: 1) Conceptual problems: men do not really understand the problem – this is an example of the blindness of privilege and patriarchy. 2) Practical problems: men cannot seem to figure out how to get the needed data. The result has been that attempts and “successes” at trying to overcome the intrinsic short comings and biases are always ill-defined and biased toward market activity. It is commonly believed by economists and policy makers that the inclusion of “non-market activity based on questionable imputations greatly reduces the usefulness of national accounts as a tool for economic analysis.” Therefore women, the poor and the environment become invisible because they are too hard to incorporate in a useful manner – useful for a war effort.

“But let’s be clear. The ‘conceptual difficulties’ and ‘problems of data collection’ arose because too many women did too much work.”

This invisibility is tragic, important, and consequential because the biased numbers that come out of national account statistics 1) are used for determining the amount and direction of investment and foreign aid – certainly it will not go to the invisible classes; 2) hide the true nature and extent of productive labour that is useful for life (women often do most of the farming in agrarian societies but men, as head of households, get the credit or loans); 3) ignore the working conditions and exploitation of the invisible classes (in many cases the profits and benefits go to the male face of the industry (for example women do most of the work in textile factories but men who are the owners, managers and entrepreneur get the profit); 4) some under-developed countries benefit in the form of more aid by deliberately not counting women’s production; and 5) women’s invisibility in statistics makes the likelihood of fair distribution of government benefits unlikely (in many countries child benefits still go automatically, to the father as head of the household).

The author gives an example from her experience as a parliamentarian in which it was impossible to argue the need for child care facilities because the system of national accounts in New Zealand in the 1970s classified most women outside of the labour market as “non-producers” who are economically “inactive” and “unoccupied” therefore these “inactive unoccupied non-producers” have time to do what they want and don’t need anything. If they do need anything then they should get a job. (Q4)

The author’s experience in fighting for child care illustrates the predetermination of policy direction based on the definitions and categories of the national accounts system. The system literally creates perceptual blindness even in women.

Policy makers, economists, and statisticians appear to be, in the worst case, in a conspiracy to keep women’s work uncounted or, in the best case, just blind to the fact that they are keeping women’s work uncounted. Policy makers work with and decide from the models and data of the economists and statisticians; economists claim to work within policy guidelines and the data required for those guidelines; and the statisticians claim to produce the data that policy makers and economists demand. What is lost are the facts that are inconvenient, or hard to grasp for men because the tremendous amount of energy, thought, and time that is invested to develop and support a system of patriarchy evaporates when it is asked to take into account the experiences women; that is half of the world’s population. (Q5)

It is sometimes countered that men also provide unpaid work. However, in every case 1) there is an opportunity to do the work on the market and get paid at a high rate; but if women have a market for their unpaid work then it is almost always at a low pay level; 2) the amount of male unpaid work is tiny compared to women’s share of unpaid work. For example if a man wishes he can fix his own car (rare unpaid work); if he wishes he could get a job fixing cars (a high paying professional job). If a woman “wishes” she can clean her house (very common unpaid work); if she wishes she could get a job cleaning others’ homes (a low paying job). In this example it sounds like men and women are equal but they are not (as the parts in parentheses notes). “Men are paid to reproduce social relationships or to reproduce patriarchy….half the human species needs some assistance in seeing clearly.” (Q6)

Q1 Is the whole notion of “household” with the presumed male head sexist?

Q2 Neocolonialism, as defined by Wikipedia, is the practice of using capitalism, globalization and cultural imperialism to influence a developing country in lieu of direct military control (imperialism) or indirect political control (hegemony). Do you believe that western values are being imposed around the world and that the UNSNA is a tool of neocolonialism?

Q3 Some may argue that if you are designing a system to win and pay for a war and you are in the middle of an existential crisis (such as a war) then subsistence work and so-called women’s work might in extreme cases be legitimately devalued. But is such a value system still legitimate today? Should such a system as we have today and as described by the author ever be considered legitimate?

Q4 If you accept the premises and categories of the system then the outcome assured. This is an example of process leading to predetermined outcomes. Can you see the logic of the process?

Q5 The world, politics, economists and statisticians, seems to be stuck in a self-referential loop of conceptual thinking. Is this true and if so is there any way out?

Q6 Do men really get paid more and more often than women to reproduce the patriarchy?

© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren