Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?: A Story of Women and Economics
By Katrine Marcal
Review by David Wineberg
Homo Economicus is a concept in economics that is wrong. It has failed almost every test, every environment, and every theory. Katrine Marçal has found a new way it is has failed. It totally misjudges women. It helps repress them, keep them subservient, underpaid and unappreciated. They are second class contributors when they are considered at all. Economic models are developed basically without them. This is hardly the first book to damn homo economicus, but he persists and thrives nonetheless. It just continues to make economics wrong. The book is a thorough and thoughtful attack on homo economicus, from a feminist standpoint.
Marçal writes in a very fast style. Her paragraphs seem very often single sentences, which quickens the pace. It doesn’t stop her from beating a point to death, but it makes reading the book a breeze. Economics can be so absurd she only has to report on it and it comes across as sarcastic and satirical. It usually doesn’t even require a comment from her. But the book is an endless stream of such nonsense – that we actually operate by. Our governments make faulty decisions based on faulty statistics plugged into faulty models.
The core argument is that housework should count. Canada once calculated women’s work – maintenance, childcare, cooking – to be worth between 30 and 45% of GDP. But GDP includes none of it. This is hardly the only problem with GDP, an unrealistic and artificial fabrication, and ignoring the value contributed by women is an age-old festering sore that Marçal picks at gleefully.
There are so very many reasons why economics is wrong. This is a major one, but there are more important missing components, like natural resources. Raw materials are not part of any standard economic model. We assume they are always available. Free. Free to consume and free to waste and free to pollute. This is the biggest reason the planet is wheezing and groaning – because economists decided homo economicus was no longer part of the ecosystem. He was above it and could exploit as he pleased without accounting or consequence. Marçal finally gets to this point at the very end, giving it one page.
Marçal’s neutral, positive solution: “Economic science should be about how one turns a social vision into a modern economic system.” If only.
Editor's note: This review was has been reposted with permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.