Thursday, March 8, 2007

why don't development economists learn?

I have been, these past few days, teaching a short course at my old workplace, the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, on Gender and Microeconomic Policy Analysis. The students on the course come from 4 continents, and are here to basically improve their economic literacy so that they can advocate more effectively for gender-aware policy interventions with the economists that they meet and who dominate policy identification, design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation in international development.

I've been an economist for all of my professional life, and yet teaching the material that I have been teaching--about the gender-constructed character of demand, the centrality of the household and care to the capacity of an economy to supply goods and services, and the gendered character of markets and other economic institutions--I am struck by the fact that:

1. it should be obvious that gender shapes economics
2. if it is obvious, why is feminist development economics a minority within a minority within international development?
3. in this light, how can gender be said to be 'mainstreamed' unless it is fully integrated into the economic analysis that dominates international development? It can't.
4. what does all this say about the effective, as opposed to indicative, commitment of international development practioners and practice to gender empowerment?

Economics in general is dominated by neo-classicism. Even at it's most erudite, dealing with the economics of information, it is unable to address the way in which conflict and consensus shape activity in the care economy, the allocation of time and resources to the care and market economies, and the way in which care is a precondition of markets. In failing to address these issues, neo-classicism demonstrates the extent of its abstraction from the real world. Yet teach basic neo-classical ideas to non-economists, demonstrate the gender critique of those ideas, and it is obvious. They get it. Why can't the economics profession get it?

The answer has to lie in the challenge that feminist development economics, along with other branches of heterodox economics, poses to entrenched positions of power and privilege, within economics, sure, but more importantly, in the real world--in the centers of political and economic power that shape the global economy. Ideas do change the world. Feminist development economics offers a humane alternative to our globalized future. This is precisely why it is marginalized. It is also precisely why there is an ongoing need to advocate for feminist development economics in the institutions where we work, and the civil society where we live.

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