Opinion

Time for evenomics

TCA Ramanujam | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on May 31, 2016

BLINK_PUBLIC_TRANSPORT   -  Business Line

Feminist economics is gaining ground for good



A recent article in the Economist expressed the opinion that feminist economics deserves recognition as a distinct branch of the discipline. Feminist Economics has its own journal. Just about 12 per cent of the economic profession in America has women as professors and only one of them, Elinor Ostrom, has won the Nobel Prize for Economics.

Feminist analysts of public policy have noted that men gain most from income tax cuts and women are most likely to plug the gap left by the state as care for the elderly is cut. Economists are blind towards social norms that are unfair to women. Economics as commonly practiced, misses out an element of inequality between the sexes, namely, unpaid work.

Her share

The main measure of economic activity, GDP, counts house work when it is paid but excludes it when it is done free of charge. This can be both misleading and perverse. Paul Samuelson humorously pointed out the truth when he said a country’s GDP falls, when a man marries his maid. Diane Coyle, an economist and author of GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History asks whether statistical agencies have not bothered to collect data on unpaid house work because women do most of it.

Marilyn Waring, a feminist economist, suggests that the system of measuring GDP was designed by men to keep women “in their place”. OECD pointed out that women spend roughly 5 per cent more time working than men.

But simultaneously, they spend roughly twice as much time on unpaid work. By leaving unpaid work out of the National accounts, feminist economists argue that economists diminish women’s contribution and gloss over staggering inequality in who does it. Raising well cared-for children, says Mrs. Waring, is just as important to society as making buildings or cars. The former is excluded from official measures of output making it less of a priority sector. Women are disadvantaged by the failure to measure the value of parenting properly.

A recent paper from the Bureau of Economic Analysis attempted to calculate an augmented version of GDP that included unpaid work. Ignoring the feminist perspective, said the Economist, is bad economics.

Indian scene

There was a social and legal transformation of the role of women in India when the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005 was passed. It recognised the daughter as a coparcener with equal rights to the son.

A recent Judgement of the Delhi High Court laid down the law that a woman can be the karta or Manager of the ‘HUF’ after the passing of this Act. The Constitution guarantees protection to women under articles 14, 15 and 16 as well as in the Directive Principles of State Policy.

Despite the strident march of law, the truth is that at the social level, women are discriminated against. There is a huge gender gap in education. There is pay disparity, too. Job portal Monster India notes that the gender pay gap in India stands at 27 per cent.

The Government recently released the Draft National Policy for Women 2016. The most important part of the policy is that it shifted from just welfare to “welfare with heavy dose of rights”, which is reflective of change in women’s attitude. Societal attitudes are changing along with the law. Manu Smriti is turned upside down; this can be the design of the society for the future.

The writer is a former chief commissioner of income tax

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Published on May 31, 2016
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