Quote from Podcast
“Economics needs feminism and feminism needs economics. It’s so key for solving the problems we have today. I firmly believe this is the perspective we need. This is what can fix our economic problems.” – Katrine Marçal, author of “Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?“
In this episode
Adam Smith is considered the founding father of economics asking the question, “How do you get your dinner?” As he devised how rational self-interest and competition can lead to economic prosperity, he forgot about his own mother who got his dinner for him. So what does history tell us about the role of women in the economy?
Vicki Saunders chats with Katrine Marçal, an expert in feminist economics and author of “Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?” about how economics forgot about women.
In this episode, Katrine breaks down how innovation has been held back based on our ideas about gender and how through unpaid work of Adam Smith’s own mother undervalues unpaid work’s contribution to the economy. They also touch on:
- The underlying drive of the economy through self-interest.
- The need to think twice about our values of care and health.
- Why natural skills are not paid as much.
- The innovation myth where the drive to innovate is tied to the will to dominate and conquer the world.
- Why excluding women from economics changes our economies and how we work.
- The significance of knowing how the economy works today.
- The challenge of the need to build something new.
- How funding women will transform the global economy.
Katrine’s new book called “Mother of Invention – How Good Ideas are Ignored in an Economy Built for Men” will be released in English in 2021.
Take action & engage with Katrine Marçal on social:
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The podcast was transcribed by Otter.ai.
Podcast Intro 0:33
Welcome to SheEO dot world, a podcast about redesigning the world. I’m your host, Vicki Saunders. In each episode, you’ll hear from SheEO Venture founders, women who are working on the World’s To-Do list. These innovative business leaders are solving some of the major challenges of our time. Please sit back and be prepared to be inspired.
Vicki Saunders 7:40
Excellent. Well welcome Katrina it’s amazing to have you on the podcast today.
Katrine Marçal 7:45
Vicki Saunders 7:47
Tell us a little bit about who you are.
Katrine Marçal 7:50
So my name is Katrine Marcel I’m from Sweden, I’m an expert in feminist, economics, I live in the UK, you might be able to hear that from my accent but I’ve lived here for a while. I wrote a book a couple of years ago called who cooked Adam Smith’s dinner, which is about how economics forgot about women. And I was lucky though if the book was translated into more than 20 languages so I had kind of a long ride with that. And now I’ve finished my second book and it’s coming out in English next year and that book is called, mother of invention how good ideas are ignored in an economy based for men are built for men.
Vicki Saunders 8:32
I literally cannot wait for that to come out. Perfect, perfect timing. Oh my gosh. So let’s go back to who cooked Adam Smith’s dinner, which is absolutely delicious. Can you explain a little bit behind that, for people who may not be familiar with Adam Smith’s theories.
Katrine Marçal 8:49
Yes. So, um, Adam Smith is considered to be the founding father of economics, and he asked the founding question of economics back up here in Scotland, back in 1776, in his book which was called The Wealth of Nations. And the question that he asks in that book which became the founding question of economics was, how do you get your dinner. And that’s a very good economic question because you know we take it for granted or that we can go into the store and there will be goods to buy there and that this whole system will work, but actually, for it to work lots of very complex economic processes need to take place, and he wanted to know what keeps all of this together what gets the economy going what makes the wheels turn and you know why does this whole complex thing actually work. So he asked how do you get your dinner and he wrote a very famous answer to this question, which goes something like this. It’s not from the benevolence of the butcher the brewer or the baker, that you get your dinner, but from them serving their own self interest. So the idea was that it was that we all go to work, we start our businesses we do what we do, out of self interest to turn a profit. And this became very very important and it was kind of what sort of economics was, was built upon this idea of self interest as the fundamental force in the economy. And I go back to this founding question of economics in my book and Okay, well let’s let’s take it seriously it’s a good question. How do you get your dinner. Well how did Adam Smith, get his dinner. The founding father of economics never married. He lived most of his life with his mother who look after the household for him, and she is the part of the answer to the question how do you get your dinner, that he forgot, because all the work that primarily women do but also men in in this world today they sort of the unpaid work around the household you know they’re looking after the children the cooking. All of that is of course also extremely important to any economy. The Butcher the brewer or the baker they can’t go to work and produce the goods. If this other economy is not working, as many of us probably have experienced now during the, the pandemic for example with the children when childcare was closed and you know you had to do paid work and more unpaid work and it’s very very necessary for any economy and economics has completely forgotten about it it’s not even measured in GDP, which is absolutely ridiculous and gives us this really kind of false picture of what the economy is. but the other bit is like when Adam Smith forgot about his mother she forgot he forgot about the work that she did and forgot about the unpaid work of women. It also that made him answer the whole question wrong, because, is it then really self interest only that keeps the economy going. I mean, Adam Smith’s mother she probably did what she did know looked after her son, partly because of self interest she was a widow and Scotland in the 1700s that were not sort of massive economic opportunities, but she probably also did it because you know she loved him she cared for him she felt this was her obligation. Maybe it was even meaningful to her. All of these other reasons why we do what we do in the economy every day but economics has you know forgotten and not been very good at focusing on because it’s been so so interested in this this idea of self interest as the only kind of economically relevant force to study.
Vicki Saunders 12:42
It’s just unbelievable truly that it’s lasted this long. Yes, you know, isn’t it just unreal. So, I mean, let’s just fast forward to the pandemic for a moment. And is this the moment where everything is being unveiled, from your perspective that we just see you know now that everyone is locked in at home, how we are all humans not human resources. And that’s the challenge of being a human in this crazy economy we’ve created, like, what if, what is the pandemic done to support that the work that you’ve been doing over the past decade, I guess.
Katrine Marçal 13:16
Yeah. Well, it certainly made this you know the importance of unpaid work you know to the economy, the you know that looking after the children and all of that, how fundamental that is it’s made that very very visible and it’s made that conflict which I’ve been writing about, you know, in economic terms. I think something that people have really been forced to to grapple and sort of deal with, you know, I have to do my job and the kids are here and normally they’re at school and you know they’re only 24 hours in in the day and this is not working and also we know now from statistics that the people that have been sort of bearing the brunt of that sort of additional care work that the pandemic has, has made people have forced people to do has been women right and that will probably have have had an impact. So I’ve certainly made it very visible I think the other thing is, I mean so the biggest theme in that book who cooked Adam Smith’s dinner is really you know what do we value, and why you know when Adam Smith, forgot about his mother and economics became defined as the science of self interest. Everything that’s not done out of self interest also kind of disappeared from the economic sphere and it wasn’t it wasn’t really valued. And I think this crisis has, has made us think about these really fundamental quiz questions like why why our care workers paid so little you know why is nursing you know not paid more that’s been a big discussion here in the United Kingdom where I live, you know what what do we value and, and why and we saw the people that you know the necessary the frontline workers who were so necessary for anything to to work especially this this spring they, they tend to be, you know, people who who are not whose jobs are not valued normally and I think this has made many people think about the economy and how it works and why we value what we value and maybe think twice about the value of care and health, and these sort of things, but I think it’s too early to say you know where this is going. We’re still, we’re still in the middle of it.
Vicki Saunders 15:28
It’s yeah it’s very true I mean I think one of the, there’s an American commentator named Scott Galloway. I don’t know if you follow him on Twitter and one of his things is like every week during the pandemic is like a year. Yeah, and I kind of feel that way too. It’s just like, you know, whatever trends were sort of emerging pre COVID have fast forwarded almost a decade really advanced like. And so we’re really starting to see like now, you know, nobody would have predicted 10 months ago that we’d be talking about universal basic income so clearly because that’s what governments are starting to do just calling it something different. And, and just really the the elevation of systems transformation and bias systems, as a, as a conversation is really kind of blowing my mind, I mean I. When we first started CIO I’d be like, everything’s broken What a great time to be alive to rethink things and people would be like, what’s broken. What do you mean, and that was only five years ago and now everyone’s like, Oh yeah, everything is really not broken but it’s definitely not serving us any longer, and needs to be rethought. So as you work through this book I’m sure you’ve got lots of interesting feedback, what what happens across the, the economics landscape, when this book comes out for you. Did you have pushback, or were people very much like this is the time for this message
Katrine Marçal 16:49
My previous book book “Who cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?” I wrote it a long time ago I wrote it back in Sweden in 2011 so very much kind of still with the 2008 2009 crisis. As a financial crisis, as the as the backdrop and in the middle of the euro crisis which was you know very big thing here and here in Europe, obviously, and if you’d asked me back then if I think that I’d still be talking about that book in 2020 I say no way because I know I guess I had, I had this idea that we would have solved this problem. Now, because I think it’s such a bit like the exclusion of women from economics the exclusion of unpaid work from GDP the exclusion of, of, you know, care work and that we don’t sort of account for it and we don’t think about it and this focus on self interest self interest self interest. I thought that would be gone because I thought, you know, economics, was changing so rapidly after 2008 2009 and we would certainly be like in a different system by now. And while instead I’ve had the book published in many countries and you know, been able to sort of travel around and speak to women all over the world almost about these issues and that has been great, but yes it’s it’s frustrating but more has not happened, but yes when it first came out, it was much more controversial than I would say it is now I think people are really starting to think about these things I think also within the feminist community there’s much more interest in economic issues than there was 1012 years ago and I think that’s very encouraging I think economics needs feminism and feminism needs, economics, and I think it’s so key for solving. You know the problems we have today this is the perspective, I firmly believe this is the perspective, we need. This is what can fix our economic problems and that’s what my, my forthcoming book is is about.
Vicki Saunders 18:56
That’s great. But yeah, I’d love to get to that in a second one of the, this is something that fundamentally I believe that she Oh too It’s like that the last mile of the feminist revolution is economics. We started with the political but it just is constantly changing back and forth, but when women take control of their money. And when we look at systems have a healthy economy and a self, a life sustaining society, what does that look like and it feels like an absolute moment to rethink what do we value. What kind of world do we want to live in. And I hear people starting to talk about the care economy dripped into conversations in different places so it’s going to be fascinating to watch. And we have a giant global experiment, it seems going on with different leadership styles in different countries. Picking strategies and going in multiple directions. So I think in a few years from now we’re going to see the results of, you know, a kindness base leadership versus not doubling down on the old self interest piece. So who knows what that looks like. I wonder if you. So, can you take us a little bit into your book, give us a sneak peek of what’s coming.
Katrine Marçal 20:01
Yes. Um, so it’s it’s all about how innovation has been held back because of our ideas about gender. And so it starts in a very concrete example which is the suitcases with wheels, so they were not invented until 1972, which is to us now crazy you know how, how were we able to put two men on the surface of the moon before we came up with that the idea that you know suitcases should have wheels, I mean the wheel was by then a 5000 year old technology. And this has become a little bit of a sort of the classic example of innovation takes time and you have lots of economists that have written about this you know from Professor Robert Shiller you know Nobel Prize winner to, you know, economic thinkers like Nassim Taleb you know they’ve all sort of thought about this and how could this be. And I do a new take on it and I would say, I’d find something which they have not seen which is that the wheeled suitcase took so long because of ideas about gender. There were in fact suitcases with wheels before 1972, but there were all these sort of small niche products for women. And that was a very very strong idea within the industry and at department stores that a man would never roll a bag, because it was just unmanly men. Men should carry their bags and women, you know they were not important because a woman doesn’t travel alone anyway was the assumption that if she travels there will be a man with her. Who will carry her bag for her. So even when the suitcase was invented in the suitcase with wheels was invented in 1972 American department stores they didn’t want to buy it because they couldn’t see any demand for this product. And then obviously we know what happened in the late 1980s early 1990s this product completely took off and transformed, not just the global log luggage industry but you know the way we build airports, the way we build airplanes and. And it changed everything. Because gender roles changed women started going on business trips on their own, at a much larger scale, and the market just changed and it took off. And what’s interesting with this is because this is such a classic example there’s so many men have thought about, you know, why, why did it take so long and nobody has really looked into the gender aspect of it which is very very obvious and it did not take me many hours in newspaper archives to, to figure this out because yeah there there is a there are suitcases with wheels from the 1950s that they will show up to kind of trade shows for housewives in London and these sort of things, it was it was a product for women and nobody thought, Oh, this is something that men will also use or this is something that can actually be useful for everyone or. This is something that will completely disrupt the whole global luggage industry. That was just unthinkable. So that’s where the book starts because there’s a very concrete example because you have the same dynamic when it comes to many other things you know the electric car is another example so hundred and 30 150 years ago when we had, we had electric cars we had, you know, petrol driven cars we had even cars, driven by steam and they were all competing for, you know, for the industry and the electric car was actually marketed towards women and became to be perceived as a feminine, technology, because the combustion engine that was driven on petrol was noisy and smelly and went fast and sort of the quiet safer electric car became something that they marketed towards towards female consumers, which became a massive problem for the electric car industry 130 120 years ago, because then when something was marketed towards women and perceived as feminine. In that sense, men didn’t want to buy it. And this actually contributed to the fact that it was then the petrol powered car that took over and we ended up building our whole world based map technology. It wasn’t the only factor but it’s because you know the electric cars they had problems with batteries and, and there were there were other factors as well but gender was certainly one part to this to this puzzle. And when you think about that, you know, there are these very random ideas that like a safe. Quiet, comfortable car was just just unmanly and just not good, and
within innovation, a lot of things that have been, you know, done for comfort have been considered to be feminine and therefore not taken seriously so there’s a long tradition in this. So the book starts with these very concrete examples of, you know, when our ideas about gender have held us back and really even you know delayed technologies that we now take for granted sometimes for hundreds of years. And this, I think this to think about technology and how we define technology is very important if we want to understand where men and women are in the economy, because the definition of what technology is has also dictated who should be paid a lot and who should not be paid as much or maybe nothing at all. So what I mean by that is, technology has throughout history been defined as, whatever men do in a way, I mean we talk about the Iron Age or the Bronze Age, but we might as well talk about the ceramic age or the flax age right yeah because those those technologies were just as important. But, ceramics or, or is it kind of technology associated with women and therefore not considered to be technology in the same way that iron ore bronzes. And this, if you go through history, this is what happens whatever sort of women do specialize in is defined as something that’s not technological is something natural so female skills are perceived as you know when women were very dominant in the dairy industry in Europe, for example, it was considered to be a natural thing like women knew how to produce cheese and deal with milk because women had breasts, that could lactate So, so it was a natural skill and if something is a natural skill economic logic kind of dictates that it shouldn’t be paid so much because it comes natural to women anyway right. But then as soon as dairy dairy took off and became more with a, with industrialization became more and more important. What what didn’t happen was that the women who already had the skills suddenly got rich, no, they were squeezed out instead and the men came in and they and they turned sort of the whole thing around and started, you know, milk and she said, it became like a technical profession that you could study, you know, chemistry, and, and suddenly, it became a more highly paid and highly paid industry and the women were squeezed out and kept doing things that were considered to be to be natural. So this distinction between what’s natural and what’s technological really sort of goes together with our ideas about men and women. And this, this becomes a problem. Because, I mean like today, we say Oh, the reason to close the gender pay gap between men and women is to get women you know we have to get women into STEM right women have to go into these we have to encourage girls teach them to code, teach them to go, go into these highly paid professions and then we will close the gender pay gap. But I mean, even I remember my mother was a programmer and then a developer back in the days when computer programming was was female dominated, and it was in, you know, considered to be a, you know, not a very skilled thing to do, women were able to cook from recipes or niche and so therefore women bro was a naturally good computer programmers that was the idea. And it wasn’t until sort of this, this profession became more and more highly paid and more and more economically important that the men came in and redefined it as something completely different, and less technological. So, and I think it’s very important to be aware of this dynamic that it’s not that women are not in the highly paid professions or the highly paid parts of the economy. It’s, they are highly paid because women are not there. And if more women come into a profession what often happens is that wages goes down, and status goes down. And this makes the whole project of gender equality much more complicated obviously because it can’t just be about encouraging women to go somewhere go over there where all the money is and all the guys are because if the women go over there then that won’t be where the power is anymore. So instead we need to have this which i think you know you are doing and she oh is this, you know, building new structures, you know, building something new, not just sort of trying to get a bigger piece of the same old cake for women but actually you know baking a whole new cake, based on different values, doing it, you know from scratch, and I think that is, that’s what we need to do.
Vicki Saunders 29:47
Yeah and having spent many years on this planet trying to get underneath this issue. Yeah, what are the roots What’s this, like it’s just so insidious, you know, you think, oh, it must be if we just do this, it’ll change it, and then just recognizing how complex, our systems are, and how challenging it is to unravel this underneath it all is exactly what you said this lack of valuing things women do period right yes yeah with doctors in Russia. Ambassador, the vast majority of doctors are now women and it’s just, they are paid poorly.
Katrine Marçal 30:19
Oh, yeah. And I mean, I remember my mother as a programmer when I was little all her, you know managers were, they were these women with kind of big hair that came to our house with cakes, sort of, you know, it wasn’t the, that was the programmer, it wasn’t you know what we think about know when you like a young man young, you know, not very social man in a, in a hoodie right. It’s completely it completely changed and and we forgot about it I mean many economists today don’t don’t even know that sort of programming used to be female dominated and was considered to be like an extension of women’s ability to cook from recipe books.
Vicki Saunders 30:59
It’s just feels like if I sort of step back and listen to this. First of all, I think you’re awesome. I’m so glad that we’re having this conversation just that the continuous sort of unraveling of the narrative, like who wrote history. Yeah, as well, right, like, and what lens are we looking through of our lived experience when we write what actually happened and how you can literally erase the reality of what it was. So I’m just so thankful that you wrote this book. And I wonder as you as you’re. I don’t know if you’re out talking about this book yet or when is it coming out.
Katrine Marçal 31:33
So it’s coming out in Sweden no in October, it will be coming out in the UK and Canada. Next year, next year. Okay, next year.
Vicki Saunders 31:42
Yeah, so the timing is absolutely perfect and are you what are you noticing in the field of economics at there are a lot of women emerging right at the moment with a very different perspective, we’ve got Kate Roberts talking about donut economics without Marianne mazzucato talking about, you know, innovation and how we value everything. Your book we’re all very excited and anticipatory around. I wonder if there’s a resurgence or, like, an, I don’t know, insurgents happening right now, around, it’s time to really go before.
Katrine Marçal 32:17
I think so, I think so. And I also think. I mean, not all of these immune sort of new female voices within economics are talking about climate change, but I think a lot of them are and I think the issue of, you know, the climate emergency and what that kind of what that requires of us in terms of changing our economies and changing how we live. I think that is something. Also when I speak to young women going into economics that is something that really motivates them to learn, you know, learn in we need to, and that’s the, that’s why this problem of you know the, how we exclude women from economics and pretend that it’s the science of self interest which it isn’t you know you can’t explain something as complex as the global economy by just saying oh it’s just individuals out there serving their own self interest in a rational model. It’s not true. And if we want to do something very difficult, which we have to do now if we want to survive on this planet which has changed our economies and changed how they work. We need to actually understand how the economy works today and I feel that is motivating. Firstly, a lot of women to go into economics, and secondly also you know to do to do it differently to account for the things that we have not accounted for in the past to really look at, you know, like you mentioned Mariana mazzucato like okay innovation is really really important if we want to fix this if we want to have, you know, we need a green, green New Deal. So how does it what really drives innovation and, you know, I think that is, there’s something that drives a lot of people to challenge these these old models because you know we need to we need to fix this problem.
Vicki Saunders 34:04
And so, do you have a daughter.
Katrine Marçal 34:07
I have two daughters and a son yeah.
Vicki Saunders 34:09
Okay two daughters and a son. What are you anticipating is coming next for them. Oh.
Katrine Marçal 34:18
In what sense?
Vicki Saunders 34:19
Yeah, I mean, do you feel optimistic?
Katrine Marçal 34:24
I do, I really do. I really do, I think, I mean it’s I’m, I’m not that old. I think I’m so I’m 37 and I just look back at what happened in the last, you know, 15 years I mean even when I, when I studied economics back at university we had, you know, and this is in Sweden which is supposed to be, you know, which is, you know, very good when it comes to gender equality on many measurements, but I mean we had professors who were sort of standing in front of the class saying, you know, men are just inherently better at economics than women. And that would not happen today. I mean, and this was this was not that long ago, I think, a lot has changed. And that makes me hopeful. I mean even things you know that we lived through them me to movement and and I think. And and I think feminism has gotten you know become much better at, you know, it’s not just white feminism which you know I think even 15 years ago we really really was. That is starting to get challenged and very in very good ways, and yeah I am I am hopeful. And I feel you know people are, are coming together around. You know the need to build something new, when we don’t know what that is but but yeah I’m hopeful How about you.
Vicki Saunders 35:45
Yeah, wildly wildly wildly I mean, I think this is the awakening moment. I’m 55 so I’ve been around a little bit longer, and I mean first of all it’s just kind of shocking as you start to see the unraveling of all of this, I really believe so much has changed in the last five years even just having been around the world, talking in front of lots of groups of women and and watching this sort of awakening occur, particularly around money, which I think is just absolutely critical and the redefining of money and what really matters to us. I mean, and having founded a basically a nonprofit VC firm. Like, oxymoron of the year. Really it’s, it’s, and looking for knowing that 51% of the populations innovations are not showing up in the economy, because we’re just not recognized period and we get 2.2% of funding globally. You just look at those numbers and think this is crazy we, to your point, we could have a completely different economy, if we had more voices, at the table and more of these innovations coming forward and recognized and so, you know, our goal is to, you know, when we first started CIO and like we’re here to transform the global economy, and that didn’t actually really stick too much like what are you talking about, I’m like okay let’s just start by funding women, and we’ll talk about that later, but it really it’s, it’s the only hope. If we don’t dramatically transform our economy. We will not survive on the planet period. And I do believe that there’s a perspective that women can bring to the table. That is much more healing and much more in tune with nature. And so I really love your framing around the natural versus the technological and and how there’s the balance of the masculine and feminine everywhere will be better for all of us. So, yeah, I feel quite positive about it and it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Katrine Marçal 37:46
Yeah. But it’s interesting, what you’re saying, you know, we’re going to start by just funding women, because that will. I mean, and I know you know this transform the global economy because they they to the to go together. And that’s, you know, my work on my forthcoming book mother of invention has been really interesting in that way because it’s really driven home the point just to me just, which I wrote about in my previous book as well as you can’t just add women and stir right if you add women, everything changes. So for example, just look at the like the history of innovation so we have this kind of idea at the back of our mind so think about that. This myth really that our drive to innovate is somehow connected to and tied to our will to dominate and conquer the world right there all of these stories about, oh you know everything from penicillin to plautus was first invented for the military and kind of the military invents things and then hopefully these inventions can also be turned into something that is useful and will drive growth, but innovation is this is violent father of invention that drives us to conquer and therefore we come up with new ideas and therefore we get growth and, and, and the whole story is it’s just bullshit, and you know you don’t need to have a degree in economics to understand that because obviously war always war in conflict, always destroys much more economic value than it ever creates in terms of innovation, and that’s pretty self evident but it’s all tied to this sort of idea that we think of our own development as, you know, we were as some kind of hairy ape that one day got up got up on two legs and turned into this bearded man and immediately grabbed a sharp stick to create a spear and sort of try to conquer his, you know, the world around him and that’s the story of innovation, but actually the first tools we don’t. The first tools we’re not hunting tools. Right. You know, we don’t we will never know 100% because it’s so far back in time, you know, which were the first tools, what was the first technology but it probably wasn’t hunting tools. It was probably something like the digging stick that was probably the first form of technology. The digging stick, invented by women, not to conquer or, you know, but to reach edible roots and insects underground.
And just when we just changing the story just like okay we’re not just going to look at male inventions we’re going to look at female inventions as well, which brings you to the digging stick, which was the first tool that changes the whole story, you know if that was the first tool and not the spear, then it’s not necessarily our will to conquer and dominate that drives us to invent technology or come up with new ideas. It’s other things as well. And that’s why I find so so interesting that you know if you just if you just add women if you just look at women as well. And the whole human story changes, and that’s where the hope lies.
Vicki Saunders 40:54
That is literally the perfect place to end. Thank you so so much for I’m so excited to read this book and I will amplify everywhere we go. We’re so we’re so thrilled to have met you and thank you very much for all you’re doing. Thank you. All right, positive recording. You’re so awesome, thank you.
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