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Marilyn Waring: What Really Counts

Marilyn Waring, a national and international consultant and a senior lecturer in social policy and social work at the Albany Campus of Massey University in New Zealand, spoke at TC.

Some students in the Department of International and Transcultural Studies came up with an idea to honor Florence McCarthy, Associate Professor of Education. The students arranged for an internationally recognized scholar to speak at Teachers College on an area of primary interest to McCarthy, the social condition of women in rural communities.

Marilyn Waring is a national and international consultant and a senior lecturer in social policy and social work at the Albany Campus of Massey University in New Zealand.

In 1975, Waring, who was 22, became the youngest member of the New Zealand Parliament. As a member of Parliament, she became familiar with how economic factors influence legislation and aid. Waring became a proponent for determining economic policy based on time and use rather than on money because she said "the almighty dollar" determines so many decisions about policy and planning.

Waring noted that women around the world are not paid for their efforts in parenting and running a household. As unpaid workers, economists consider them to be unemployed. "Everything that passes through the market counts on the national accounts as long as currency changes hands," she said. "All services and production work for which no money changes hands doesn't count." The system of national accounts is a multi-purpose system designed by the United Nations to meet a wide range of policy needs.

"The formulation of policy and programs is inhibited by the lack of knowledge of work women do in an unpaid capacity," she added. If the boundaries of what is considered production were extended to include unpaid household work, all people engaged in those activities would be considered self-employed. "Recognition of workers is the problem, as opposed to the concept of unemployment," Waring said.

If unpaid labor were considered based on the equivalent pay scale of people who do that work for pay, unpaid household work would constitute the single largest service and production sector. It would be the equivalent of 571,000 full-year, full-time jobs. This work includes child-care and senior care. Expenses for these services are paid out of the workers' own pockets with no tax deductions and no incentives.

Paid work that is recognized by the normal standards is not judged to be good or bad, simply the services and production for which money is exchanged. Waring's concern is that industries such as white slave trade in eastern Europe, the sex industry in Indonesia and Thailand, and prostitution in central and eastern Europe are part of the Gross National Product (GNP) in those countries. "If you look at GNP as a measure of market activity, there is nothing pure about it at all," she said.

"We don't all have market labor activities or disposable cash," Waring said. "Time is the common denominator that we all have." Time data, she said, can indicate the goods and services that households produce, the additional work that children create, and the distribution of household tasks. "It tells us about the interdependence of activities of household members, how their activities are all interrelated, and when their activities are carried out."

Another factor that economists seem to ignore, Waring said, is the environment. "Fresh air used to be called public goods, but now city air is a commodity owned by governments, and they trade it."

Carbon trading, as it is called, is when larger economies buy "pollution rights" from countries with collapsed economies. Each country has a quota of what they can release into the atmosphere. "If you don't use all that you are given, you can sell your rights to the large polluters," Waring explained. "Smaller countries have a lot to sell."

"There is no motivation to keep up with the need for people to breathe to keep up with economic growth," she added. The answer, Waring said, does not lie in the abstractions that economics tries to impose on us.

"There is simply no way to quantify things like the lifestyle of the pygmy people and the endangered black rhino." What is needed is policy-making that includes input of the interdependencies of the real world: time, physical characteristics of the real world, movement, and the market.previous page