Friday, April 4, 2008

feminist economics

my interest in economics has been relatively constant over the last several years. i finally had the opportunity to take an upper division econometrics course, and now that i'm more familiar with those methods i'm feeling more confident that there's really something there. this hasn't convinced me to get an economics degree (i think the discipline is still too narrow in its expectations and its educational focus is lacking), but to better understand the literature and approaches on my own time. also, my current dissertation idea will almost certainly include some choice modeling, with theory firmly grounded in econometrics.

ecological economics in particular has been an approach that i favored. it rejects several of the assumptions embedded within neoclassical economics and replaces them with ones more grounded in reality. for example, for an ecological economist, the economy is not an endless, closed cycle of production, consumption, and waste. instead, it's a system which receives inputs from the biosphere in the form of low entropy energy and deposits wastes back into the biosphere in a higher entropy form. the discipline's most recent monthly journal included an article on the application of feminist economics to the problem of the determination of an appropriate discount rate for climate policy analysis.

the paper was highly critical of the mainstream economic view that a high discount rate was most appropriate and indeed "True." feminist economists are critical of what they view as androcentric biases within economics, and the author, julie nelson, identified the use of a high rate as one manifestation of this bias. a typical defense of the high discount rate would associate this thruthiness with objectivity. however, nelson and her colleagues argue that the presence of assumptions which are not subjected to rigorous debate from other areas of thought (feminism in this case, which would argue for a much lower discount rate) in fact undermines objectivity in economic inquiry.

there's an interesting parallel with climate policy (and many other things in general) and that is the appropriateness of opening up established consensuses to debate. at a basic level, climate deniers claim that the (now) mainstream view of climate science is weakened since, as my gmail advertising bar routinely tells me "gore won't debate!" i think though, that debate is not always a good thing, especially when climate science has entrenched, well-developed methods that appear to work and have generated broad based based support within the scientific community. the assumptions upon which climate models are based are routinely debated and altered. presenting multiple results with different underlying assumptions is also becoming more common, this is known as scenario analysis.

indeed, these features make climate science more objective than economics. will economics begin to open itself up to other vantage points that bring with them differing assumptions? or will economists continue to ignore individuals who write from outside of traditional economics departments?

i'm going to be reading through beyond economic man edited by ferber and nelson to try to build some bridges between my analytical vantage point to feminist economics and then to mainstream economics. specifically: what new methods can i employ in my analysis that will help me to question entrenched economic truths? how can i adapt existing methods to incorporate feminist insights? i'll be posting my thoughts on some of the individual chapters here as i go.

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