Author Topic: Feminism and foreign policy  (Read 5305 times)

skdadl

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« on: June 04, 2006, 08:40:43 AM »
I see that there have been a couple of discussions on EM about FGM (female genital mutilation), as there have been discussions on babble over the years about the oppression of women and other marginalized groups generally in many countries, often in the context of particularly urgent activist appeals (sentences of corporal punishment or death for women considered "immoral" in northern Nigeria, eg).  

The left in the West generally, and feminists in particular, are under a lot of pressure right now to "stop justifying" or "rationalizing" the oppression of the people of any country by tyrannical rulers, especially theocrats or enablers of a theocratic elite. At the same time, feminists, like others on the left but perhaps more acutely, have faced charges of ethnocentrism and blindness to privilege, and have grown careful about any politics that might appear prescriptive for others, or fuelled by the presumptions of Western white privilege.

To me, the solution to what might appear a double-bind is the same that I wish could apply to our foreign policy generally (but despair will be, any time soon).

Anyone who sincerely wants to help anyone else will put her/himself in precisely that position -- the position of a helper. Helpers or supporters do not lead: they listen, they learn, they follow; they slowly figure out where their efforts and abilities might fit in, and then they offer. Support means just that: a lot of listening at first, and then reinforcement of the signs of hope and strength that one can detect.

There's no question that much of the world, including a lot of good people, have no patience with that view, or haven't grasped it yet. To them, it sounds like "making excuses" for injustice or outrage or tyranny.

But what is the alternative? For Westerners, women as well as men, to go bulling into countries we don't know know at all well, whose cultures may well have been deformed by decades of war and foreign exploitation, and to make a worse hash of things with every bull-headed intervention, as the West so demonstrably has done over the last century at least? The blind self-confidence of idealistic young Westerners, "the best and the brightest," has been the subject of scathing critiques from artists and journalists for fifty years, and yet so little seems to put a dent into the "white man's burden," now being urged from the right on to women as well.

We all wish we could eliminate all injustice and outrage from the whole world yesterday. At the same time, we all are horrified at the thought of falling smugly back on the obvious knowledge that we can't, and therefore doing nothing.

So. What do we do?

fern hill

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« Reply #1 on: June 04, 2006, 10:28:16 AM »
Gee, skdadl, nothing like taking on a biggie of a Sunday morning, eh?

One of the most eye-opening books I've ever read is Marilyn Waring's 'If Women Counted' (very nifty title, because she means it both literally and figuratively). Waring is an economist, I think, and I know she was a member of parliament in New Zealand.

This will sound dry, but she talks about international accounting systems and statistics. But what's she's documenting is how thoroughly patriarchy has fucked up the entire planet.

For example, Gross Domestic or National (there's a difference and I can never remember what it is) Product figures, on which much else is based, are skewed. The necessary labour of women, not just 'domestic' labour, but subsistence farming, any labour that is not paid, does not count.

Economies of countries are destroyed when colonial powers come in and take over tracts of land for cash crops or mining. Not only does this wipe out or seriously reduce subsistence farming, but it knocks women out of the economy. Men are hired for cash and women are left to farm, look after children etc.

This, in turn, fucks up culture. Where men and women both worked to provide for their families, now only men are valued as bread-winners. Women are degraded, men are elevated. When men lose their jobs, this is devastating to them and can result in domestic violence in places where it was very rare before. Men also have to travel to work, leaving their families for long periods, and this results in other social problems.

Of course, all this skewed counting gets magnified when it comes to the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund or the UN. These bodies work on capitalist terms, which necessarily omit women.

Where's Stephen Gordon?

It's depressing, but the inescapable conclusion is that capitalism and patriarchy have won. Every place on earth is tainted.

So, as helpers, as skdadl says, we Westerners should listen, try to understand, etc. But, it seems to me, the first thing is to try to understand how 'we', our ancestors, fucked these people over to begin with. We can't just accept that the culture we see now is the right or natural culture.

anne cameron

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« Reply #2 on: June 04, 2006, 12:17:34 PM »
While individual idealists may have tried to help, any "aid" given by any large group seems to me to have been anything but "aid" and to have been designed to rip off any wealth in the country and put it in the pockets of the already obscenely rich and powerful.  Whether it's diamonds or gold, copper, sapphires or fertile land, somehow the people get pushed into the ditch and the "aid" puts foreigners and a few puppet government officials in the positions of control and profit.

It's just another way to destroy the indigenous family, spread dysfunction and violence, and ensure the primacy of huge corporations.  The horror stories around tomatoes and the deliberate eradication of the wild species, the "aid" dollars spent to force farmers to grow only those varieties the companies want to buy and to grow them with fertilizers , pesticides and fungicides, using far more water than the natural crops would require, water needed to keep babies and children alive is a story worth of Stephen King.  Then there is corn...same story...we've supported these "aid" organizations for all the best reasons in the world but the sad result is that there are huge numbers of people who are eating a traditional diet and perishing from malnutrition because the food value of the crops the "aid" insisted they grow is so much lower than that of their own indigenous species.  What used to keep a kid healthy now reduces that child to a swollen-bellied dying heartache.

We dig deep to "foster" a child, we're told our donation will feed, clothe, educate not just that one but provide water and medical care to an entire village and we believe until we find out that more than ninety cents of every dollar goes into the pockets of the foreigners who run the programme.  

Recognizeable faces, actors who may have no political analysis at all, become spokespersons for charities which collect enormous sums of money then spend one dime out of every dollar on the project for which the money was donated.  What it costs to fly a singer from Los Angeles to Africa for some photo op's would probably feed , clothe, and educate ten kids through to adulthood.

The tsunami touched everyone, money poured in, and comparitively little has been accomplished with it, most of it has vanished into corrupt pockets and the poor are still poor , the homeless are still homeless, the money has become a trickle and we're all totally fatigue'd by the on-going misery.

Clitoridectomies are done in modern hospitals supported by Canadian money.  Which I suppose is better than being sawed at in the dirt of the village commons but I can't contribute to it.

And often the solution is so simple we find it "insulting".  Birth control improved drastically in India when men were offerred a transistor radio in exchange for a vasectomy.  The British Army stopped the pickpockets in India when they issued each Brit soldier a pigskin wallet; muslim pickpockets wouldn't touch it.  That lasted until the non-muslim realized the opportunity (!).

We rant and rave about the stupidity of people who are poaching rhino's, and elephants, killing endangered species for their ivory and their hides... and can't seem to work up a good fury for the assault on our own grizzly and elk populations, instead we allow housing developments to go up in places where cougar populations are high and there is sure to be conflict which will mean death for the big cats.  But "they" are stupid and "we" have such good reasons to put pipelines across cariboo migratory paths and negatively affect moose and fish habitat.  And God knows we give no respect at all to endangered creepies and crawlies like certain types of frogs and toads.  But 'they' are idiots and 'we' always have the god of "progress" on our side.

This year there were so few herring coming back to spawn that even the Department of Fisheries realized it was crisis time and cancelled the herring season.  We'll be polite and not mention that it is their stupidity and mismanagement led to the near extirpation of the herring in the first place.  They still allow 80 million metric tonnes of krill to be removed from the Strait of Georgia; krill is the very basis of the food pyramid, without krill there is nothing for the young herring to eat.  Without herring there is nothing for the carnivourous fish like halibut and salmon.  When there was plenty of krill there was plenty of everything which depends on krill but they "need" it for the pellets they feed to the fish in the feed pens, otherwise the flesh of the penned salmon is pallid and the customer won't buy it.

Thank God we are not as "dumb" as "those other people" are!!  We'd be in shit to our chins if we were.

brebis noire

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« Reply #3 on: June 04, 2006, 03:38:31 PM »
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For example, Gross Domestic or National (there's a difference and I can never remember what it is) Product figures, on which much else is based, are skewed. The necessary labour of women, not just 'domestic' labour, but subsistence farming, any labour that is not paid, does not count.

Economies of countries are destroyed when colonial powers come in and take over tracts of land for cash crops or mining. Not only does this wipe out or seriously reduce subsistence farming, but it knocks women out of the economy. Men are hired for cash and women are left to farm, look after children etc.


Value is visible only when men are doing the work or when it's institutionalised - when it becomes part of the 'real' economy. How do you measure the value of raising children, tending animals, caring for sick, elderly and disabled people, and making sure that your land is producing crops?

And where is Stephen Gordon when you need him?  :wink:

I desperately need a course in Economics 101, because wealth creation and market logic strains against my instincts and observations as a student of life sciences.

On a related tack (it's all related, from my POV), I was reading an account by Doris Lessing about her visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan back in 1986 during the Soviet invasion and war. She spoke with numerous mujaheddin fighters, as well as the women and children left behind in refugee camps. Depending on who she was speaking to (young, not-yet-disabled men vs. women of child-bearing age and the children themselves), the accounts didn't mesh.

The men felt they were heroes (or potential ones) and master military strategists, whereas the women said that their children were sick and dying, they missed their homes and villages, and there was essentially nothing to live for anymore...

anne cameron

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« Reply #4 on: June 04, 2006, 07:22:04 PM »
Just as some families seem predisposed to "dyslexia", mine seems to have a large number of people who have "dyscalculia".  Of my four kids, two male two female one adopted, two are dyscalculic, two aren't (the adopted isn't).  Numbers mean zot.  I can visualize ten fingers and do some basic adding and subtracting but let's not get foolish and head off into multiplication and long division because it's just a morass of misery.

Consequently, "economics" is dumbfounding.  However many metric thises of that valued at who-said-so per wotzit is cow dung to me.  But dim as I am, dyscalculiac or not, it's pretty obvious that the Rumsfelds get richer and the rest of us don't.  The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are liars, crooks, and mass killers and should be treated as such.  Instead, the worst of the lot get called "sir" and called the honourable this and the respected that and walk around surrounded by bum boys and lackeys who ought to know better and don't.

And for some reason, perhaps only that someone told us so, too many of us believe the pony puckies.  And our government continues to take tax money and send it off as "foreign aid" without bothering to check if there is any reasonable use to which that money is put when it gets where it's said to be going.

And it is so obvious, so blatant, so bald faced and unapologetic I can only surmise it is deliberate.  When governments allow corporations to dictate the places and terms under which tax dollars will be spent you don't have to be a math genius to know the whole system stinks.

And over a couple of generations we've been brainwashed into the automobile mentality.  One isn't enough, have to have two, or maybe three.  Europe has done a better job of developing train travel and public transit, probably because they didn't have the exess space to park the same ratio of cars.  And now that we have the cars and can't imagine how to live without them, the price of gas skyrockets.  Supposedly because of a world shortage of oil.  Yet the oil conglomerates are making bigger profit than ever before AND our government is giving them massive tax breaks and even subsidies.  And I guess we're not supposed to notice.

The ever widening girth of the Harpoon is dancing a pavanne choreographed and orchestrated by corporations, telling us we can't afford this or that or whatever else and privatization will cure the ills.  On the coast the railway and ferry service have been virtually given away.  The money grab at airports is stunning; surcharges to take off and other surcharges to land and surcharges for fuel costs and take your own lunch, the tax payers lost land and got dinged hugely to build the airports and everything inside is commercialized crap.  You can hardly get your luggage to the ticket place without being practically halted in mid step by some sleazy seller of some piece of worthless souvenir crud.  So why did the public get dinged to build the damn place, why not the corporations.

And I could get started on the Olympic bullshit out here but I'll spare you that.  It is, however, just another way for the number crunchers to move the dot and carry four and do it so quickly we barely even notice we've been had again.  And again.

And in it all, women and kids come last.  Working women with kids make less money than anyone else in the job spectrum.  And that, by god, will teach'em!

Gross national product, for sure.  It's all gross.  Gross as all hell!

schooner

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« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2006, 01:12:41 AM »
I don't know that we can influence foreign policy in these times, but it sure can't do any harm to harass one's MP on the subject.  Ask and ask and ask the same fundamental questions: "What are you doing for .... ?" "Why this policy?" "How do you propose to carry it out?" It may result in no action, but at least we can keep reminding them that a constiuent cares about the rest of the world and Canada's activities outside our borders.

I'm always skeptical of sending money for relief anywhere. People caught in a disaster need water, food, medicine, blankets, clothes, houses, chickens.... not money. When a dollar value is attached to something real and immediate, that thing loses some of its reality and immediacy. By the number of dollars that have been collected for Katrina victims, they should be better off than before the hurricane. The money did very little for them. On the other hand, people who went and set up camps and kitchens, who rescued dogs, delivered supplies, offered transportation, cleaned up streets and did a hundred other useful and difficult tasks made a real difference.

From that, i draw two conclusions. Don't expect political leaders to lead - or contribute anything worthwhile - in a project you care about. And don't think in terms of monetary value.
Think in terms of real life. There is something wrong in a particular place: someone is hurt, hungry, in danger, in need. I would like to help. What is required to relieve the pain? What material resources are available? What human resources are available? How can the two be brought together? What am i realistically able to contribute?

Well, you can't fix the world, so you have to choose one small problem to concentrate on, and then you have to find one small way in which your abilities would be most effectively deployed. That may mean anything from educating yourself on the particulars to leading an international organization.
Or maybe looking around your own neighbourhood for a similar problem. Maybe thinking, talking, imagining, experimenting - and eventually solving our own local problems is the best thing we can do for the world. After all, there is nothing more inspirational and heartening than a successful example.

brebis noire

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« Reply #6 on: June 05, 2006, 08:31:01 AM »
schooner, that's as wise an analysis of foreign aid as I've ever seen. On one level, yes, money is important to make projects go ahead, but most agencies seem to want us to think that it's all about the money (and I'm talking about the ones who operate above board.)

You also made me realize that foreign policy/foreign aid is pure economics, which is probably why it doesn't work. According to the way economic theory works out in practice (at least as I understand it), the ultimate response is "There will never be enough money to solve everybody's problems, therefore most problems will remain unsolvable."

I think if we take that approach, it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy.

anne cameron

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« Reply #7 on: June 05, 2006, 10:36:35 AM »
And yesterday, because of the arrest of 17 men suspected of being terrorists, living in Canada and plotting to blow up strategic targets, we get told the budget for security for the 2010 Olympics is grossly underestimated.  The TV showed a clip of one of the IOC bigwigs saying they had known all along that the security budget wouldn't be enough...that both previous Olympics had much bigger budgets...

so the taxpayer will get scoured again!  And probably for close to a billion dollars.  All this for a week and a half of sports.

Add up the costs, add up the purported "benefits" and then try to keep a straight face when Harpoon tells us we can't afford social programmes...

If the IOC KNEW the budget figures were pie-in-the-sky WHY did they accept them?  Why take the application seriously?

What really determines the choice of "host" city?

And what could all that money have done if it had been spent on seeds, drilled wells, and medicine for the masses suffering in refugee camps in Africa?

It is just not right.

And why hasn't the International court done something about the invasion of Iraq?  Why aren't Blair and Bush indicted for violation of the Geneva Convention and the Nuremburg Declaration?

And...and...and...foreign aid is immoral as it is being done now.  Just bloody immoral.

vmichel

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« Reply #8 on: June 05, 2006, 01:02:56 PM »
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By the number of dollars that have been collected for Katrina victims, they should be better off than before the hurricane. The money did very little for them. On the other hand, people who went and set up camps and kitchens, who rescued dogs, delivered supplies, offered transportation, cleaned up streets and did a hundred other useful and difficult tasks made a real difference.


It's also interesting to think about how regulations control who is allowed to offer hands-on help. When Katrina hit I was between jobs and willing to go down there and help. We got a very clear message that the government did not want people heading down there, that we wouldn't be allowed in and we'd be arrested if we tried, and that the best thing we could do was send money.

So I watched on TV, and saw people dying day after day... and kept checking the Red Cross and another orgs to see if they'd finally ask for help, and kept getting the message "we want your money, not your time..."

I had no money. I had lots of time.

A trucker living near me decided he was going to head down there with a semi full of bottled water. He put big ads in the paper asking if anyone wanted to come. He said he couldn't stand seeing people dying of dehydration in this great country, and he'd be damned if he let some bureaucrats stand in his way. He had a semi full of water and he was taking it to people who needed it.

I thought about joining him, but the authorities responded to say that he wouldn't be allowed there, he shouldn't try, and he'd be arrested if he did find his way in somehow...

I don't know what happened to him.

Now that the dust has settled, it's clear that volunteers could have done a world of good. People died. Not from the hurricane, but because they were left stranded in a wasteland. No food, no water, temperatures out of control, surrounded by disease... nothing coming in and nothing coming out. It was pure containment.

All that money raised, and no results. It's hurricane season again, and NO is more vulnerable than before.

I don't know. I've just been thinking about that a lot lately. Why were they so hell-bent on keeping civilians out of the zone? Why were they incapable of providing aid themselves? And what would it take for us to rise up against these rules and regulations and bust in with water? How big a natural disaster would it need to be for us to finally become outraged enough to run down there ourselves and take care of business?

anne cameron

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« Reply #9 on: June 05, 2006, 01:25:52 PM »
I have no links for this so don't believe a word of it.  Never believe anything anyone says, check it out for yourself.

A year or two before Katrina there was a huge study undertaken by the US feds to determine a proposal for a plan to "help" New Orleans "grow" and "progress", because it was really a tourist destination with an influx in time for Mardi Gras , then downhill in terms of visitors.

The study suggested New Orleans could grow almost boundlessly if it became another Las Vegas, and had scads and heaps of casino's, something for people to drop money into all year.  The down side of that was the best locations for those casino's were already covered with housing, most of it rundown rental or working-poor housing and the cost of buying out all those people would be astronomical and anyway where then would you put them...

Right about then the funds for levee construction and upkeep around Lake Pontchartrain were either cut or just somehow evaporated.  The levees did what levees do when they are neglected, they started to fall apart.

And not five years after the study results and the slashing of levee upkeep along came Katrina.  Guess what?  Those areas most suited for casino placement were devastated.  People were desperate, were dying, were given the choice to be transported to Hell and Gone or rot where they were.   Nobody even knows how many people opted for Hell and Gone.  Few have returned, they have nothing to which to return.  They have become refugees in other states and have run out of welfare benefits and sympathy and fuck'em all anyway.

So very little has been done that it is almost safe to say NOTHING has been done.  A lot of money poured in and...where is it?  What is it used for?

And soon enough the bulldozers will move in and flatten everything.  The areas need to be backfilled and elevated so the casino's can be built so pound the present rubble into the mud, ought to add just about enough height to make it all floodproof forever.  Maybe truck in some dirt from the flooded swamps.  That'll maybe drain the swamps a bit and make more room for golf courses or something.  

Build the casinos.  Watch the hotel people smile.  Look look look and see, see a government exploit it's own, look Dick look Jane see at home what they do everywhere else.  Down with the poor!  Scatter the families!  Take what precious little they had, use it for your own ends and fuck them all anyway.

No wonder they did not want a lot of outside witnesses!

And with Homeland Security busy tapping phones and reading e-mails and turfing people into jail without charges , without notifying families so there are hundreds, maybe more "disappeared" who is going to jump up and say much?  Their leader should be indicted as a war crimes villain and blind eyes are turned to that, why worry about a few thousand blacks and poor whites or a hospital left without power so peoples life support machines failed and the people died, then rotted in their beds because nobody went to check.  Who is going to make a noise when it could mean they disappear?

skdadl

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« Reply #10 on: June 05, 2006, 01:44:28 PM »
At a slight tangent from aid:

A debate we ran into repeatedly on babble had to do with news of fresh outrages against (especially) women or gays in theocratic countries or areas.

If you followed those stories back, you learned, eg, that the northern provinces of Nigeria have been taken over by fundamentalists who are indeed dangerous to women and gays. At the same time, their worst judgements are regularly being overruled by a new central government trying to establish some international legitimacy (and therefore sensitive to the right kind of international pressure); and furthermore, and most importantly, there are strong activist groups on the ground in Nigeria who know more about how to approach problems there than we ever could.

Iran is a tougher problem. We saw the story of two gay teenagers being hanged in a provincial town there, just heart-breaking. There is a political opposition to the theocracy in Iran and it is not negligible, has deep cultural roots, but at the moment it is seriously on the defensive given that the whole country is facing international pressure, perhaps worse. A military attack on Iran would finish off the political opposition there.

I am sure that there are enlightened activist groups almost everywhere -- there are feminists organizing in Uzbekistan, eg. And it seems that it must be important for at least some Westerners to support them somehow, although in each case that is going to take serious research. Apart from that, what can we do except try to change our own governments' behaviour abroad?

Maybe we need a time to take our fury out when we see photos of teenagers being strung up on a gallows. Yes: we do. But if that's all we do, we add to the climate of opinion here that says, eg, that Iran is a benighted nation of barbarians and deserves whatever fresh hell the military-industrial complex can throw at it.

I read people promoting that attitude in the Globe and Mail every day. It is a real threat, IMHO. At least we cannot reinforce it.

schooner

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« Reply #11 on: June 05, 2006, 02:54:15 PM »
Right.
It's difficult to oppose stupid (at best) foreign policy as it relates to bad regimes. Difficult, because we can't even talk about it openly: opposers doen't get to a microphone.

And it's confusing, too, because different concepts get mixed up in people's minds:
Iran has a bad government = Iran is a bad country. Therefore, it must be bombed and invaded. Worked in Afghanistan and Iraq, right? All those dear little girls are going to school and allowed to wear bikinis, right?

There are too many people, here, as in the US, who can't seem to see the obvious: military intervention never solves the problem, and usually makes it worse. It always hurts, first and most, the people it proposes to save.

Non-military intervention - economic sanction, for example - by other countries doesn't work either. For a start, that's usually a scam for shifting armaments or laundering money. Entrenched power is never interested in making life better for 'the little people' - though they will sometimes paper over the worst abuses for a while to make the world shut up about them.

A society is not a machine. You can't just put in a new gasket or distributor to make it run properly. You can't even know, from outside, what 'properly' means in another country, let alone which components are malfunctioning. A society is a living, organic entity. Its problems can only be diagnosed and treated by the people in it.

Can we help them? Sure. The three best collective actions are: Pressure our own government to leave them alone (That is, refuse aid and support to the oppressor.). Communicate with opposition forces inside the country, and give them whatever aid and support we can. Try to reach as many citizens of our own country as possible, and get them thinking clearly. The last is the hardest.

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« Reply #12 on: June 05, 2006, 03:11:26 PM »
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[quote:1jhyuka8] For example, Gross Domestic or National (there's a difference and I can never remember what it is) Product figures, on which much else is based, are skewed. The necessary labour of women, not just 'domestic' labour, but subsistence farming, any labour that is not paid, does not count.

Economies of countries are destroyed when colonial powers come in and take over tracts of land for cash crops or mining. Not only does this wipe out or seriously reduce subsistence farming, but it knocks women out of the economy. Men are hired for cash and women are left to farm, look after children etc.

Value is visible only when men are doing the work or when it's institutionalised - when it becomes part of the 'real' economy. How do you measure the value of raising children, tending animals, caring for sick, elderly and disabled people, and making sure that your land is producing crops?

And where is Stephen Gordon when you need him?  :wink:

I desperately need a course in Economics 101, because wealth creation and market logic strains against my instincts and observations as a student of life sciences.

[/quote:1jhyuka8]

It's discussions like these that explain why economists long ago stopped talking about 'value' - it's virtually impossible to nail down just what it is. What we observe is prices, and we only see them if both sides agree to the exchange. And although non-market activities aren't included in GDP, economists (the good ones, anyway) do take them into account in their analyses.

brebis noire

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« Reply #13 on: June 05, 2006, 03:36:20 PM »
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It's discussions like these that explain why economists long ago stopped talking about 'value' - it's virtually impossible to nail down just what it is. What we observe is prices, and we only see them if both sides agree to the exchange. And although non-market activities aren't included in GDP, economists (the good ones, anyway) do take them into account in their analyses.


I appreciate this answer, Stephen, really. Especially the part about observing prices and 'if both sides agree to the exchange'. I imagine it must be very difficult to take into account work and activities that are more or less invisible because they take place in the private domain - or by workers who don't officially 'count' (e.g. undocumented immigrants). I wonder how this is done.

Not to mention when there is one side that for whatever reason, doesn't even agree to the exchange.

schooner

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« Reply #14 on: June 05, 2006, 04:41:03 PM »
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I imagine it must be very difficult to take into account work and activities that are more or less invisible because they take place in the private domain -

I don't see why. Divorce courts do it every day.

 

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