Tuesday, 21 March 2017

48. Facing the bull: feminism takes on the economy

I found this piece of "guerrilla art" extremely moving. Kristen Visbel designed this sculpture of a girl facing the charging bull of Wall Street. It was installed just before women's international day. State Street Global advisors commissioned the work and explained it was calling for greater diversity in the private sector in general and financial sector in particular. However, the image suggests a bit more than that (to me at least). For example: which of the two figures transmit true authority? which of the two figures is in control of him/herself? which one truly says fearlessness? which one is free -are any of them-? what do they see in each other/do they see each other? which effect are they expecting to have on the other? can any of them have a positive effect on the other?
Looking at it from a feminist point of view: is this girl speaking about contraception, abortion, abuse (the most salient feminist issues)? is she really speaking only about gender diversity in the work place (the topic the organisers claim to be symbolising) ? or is this speechless girl changing the conversation altogether? Does she only represent women? Is feminism ready to face the bull, take on the next big battle: economics?

A girl facing the bull: self-contained strength v rampant hunger/anger

A bull in a state of frenzy might have represented a sense of triumph for Wall Street for surviving a crisis, but it is hardly an inspirational image. This became particularly clear after the 2008 crisis. However, that sense of blind hunger/anger in form of ambition, selfishness, greed was presented back then as something positive, something that was causing the economy to grow and therefore unquestionably good for all.
Having ambition was the mark of someone successful even if it was becoming clear that success was an unreachable moving target that never gets satisfied. A hunger that produced tasteless, unwholesome food that in the attempt to satisfy reproduces hunger and trap us in a circular movement. A hunger that hoarded things that are not touched, are not used, are not played with. A hoarding that sucks up resources that are then recycled but are not used to produce anything else (let's remember that most of the money the finance sector moves never enters the 'real' economy).

A bull that conveys a sense of anticipation, what is about to do, what is about to win in front of a girl satisfied by her own stance, by the present moment, proposing to stop and change the game. This is a challenge as much as it is a proposal, because she does not challenge the bull from the logic of fear.

A girl facing the bull: feminism in economics

There are many feminist voices in economics speaking up. Some of them argue for care work to be considered work, some others discuss universal income, somehow focusing on the distribution issue.
I'm particularly interested (at least for the moment) in the 'female' role (nothing to do with gender) in creation: The one that creates spaces and conditions (and even probably markets), the one the makes the long term investment, not necessarily expecting a "return" on the investment through interests but rather a "forward" on the investment: whatever was invested will be paid forwardly and passed on to future generations. In previous articles, I suggested that "states" tend to adopt the female role in contra-position of the private sector.

Mariana Mazzucato speaks all around the world and wrote several books about the role of the state in innovation that tends to be invisibilised and unacknowledged:

In this video Professor Laura Bear speaks about how financial mechanisms subjugated politics to the finance sector and forces governments to austerity:

Ann Pettifor, one of the few economists that predicted the 2008 financial crisis, has just published a book speaking about the production of money, and argues that it is a feminist issue in this article in The Guardian, where she tries to correct two of the fallacies that another woman, Margaret Tatcher, "incepted" in public common sense: comparing the economy with a household budget, and "there is no money".

The economy is nothing like a house budget

"On the first, the public are told that cuts in spending and in some benefits, combined with rises in income from taxes will – just as with a household – balance the budget. Even though a single household’s budget is a) minuscule compared to that of a government; b) does not, like the government’s, impact on the wider economy; c) does not benefit from tax revenues (now, or in the foreseeable future); and d) is not backed by a powerful central bank. Despite all these obvious differences, government budgets are deemed analogous (by economists and politicians) to a household budget.
To understand why the government/household analogy is false it is important to understand that the balance of the government budget, unlike that of a household, is entirely a function of the wider economy. If the economy slumps (as in 2008-9) and the private sector weakens, then like a see-saw the public sector deficit, and then the debt, rises. When private economic activity revives (thanks to increased investment, employment, sales etc) tax revenues rise, unemployment benefits fall, and the government deficit and debt follow the same downward trajectory.
So, to balance the government’s budget, efforts must be made to revive Britain’s economy, including the indebted private sector. Because government spending (unlike a household’s spending) has a big impact on the economy, governments can use loan-financed investment to expand tax-generating employment – both public (for example, nurses and teachers) and private sector employment (construction workers)."
No money?

"The second myth is that “there is no money” – for social care, the NHS, education and skilled, well-paid employment – all of which disproportionately impact on women’s lives.
Philip Hammond will present his budget on International Women’s Day, but has already warned against any rise in spending, and repeated a meme popular with politicians: namely that “there is no pot of money under my desk”.. His views are echoed by Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who argued in 2016 that “there is no proverbial magic money tree”.
One woman can be said to have given the phrase “there is no money” much credibility. In her 1983 speech to the Conservative party conference, Margaret Thatcher declared that: “The state has no source of money, other than the money people earn themselves. If the state wishes to spend more it can only do so by borrowing your savings, or by taxing you more … There is no such thing as public money. There is only taxpayers’ money.”

Today this framing of the debate is at odds with reality. After the financial crisis, the Bank of England injected £1,000bn into the private finance sector to prevent systemic economic failure. And after the shock of the Brexit vote, the Bank unveiled the “Term Funding Scheme” as part of a £170bn “stimulus package”aimed at the private finance sector. The money was “public money” offered at a historically low interest rate – to bankers. It was not raised by cutting spending, and it was not raised from “your taxes”, even while its issue was backed by Britain’s taxpayers."

And finally, on economics and feminism: 
And while women may have broken the shackles that tie them to work in the home, they have acquired new chains: economic myths that prolong economic weakness, deny them access to the services they need, and to skilled, well-paid work that would improve living standards.

Going back to the girl and the bull: for whom are we routing for? who should win -should any of them win-? is this a battle?


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