Feminist Next System Literature Review

Nancy Folbre

Nancy Folbre is an economics professor emerita at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. A prolific writer, her work focuses on the interface between feminist theory and political economy, with a particular interest in caring labor and other forms of nonmarket work. She is a former cochair of the MacArthur Research Network on the Family and the Economy (1997–2003). She was a member of the French government’s Commission on the Measurement of Economic and Social Progress, and has served as a consultant to the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Labour Organization, the Population Council, and the International Center for Research on Women. While she does not necessarily have a next system design, her in-depth coverage of the gender-based economics of care and the family, as well as other feminist issues connected to political economy, could help to provide the basis for system design analysis in these areas. 

Folbre described her view of the role of feminist economists in creating alternatives in an interview for Oliver Ressler’s film Alternative Economies - Alternative Societies:

 “I am a big fan of science fiction. I like Marge Piercy’s science fiction and that of Sherry Tepper, Kim Stanley Robinson that’s where the social imagination first takes hold. In a way what I am doing is just a sort of coming behind these more imaginative visions and trying to figure out and think about, how we might actually put it together, and how we could adapt some of our existing economic institutions to move in that direction. Economists are the kind of engineers of the utopian, our job is to take care of the nuts and bolts of that alternative economic system and I think we depend on artists and writers to help us see where we want to go.” 

Some of Folbre's recent work includes:

For Love and Money. Care Provision in the United States, 2012
As women moved into the formal labor force in large numbers over the last forty years, care work – traditionally provided primarily by women – has increasingly shifted from the family arena to the market. Child care, elder care, care for the disabled, and home care now account for a growing segment of low-wage work in the United States, and demand for such work will only increase as the baby boom generation ages. But the expanding market provision of care has created new economic anxieties and raised pointed questions: Why do women continue to do most care work, both paid and unpaid? Why does care work remain low paid when the quality of care is so highly valued? How effective and equitable are public policies toward dependents in the United States? In For Love and Money, an interdisciplinary team of experts explores the theoretical dilemmas of care provision and provides an unprecedented empirical overview of the looming problems for the care sector in the United States.
Greed, Lust, and Gender. A History of Economic Ideas, 2009
When does the pursuit of self-interest go too far, lapsing into morally unacceptable behaviour? Until the unprecedented events of the recent global financial crisis economists often seemed unconcerned with this question, even suggesting that "greed is good." A closer look, however, suggests that greed and lust are generally considered good only for men, and then only outside the realm of family life. The history of Western economic ideas shows that men have given themselves more cultural permission than women for the pursuit of both economic and sexual self-interest. Feminists have long contested the boundaries of this permission, demanding more than mere freedom to act more like men. Women have gradually gained the power to revise our conceptual and moral maps and to insist on a better-and less gendered-balance between self interest and care for others.
Valuing Children: Rethinking the Economics of the Family
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008
This book challenges the conventional economist’s assumption that parents have children for the same reason that they acquire pets—primarily for the pleasure of their company. Children become the workers and taxpayers of the next generation, and “investments” in them offer a significant payback to other participants in the economy. Yet parents, especially mothers, pay most of the costs. The high price of childrearing pushes many families into poverty, often with adverse consequences for children themselves. Parents spend time as well as money on children. Yet most estimates of the “cost” of children ignore the value of this time. This book provides a startlingly high but entirely credible estimate of the value of parental time per child by asking what it would cost to purchase a comparable substitute for it. It also emphasizes the need for better accounting of public expenditure on children over the life cycle and describes the need to rethink the very structure and logic of the welfare state. A new institutional structure could promote more cooperative, sustainable, and efficient commitments to the next generation.
Family Time: The Social Organization of Care
New York: Routledge, 2004
Time is not money. If anything, it is more important than money. The time we have to care for one another, especially for our children and our elderly, is more precious to us than anything else in the world. Yet we have more experience accounting for money than we do for time. In this volume, leading experts in analysis of time-use from across the globe explore the interface between time-use and family policy. They show how social institutions limit the choices that individuals can make about how to divide their time between paid and unpaid work. They challenge conventional surveys that offer simplistic measures of time spent in childcare or eldercare. They summarize empirical evidence concerning trends in time devoted to the care of family members and debate ways of assigning a monetary value to this time.

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