by Amalia Mobley
It’s the day after International Women’s Day. Less than 24 hours ago, women all around the world gathered in solidarity. We use this day to demand equality, fairness, and the right to enjoy all of the privileges men enjoy. As a part of that effort, Maeve Cohen, director of Rethinking Economics, believes that one of the most crucial steps to equality is a more practical and gendered approach to economic study.
Rethinking economy: Reinforcement of women
While Cohen was attending Manchester University in 2012, she studied politics and economics. Majoring in both subjects, she observed a world of difference: her politics courses were discussion-based and looked at real-world problems, while her economics course was almost purely theoretical study, as if economics existed in a bubble.
“There was no critical thought, no discussion questions,” said Cohen. “I studied economics for three years and at no point did anybody tell me what a bank was, or what a bank actually did, or what a pension fund was or what a pension fund did.” Attending college in 2012 and studying economics, one would think, would lead to learning about the global recession. Not so. According to Cohen, even though both qualifications were met, not a word was said about it throughout her university career. With all this in mind, Cohen quickly understood why the economy around the globe was suffering: economists lacked the fundamental, practical education to tackle the problems of the world around them.
This gave Cohen a new goal: to reform economics education and make it applicable to the real world. With Rethinking Economics, the first goal is pluralism. From Rethinking Economics’ website, “Rethinking Economics is an international network of students, academics and professionals building a better economics in society and the classroom. Through a mixture of campaigning, events and engaging projects, Rethinking Economics connects people globally to discuss and enact the change needed for the future of economics, and to propel the vital debate on what economics is today.”
Learning the context and not so much definitions
In college, Cohen had learned about economics as if it were a single school of thought, not the multi-faceted topic of study that it is.“There are different problems that require different solutions.” Cohen said. “We’re about creating critical economists that can do that thinking for themselves.” The second is putting economic history into context: what happened, what went wrong, and how to think critically about past problems in order to solve future ones. The third involves understanding how classical economists thought, and thinking about how each theory leads to another in a social context.
Another important goal, especially with International Women’s Day just behind us, is to take a more gendered approach to economic study. “I mean, women are half of the economy, right?” Cohen said. “Women are half of the world, and the economy is just what people in the world do, and women do half of that, if not more of that work. But, the way that we value it within society and within the economic models that we learn at university is that we value paid work. And the work that women do is often the unpaid work.” Take the circular model of economics: put simply, households produce laborers that go to work in firms, while households then purchase the products that these firms make.
This model explains the production of the firms’ products, but doesn’t expand on the work that takes place within the household to make the laborers. The unpaid work that (usually) women do is skimmed over, and this amount of work can be considerable: raising and educating a child, creating a home, running a household. “…That work is by and large done with women, but is not considered in our conception of how the economy works at all, which creates a massive power imbalance.” Said Cohen. “So if we only value paid work, and men do all the paid work and men have all the money, then we’re at a massive disadvantage because of that…I think a lot of women go in to study economics and it doesn’t really reflect their life experiences, or what they understand the economy and life to be, because it doesn’t really consider the role that women play within that.”
Learning circular economy
Rethinking Economics’ International Women’s Day campaign demanded that universities and governments make a stronger effort to diversify and include women in economics. A social media campaign included sending politicians a badge to wear and take pictures with to raise awareness of the one-dimensionality of economics today, and to include more perspectives in the economic world. In addition, the students of the Rethinking Economics network set up lectures, workshops, and events to raise awareness for the lack of diverse thought in economic study.
Though incorporating more women into the economic sphere is one of Rethinking Economics’ main goals, it’s important to note that it’s not the only kind of diversity that it’s trying to push. “Diversity’s bigger than women.” Said Cohen. One of the projects that Rethinking Economics is in the process of developing will take Rethinking Economics’ network of university students and go into schools and teach about economics to children. “It’s sort of two-pronged, get kids interested and also create economists that can speak to laypeople. But, by going into schools, which obviously have a much more diverse makeup of individuals [than in the study of economics] and showing those individuals how economics is important, and how it does relate to them. We hope that more students will choose economics as a subject in later life.”
Maeve Cohen and Rethinking Economics are working to make the field of economic study more diverse, more inclusive, and more human than it has been. By using diverse perspectives to make economics more practical than theoretical, Cohen and Rethinking Economics hope to create an economic world run by critical thinkers to help solve the world’s problems.