Who cooked Adam Smith’s dinner?

Didn’t know about this book at all – Who cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? It is by Katrine Marcal who has written a scathing review of economics built around “rational man”:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest

When Adam Smith wrote that all our actions stem from self-interest and the world turns because of financial gain he brought to life ‘economic man’. Selfish and cynical, economic man has dominated our thinking ever since and his influence has spread from the market to how we shop, work and date. But every night Adam Smith’s mother served him his dinner, not out of self-interest but out of love.

Today, our economics focuses on self-interest and excludes all other motivations. It disregards the unpaid work of mothering, caring, cleaning and cooking. It insists that if women are paid less, then that’s because their labour is worth less – how could it be otherwise?

Economics has told us a story about how the world works and we have swallowed it, hook, line and sinker. Now it’s time to change the story.

In this courageous look at the mess we’re in, Katrine Marçal tackles the biggest myth of our time and invites us to kick out economic man once and for all.


Malcolm Harris reviews the book:

Katrine Marçal, a Swedish newspaper columnist, tells a different story. Her tale focuses on Adam Smith and his dinner. Smith, the originator of what we now call economics, may have imagined a table set with self-interest-filled plates, but he didn’t cook his own meals, nor did he pay anyone to do it for him. He didn’t go from one devotee’s house to another like an ancient Greek, and he didn’t sit at a patron’s table like a court painter. Instead, he had his mommy do it.

Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? is Marçal’s book-length attack on the idea of economic rationality as a whole, from Smith to the present day. For Marçal, the title story points to a fundamental error in economic ideology: “Somebody has to prepare that steak so Adam Smith can say their labor doesn’t matter.” Much of women’s domestic and reproductive labor quite literally does not factor within economic models. The old joke is that GDP declines when an economist marries his housekeeper, which is not so much a joke as a good explanation of Gross Domestic Product and what it does not account for. The economic rationality that is supposed to guide human behavior isn’t designed to apply to the half of the population expected to work for free. Marçal doesn’t argue that economics is sexist so much as that it’s totally clueless.

In trying to express exactly what’s been going wrong, Marçal proceeds by aggressive use of common sense—poking and prodding in plain language at contradictions in economics—rather than in the terms of dense critical theory. She declines to invoke Marxist feminists like Monique Wittig or Selma James (whose work on gender roles seems to have been an inspiration, at least indirectly) or any of their inheritors. If another thinker enters the text, it’s usually to be eviscerated.

The book starts with the 2008 crash. Marçal quotes Christine Lagarde, then French Minister of Finance, who surmised that things would have turned out differently if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters. That is to say, women might have a better temperament for managing global capitalism. Marçal has little tolerance for this kind of ahistorical thinking:

A world where women dominated Wall Street would have had to be so completely different from the actual world that to describe it wouldn’t tell us anything about the actual world. Thousands of years of history would need to be rewritten in order to lead up to the hypothetical moment that an investment bank named Lehman Sisters could handle its over-exposure to an overheated American housing market.

In short, the thought experiment is meaningless.

Marçal rejects Lagarde and the “Lean In” brand of feminism that imagines women, economically, as heretofore repressed men. The literal translation of the book’s Swedish title, Det enda könet, is “The Only Sex,” which seems to speak to a French feminist tradition that views woman as a product of structural conflict with man. For her part, Marçal makes a radical suggestion that patriarchy, having operated for “thousands of years of history,” is bound to come to an end. It’s not human nature, not biology, just a matter of time. Future societies will look back on economics as a kind of foolish male mysticism, and Marçal’s book anticipates the tone of their laughter.

In short, self-contained chapters, Marçal moves through the contradictions and errors flowing from Smith’s mistake. Although Marçal’s target is economics, her critique applies to social contract theorists and any philosophy that starts with the individual, as in the thought of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. Only a man, she suggests, would imagine independence rather than dependence as the basis for the human condition. Individualists make the mistake of economic thinking: They forget about their mothers. “No one reads books about childbirth in order to understand human existence,” Marçal writes. “We read Shakespeare. Or one of the great philosophers who write about how people spring from the earth like mushrooms and immediately start drafting social contracts with each other.” To the idea that human society begins with men negotiating for their individual security, Marçal replies, “Hardly.”


Should be an interesting read…

Again shows our ignorance of history of economic thought. We just take most ideas selectively dished from Smith’s opus..No debates whatsoever..

One Response to “Who cooked Adam Smith’s dinner?”

  1. The Says:

    What dinner? Adam Smith needs no dinners as he had been getting free lunches (feast enough to last through dinner) all this while…..

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