Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?

Book review by Daphne Francis of Deep Green Resistance

I have just enjoyed reading Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? by Katrine Marcal, translated from her Swedish into English and published by Portobello books in 2015. It certainly is a change for me to find an economics book not only informative and accurate, but also highly readable and even entertaining, with at times trenchant analysis and cutting comments.

Marcal is not the first to highlight the absence of care work, done mostly by women, from calculations of Gross National Product and the decisions of that fabricated entity ‘economic man’. When valued at all, this work is severely undervalued. But for me she breaks new ground in stating that, if the body was taken seriously as the starting point for the economy, it would have far-reaching results. In her words “a society organised around the shared needs of human bodies would be very different from the one we know today.”

She dissects the notion of economic man which has now become such a keystone economic assumption that even our feelings of love and care are treated as preferences and impersonal sets of desires. This reduction reaches a low point in an analysis that “Faking ecstasy in bed is part of a ‘rational signaling model’.” Books have actually been published with the sickening title (and probably more sickening content) of how to Find a Husband after 35: (Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School) – a damning indictment of that particular academic icon. The body is turned into human capital. The disposal of radioactive waste can be sorted by cash payments to the desperately poor. Whether we shut down a life becomes a business decision; there is no more meaning in death than is left in life. Whilst the focus of Marcal’s analysis is on the erasure of women, readers of this blog will be all too aware of the effect of economic man on the rest of the natural world as well.

Finally, who did cook the illustrious classical economist’s dinner and organise his domestic life? We have to wait for the final chapter of the book to bring to life the story of this key part of Adam Smith’s economy, a woman he effectively erased from the celebrated text into which so much of her life energy went. I won’t spoil the revelation but leave you to find out for yourself the full story behind Adams Smith’s academic output.

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