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Elson, Diane (1994) “Micro, Meso, Macro: Gender and Economics Analysis in the Context of Policy Reform” in I. Bakker (ed) The strategic Silence: Gender and Economic Policy, London and Ottawa: Zed Books, pp. 93-104
Assignment to be submitted to: Dr. Yayoi Sugihashi
Submitted on 26th June 2009 School of Environment, Resources and Development, Gender and Development Studies, Asian Institute of Technology, Student Name: Sreng Sopheap Student ID: st107692
Summarize Diane Elson (1994) provides in her analysis and critiques on economic policy reforms which include micro, meso and macro economic. Micro and macro; however, traditionally were what economist used to focus on such as a division of supply and demand side and its connection between the micro and macro level with its gender neutral interaction considering individual economic agents as a unit of analysis. However, later the article brings its introduction into the meso level analysis that it is more concern on how each structure would interfere or influence individual household economy which markets, private enterprises and public sectors as the major considerations into the economy. In this article, Diane brings together the three levels of micro, meso and macro economics into discussion of policy reform as well as its effects on gender. She also offers some feminist methodologies which are useful in understanding these three level analyses. It will first summary economic policy reform at micro, macro and meso in the neo-classical perspective. Second, it briefs some critiques of economic policy reform of these three levels in the perspectives of critical economics and third is the feminist critical economics and the critique of economic policy reform, which will be later followed a discussion and conclusion. As neo-classical economic perspective being introduced is actually a major economic of policy reform which solely reliance on the notions of self-regulating, free market, free choice of economic agents and self-interested individual to work towards meeting the supply and demand and utilities. This believes that as long as both supply and demand are free market, they will adjust and mediate through some mechanisms which soon will achieve general equilibrium; where supply and demand are satisfied. The satisfaction is of course followed by a notion that each economic agent is rational and voluntarily with some market mechanisms aim to utilize the most available resources and with a theory of Pareto optimality where the result of such an economic interaction should not let anyone be made better off without someone else being made worse off (p.34) The neo-classical economics which the micro, macro and meso are very much inter-related, though at different levels. Marco level examines economy in a bigger scale such as market output in both private and public sectors, total national and private expenditures. On how these macro activities are designed/operated will be surely shedding impacts on the populations/household which are considered micro level, through some meso structures such as market institutions. The effects may also be from how the government/public policy is introduced. If the policy is not properly managed/initiated, it may cause some imbalances at the macro level in which supply and demand are not accurately developed. As result of this macro imbalances will also mislead the individual choices at micro level in both micro supply and demand on such as goods and services. Such misleading imbalances of supply and demand together will prevent the economy development of the country and mitigate external threats such international current rate, international trade and direct investments. The article proposes that there must be a need to change in state intervention at both macro and meso levels. Diane shows in some recommendations on this change includes cutback public expenditure and the supply of money to reduce aggregate demand and changes in meso level to remove distortion in the individual economy. These as changes in pricing through devaluation, privatization, trade liberalization and withdrawal of subsidies and public services like road, education, and health services (p.35). As this change will be likely to influence the rights of individual to enjoy certain utility or access to certain resources, thus in some cases it promotes property boom through privatization, but this may lead to breaking community social cohesion, destroying customary use rights, limit employee social collective rights and the right to strike. What is it interesting is that these removals are considered as to help eliminate distortions but these generally do not apply to the rich and the powerful, unlike the poor and the weak whose social rights are more reasonably to be thought as distortions. This because of lack in gender and pro-poor policy which can help better see the overall picture of the intervention ignoring the informal economy where women and children are the domain of the market and ensure that the formal economy keeps running, without both informal economy and reproductive work, formal and productive work cannot be attained. At the meso level (same as macro level), analysis on family which refers to the neo-classical economic as considers family as gender neutral and individual with joint utility manages by altruistic
head of household that ensure everyone’s utility is met among the members. And therefore women are suffered from prejudices or economically disadvantages, and then it is should be the micro level, which would have nothing to do with the macro and micro, according the neo-classical theory. While micro level in the neo-classical perspective accepts gender differences such as male and female as economic agent, yet certain level of gender biases remain untouched. For example, preference on access and control over resources, entitlements and endowments that the neo-classical economists consider that everyone is rational to maximize each utilities. A summary analysis of Diane critiques on this article will be discussed in next section and follow by the entire discussions. Critiques as Diane illustrated first would be focusing on economic agent who is not and will not be rational for everyone. It is strongly disagree that the guaranteed of general equilibrium will be achieved if letting the market mechanism and money as medium of exchange of supply and demand to work freely. What Diane has simply emphasized/referred that if the economic agent thinks the price will change in the future, it is likely that the agent will not spend any cash. Second critique is based on the idea that economic crisis are from the external threats but she argues that such threats themselves are from the malfunction/dysfunction and international economy which macro economists failed to consider, therefore macro economics do not just limit into the country wide, it should be both globally and nationally prepared as this globalization can easily affect the country economy. The third critique made by the article is on voluntarily contract where it is not sure that all contracts are voluntarily or forced. A matter of fact, each individual can be either very cooperative or competitive depends on various social norms and practices. This social norm is itself like a meso structure which shape/reshape acting pattern. As she argues that without properly understanding/addressing social norms, exchanges in economic activity would not have been easily/satisfactory achieved since the results of the economy action may also derive from how each person feels about certain situation in a certain setting with bound of friendship sharing mutual trust versus and non-friendship interactions. In this case, family as an economic agent makes no sense since as family is very much a social institution that either cooperative, conflict or both under poverty circumstances (Sen, 1990). Such cases of severe poverty, discrimination, subordination and socially unequal gender division of labor may limit or forbid people to freely choose or what they want. Thus, argument can be made that this family is socially personal choice but personal and impersonal is political too (p.38). With regard to various economic and gender impacts briefing about, Diane Elson also explains different critiques from a feminist critical economics and the critiques of the economy policies as follows. One of the basic critiques of her on this article illustrated is concentrating on the idea of male bias reproducing the women oppression and subordination to men. The biases are mainly derived from the neoclassical economics which do not take into consideration of the inequality between men and women. What would help a feminist found ways out of this biasness is to explore carefully the three structures of micro, macro and meso of the economy cannot be ignored the social reproduction and make men aware of their dominant and encourage women to see they are under oppressed . Without analyzing how male bias in these three levels, gender equality in both men and women would remain unchanged in term of addressing both the needs of women and men. In doing these three levels of analysis can be done via exploring social institutions such as family, marriage, kin relationships, social relations and meso institutions such as also market structures which are the norms to continuously limit women equal rights and burden women unpaid labor. Though in economic and labour market women represent some sort of employment quotas but their level of work tends to be at the bottom ladder of the employment, having limit chances to improve their human skills and excluding from possible of gaining wages as other equal professionals. Another critiques which Diane Elson has demonstrated was the reforming/re-establishing of public sectors which could increase women back into their works and social security, yet she warned that gender perspectives must be incorporated into this new re-establishment public sectors, otherwise, women will be again turning to the point where male bias coexists “even it may not be male-bias by design but they will be male-biased by omission” (p.40). The third challenge puts forward is the uses of money. It is argued by the author that money are not in itself a gender equality, it is influenced by social structures since money derived from paid work and therefore the benefits tend to go to men, however, a good example showed
by the case is that it is inseparable to bias again women who burden all the unpaid work in order to sustain household members while the privileges are not returned. As because of the male biases and where sexual/gender division of labour means also that women in the reproductive sphere will largely responsible as the effects of the economic restructuring where social policy and welfare are reduced. The turning point of this explains that the macro economy or economy has mainly been focusing on just what it is a profit/paid economy and assumption is completely unfair that the reproductive work will be automatically adjusted if changes take place in the macro level such as reducing government expenditures on health, education and infrastructures that women would just be ready to supply what are missing by the productive/monetized economy, yet women’s continue to disproportionately shoulder the rest burden while the macro level do not directly benefits women. That is what strongly accused by the author that the macro economics are definitely a male-bias which cannot just be modified or changed easily, it needs to have all levels of government, international organization and global economic functions to help meet development which can accommodate both men and women. I will later continue to provide extra discussions on what the article has demonstrated in both giving my own critiques and supporting ideas in the discussion below. Discussion: The article has demonstrated/contributed greatly on gender and economics and economy policy reforms which are crucial in understanding a wider context of economics developments and the effects on human, to be specifically those are the women, men and the poor of the society. My understanding to this article is that I strongly agree on some of the article arguments while on other parts are not properly explained or given details. First, I acknowledge that on the neo-classical economics assumption about the free will or rational person to interact in the economy of free market. But what leaves us unanswered is how can women and other poor disadvantaged and an inequitable society be a rational or free choice given that much already socially neglected or oppressed. As a matter of fact, various gender stereotypes and inequitable gender norms are embedded in political, legal, cultural and economic domains, which as result determine different access and control over resources, strengthen, reproduce, and even continue to justify unequal gender systems (Seguino, 2007). There is no free choice or capabilities if women and poor are forced to take certain conditions under social norms which limit them to act and prohibit their agency to value the life they want to achieve (Sen, 1990). Plus, on the basic of asymmetric information where one side of the agent is equipped with information and other agents who have not any information power to go onto the economy interactions, as result women and the poor are the ones to be exploited of either labour or economy terms. In some ways, to have this information that each individual can use to attain their utilities in the neo-classical economy tend to also rely on the human capital. Human capital theory which was developed by Becker during the 1950s and 1960s is itself also a gender blinded seeing that those who are paid less or having less choice in the economy is because they do not invest into their human skills such as education and other qualification, which these assumption give women to be less productive as male counterparts (Sugihashi, 2003). Taking into account of various women’s planned interruption, where women can not be rational to compete as planned interruptions have been expecting women to perform certain reproductive roles and that what are appropriate by the society. Women will be a rational economic agent as if she were not to pursue her higher education as she will not be able to do so with her future interruptions. Again the neo-classical economics assumption of economic free-will/rational agent cant be applied in the case where women are socially defined to be in the feminine role to reach their full potential participation in this neo-classical economics. Second, the notion of Pareto Optimality where no one can be made better off without someone else is made worse off. This shows bit tricky in the sense that assumption of a head of household to satisfy each member utilities. Each member utilities as assumed that head or household or joint utilities will be made by the male bread winner model shows ineffective in the way that male usually prioritizes their income on personal satisfaction such as on cigarette, alcohols, gambling and other goods to become high status in the society, while women give all priorities to their children and household wellbeing, rather than her own needs (Elson, 1998). This has demonstrated that the male breadwinner model
cannot be joint utilities as head of household are gender blind and have the power to use the money ineffectively, this especially when the men use the money for own consumption while women tend to keep to satisfy household members. Third, even though the neo-classical economics in discussion brought by Diane that covers the micro, macro and meso and it is argued that the biasness are mainly derived from the neoclassical economics which do not take into consideration of the inequality between men and women. I personally see the point of Diane has raised but what I also personally disagree and wish to explore and be alert from a gender point of view that this notion of being so confine to just “male” and “female” leaves further a problem to what an argument made by Butler (1990); Jolly (2000) that from ideas of gender and sex, it seems that sex is something fixed and nature while gender is more based on cultural perspectives. However, this dichotomy tends to limit only into two types human being that is only a woman and man, neglecting other types in between, those who are not fitting into the box of either a woman or a man, such as intersex, transgender and transsexual people (Butler, 1990; Jolly 2000). As gender studying economics, are we continuing to ignore them from economic point of view? Here MSM (men have sex with men) sex workers in Cambodia can be taken as a good example. These MSM could be hidden/invisible, not recognized by the society that there are such thing existed and having sex with men is socially unrealistic/unacceptable (Morineau, Ngak and Sophat, 2004). As Danby points out that even after one realized such sexual identity, “resisted conversation about one’s romantic or emotional life as gay person” (Danby, 2007, p.43). But these MSM contributes to the household economy from what they have earned and consumed as sex worker, either men or women or in between. The division of male and female is invalid in this case where if we focus on gender and economic development. How can we make sure our economic policy will be engendered even not a single word of homosexual person to be mentioned. There are not just male and female, we must take into account others who don’t just fall into this category. We cannot isolate them, as they are part of our economic agents too but view them as part of our contribution once develop our economic action plans. Fourth critique on this article I would take is to consider gender division of labor. From the article, it looks like that the assumption is always women are the victims of such economy policy reform. Of course, to some degrees it is reliable to say so such on the that women are brainwashed to perform her duties which traditionally have been appropriate for them to do so such child rearing, household work to sustain human capital for her family members and to some extend voluntarily (England, 1993) or triple roles where Moser argued that women are burden in productive, reproductive and community roles which are not widely visible or counted (Moser, 1993). Does it always like that? Well, again I am taking a feminist way of looking at women agency as whether women are the victims or rather it has been habitus as an area of willed intention and a disposition which Bourdieu developed what he termed as strategies to open ways to acquire more peaceful means and understanding of limited freedom(Risseeuw, 199, p.165). This also lead women to be the victims are not because they are passive but the socially embedded are so strong that beyond to questions (ibid). So women are economic passive agent are not always the true as they have also been that being silent and accepted to male dominant is to also exercise her agency. As gender students, we should unpack this notion so that we will not reproduce the idea of women as victims and men protector. In conclusion, the article provides a timely discussion on the economic policy reform as well as relevant to the current economic crisis which the effects of these are profoundly differing to men and women. Thus this world financial crisis has no completely much to do the SAPs, but is has been argued earlier that government is taking a role in this crisis mitigation. With chorological order of the article that offers with brief description of the micro, meso and macro economy before bringing to the critiques make the article to be an easy to follow, though some economic background were required. The author has also provided clear and simple example on economic and some aspects on the household level covers male and female as the point of discussion, it would further be a very feminist article once include those sexes who are not in between, otherwise it is again a gender blind article, neglecting the other sexes of economic agent. As a gender is not just about men and women, it is about social constructions, race, class, ethnicities and social institutions which lead the way men and women to be the way they must or should confine to. And that is why discussing about gender and in economic term, we must be sure that no sexes are further marginalized, which what traditionally macro economist do.
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