The Economic Man

Who cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?  Katrine Marcal’s rhetorical question and her book title give her the opportunity to challenge and illuminate the economics in relation to feminism and by extension to the weaker group of people and societies.

She writes that Adam Smith told us the story  of why free markets were the best way to create an efficient economy. The self-interest of one and all ensures that the whole comes together.  It’s not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their interest. You can trust self-interest. Self Interest is inexhaustible, this is  the ‘Invisible hand’ which looks after all.

With this notion the economic man was born into the new age. Just like Robinson Crusoe, economic man was a modern entrepreneur who freed himself from old, irrational oppressions. He determined his life and let others determine theirs. He was highly capable. Work has no intrinsic value, but if you’re going to get anywhere, you have to do it. He makes goals, fights to achieve them, ticks them off and moves on.  The world’s resources are limited. And he admires those who succeed.
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Emotion, altruism, thoughtfulness, solidarity are not part of his character. For economic man there’s no childhood, no dependencies and no society that affects him. Rational, selfish and divorced from his environment. Alone on an island or alone in society, it doesn’t matter. There is no society, only mass of individuals.

 Since Adam Smith’s time, the theory about economic man has hinged on someone else standing for care, thoughtfulness and dependency. Economic man stands for reason and freedom precisely because someone else stands for the opposite. The world can be said to be driven by self-interest because there’s another world that is driven by something else. And these two worlds must be kept apart. The masculinity by itself. The feminine by itself.

If you want to be part of the story of economics you have to be like economic man. You have to accept this version of masculinity. At the same time, what we call economics is always built on another story. Everything that is excluded so the economic man can be who he is.  Somebody has to be emotion , so he can be reason. Somebody has to be body, so he doesn’t have to be. Somebody has to be dependent, so he can be independent. Somebody has to be tender, so he can conquer the world. Somebody has to be self-sacrificing, so he can be selfish.

Somebody has to prepare that steak so Adam Smith can say their labour doesn’t matter.

But Adam Smith only succeeded in answering half of the fundamental question of economics and it was quite convenient  answer for the economic man of our days . He didn’t get his dinner only because the tradesmen served their own self-interest but because his mother made sure it was on the table every evening.  Today the economic is not built only with “invisible hand” but also it is built with “invisible heart”.-

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The economic man show emotions!