Podcast: Luiza Nassif talks about economics of care, diversity and self-awareness – part 2

First part here

Luiza Nassif: And that was resonating in my head, and it is funny, because in that theme I like accounting very much until today and I asked a lot of questions and Professor Margarida, who was a woman too, and she was very feared. The students were very afraid of Margarida and Margarida liked me a lot and I asked questions all the time in class and she came into the classroom and already said, Luiza sit here in front and there was a boy in the classroom who kept messing with me all the time, that was very difficult for me because I asked these questions and because I asked certain questions a little out of the obvious, but which for me today are so obvious, so I remember I asked right after she gave this example, I said, but then you are telling me that if everyone starts making their own bread at home, GDP will fall? It doesn’t make any sense and then this boy was messing with me because I asked these questions. Anyway, that was, it took me a while to understand that no, that I wasn’t wrong, that I wasn’t stupid, you know? That I was not a bad student because I was asking those questions and I think I was much more aware of that when I went to the New School. We did it, we set it up more recently, we set up a group there called FESA – Feminists in Economics Students Association, in which we met once a week to talk about this type of experience that we had, the difficulty that women have to ask questions in classes, how we can change that, how we can encourage professors to put more diversity on the syllabus, so we did a study, took all the course syllabi and saw, within the syllabi, what was diversity, what was white men, what were authors written by white, western men, usually from the global north, and that helped me make much more sense of these past experiences. I think I didn’t have a feminist conscience at that moment, I had a little class consciousness, I think, that came when I finished school, that I studied in a very traditional school, in a high standard school and I felt like a little fish out of the water there and I only understood why I felt that way when I joined the federal university, when I joined a public university my horizon expanded completely. Common consciences came like that, it wasn’t exactly realizing machismo, but it was realizing that there is discrimination, a lot of discrimination within the economic discipline and in society in general.

Laura Karpuska: It’s very important for us to be able to look back sometimes and to be able to recount our experiences to ourselves, right? Because sometimes we can’t rationalize the experiences while we live them. Well, I think the new generation will live a in very different environment from ours, right Luiza? Because these women, these young women already grew up with these questions and grew up with the seed of knowing that something is wrong. So, I think it will be different from now on, but it is very important for us that we did not live so much with this debate, that we can look back and reconstruct some things.

And your answer shows the importance of diversity in economics related to questions that can be diverse too, right? Economics brings such rich tools for us to study human behavior that we use these tools in a diverse and broad way because there are many issues of human behavior that are interesting to us in economics. And that this diversity of researchers also helps to diversify the questions of economics.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the economics of care with you. It is something that is very recent for me, I personally admit my ignorance, I didn’t know anything about it, so I wanted to take the opportunity to ask for a mini class for us, for me, and for our listeners.

Tells us what is the economics of care and what kinds of public policy debates are held in this field of economics.

Luiza Nassif: Economics of care is everything that concerns those home activities that are necessary for human survival and reproduction. So, for example, cleaning the house, taking care of children, taking care of the elderly, cooking, washing clothes and these activities are mostly done by women and often they are unpaid. In Brazil, in fact, we have an army of black women who are the domestic workers who are exploited and do this work for the most part. But these women too, it’s funny that people don’t stop to think about it so much when they’re looking at it from the middle class’s point of view, they have their families themselves, they need to come home and take care of their children and cook and do laundry and so on. So, there is a part of our economy that sometimes, and in Brazil it happens very often, it is still part of the paid market, so it happens that a lot of people outsource this economy of care or purchase goods, I don’t know, ready-made food in the supermarket, that would be a part of the economy of care. So, there are ways, via the market, of decreasing the number of hours needed in your home for you to produce those goods and services you need to survive and reproduce, but mostly the hours that are still missing, and there are always hours missing, whether you clean the dishes after you eat your ready-made food, they are often performed by women. We see this through research that we have. Brazil does not have this unfortunately, Brazil doesn’t have this research, we still have very little, I think that very little of the economy of care is visible in Brazil due to lack of data. So we have what we call a time use survey which is a survey in which you have diaries that normally come from consumer samples, or it is part of the census, in different countries this changes a little, but it is a sample survey in which you have people who keep a diary for 24 hours, commonly, and they put in that diary what they did every half hour and then they put the activity there and then we take this data and we you can see how many hours a day are spent doing these unpaid activities and who is doing those activities. Anyway, in Brazil what we have, we even have some data that are associated with the PNAD (Pesquisa Nacional de Amostra de Domicílios) but it is a survey in which it is asked a question like, “How many hours did you spend, on average, last week on washing, cooking or … ” and thus adds a lot of things. And this research has a huge bias because it comes from a person’s perception of time and this perception itself, it already has a gender bias. So, in Brazil, we can’t, we, despite this data, we already realize that there is a gender bias in Brazil too, we can’t measure it completely. It is very difficult for you to develop focused public policies when you do not have this data. You can do that, making obvious public policies, for example, public daycare is something that helps a lot to reduce the number of hours that women need to work at home and release these women to be able to do other paid activities. The other issue, and that comes from studies that are a little more focused that we do, for example, is investment in other infrastructures. So, for example, when you invest in public transport, you improve the ability of women to move around and it helps a lot too because you reduce the number of hours it takes, I don’t know, to take the child to the daycare or to pick someone up at some place to shop and go to work, also. So, in general, public policies aimed at supporting this household economy, they usually try to reduce the number of hours needed for certain productions and certain activities for women, but there is also a whole gender issue as I have been saying. A part of policies also tries to increase the participation of men in these activities, to try to divide them a little more evenly between couples, in short, this mainly, here speaking for heterosexual couples where you have a man and a woman, you see this division very uneven. You see this gender issue very, very clear. So, you also have possible policies to change that, and there is a group of policies that has an attempt to increase the participation of men in fatherhood, you try to increase the involvement of men with sons and daughters and this has an intergenerational aspect, because it comes much of the shaping itself. We even observe differences in the division of labor at home if the couple has a male child or a female, so you see, I have a student, in short, she was not my student in fact, a student there at the institute, there from Levy Economics Institute, Marokey Sawo, who did a very interesting study last year that was about the unequal division for home activities in economics of care of children in Tanzania. So, she saw that female children had much less time to play and go to school than male, than boys because it comes there, it comes from very, very, very early unfortunately.

Laura Karpuska: Yes, I think we can even look back on our own lives and see that there was some, some difference, if not with us in particular, with other people around us. That there are different incentives that are given to women and men in childhood, whether or not to worry. The demand for men to be better students, for them to focus on their careers is much more present and obvious than for women in most homes. Of course there are exceptions, but there really is a very big difference. I think it’s very curious that you bring this discussion about the issue of hour allocations because I think that, well, all economists agree with the simplification of what we generate from products it is produced by capital and labor and that we should make more people available so that they can form more human capital, so that they become more productive and so they become workforce. This improves the average level of productivity in a country and also improves the aggregate level of the product that we can use to distribute, so it looks like a very interesting area, not only for gender issues as a whole, but also for questions about macroeconomics and economic aggregates. Very, very interesting.

Luiza Nassif: Well, one of the great struggles that we have in this field is to try to value this work, counting it in the GDP. So, there is a GDP revision movement and in fact the big problem, it’s funny that, the big problem with the GDP revision movements is that you have too many GDP revision movements, you have millions of different projects on how the GDP could be reviewed, some of them also dealing with the issue of the environment, so like any measure, any macro measure, it is, it is created in a somewhat arbitrary way. You make a decision, what is in the GDP, what is not in the GDP, this is not from God, this is a human decision that was decided that these activities that are exchanged in the labor market for money, they are part of the GDP, while others are not. And then, in fact, there is a side, of course, interested in the need to liberate this labor to be part of the labor market, but there is also a side that is very difficult, that I have been thinking about more and more, which is you try to understand that the housewife, she herself, is producing enormous value for society. And you understand that, it’s not necessarily that we need more workers, in short, that we need more workers in the job market. What these public policies need to achieve is the ability to let these women go to the labor market, but in fact it is the ability to let these women do what they want. They can be housewives if they want to be housewives and feel valued and feel visible and have this job, in short, that this job is really counted in the economy. Or you have women who want to go to the job market and go for a job. Or even the possibility that you have men who decide to reduce the hours they work in the job market and produce at home. We actually had a change in the model of the economy, there was a model in which you had what we call here the model of “bread winning”, in which you have one person in the family who will work in the market and another person who stay at home and take care of the house. And this model gradually changed to the model where you have “two age earners”, I don’t know what we call this model in Portuguese, this family norm, in which the two will work in the market. And no one stopped to think about this change, what was done with those necessary activities that were developed at home and that were under the command of a person, that person who did not work outside and at the same time you have a change in salary because the salary under the model “bread winner”, it is enough for you to maintain an entire family, while when you have a change to the model where the two of you go to work, that wage decreases, so you have an exploitation problem that comes from the top, already in the job market, and an inability for you to supply those hours and then the solution that happens in Brazil, for example, you then hire someone paying very, very little to be exploited at home. So, you have a certain chain of exploitation that happens there. So, we have this idea of a crisis of care within the economy, a lot to understand how it was happening little by little, and we have this view that this, we break with this problem coming from below and valuing this economy of care, these activities, they are extremely important. So, a large part of the work that we do on the theoretical side, in fact, is to make this visible, to discuss the importance of this and to fight so that people give more value to the production at home.

Laura Karpuska: Yes, no doubt. I think this is the debate. The appreciation of work that is not done by everyone, which has socioeconomic consequences in a country like Brazil and also the discussion that was very interesting that you brought about the issue of freedom of choice and then I think there is an even more philosophical debate about liberalism itself. Real liberalism, liberalism about individual freedoms, that we ideally want to live in a society in which people are free to choose their path and regardless of their social position and their color and gender as well. So, I think this is the most interesting debate related to economy of care as well. I go back to something you said earlier that it was about finding yourself as a heterodox economist, you answered that in our first question. And it is something that is common to Brazil, to have these labels of orthodox and heterodox economists who often end up delimiting the economic debate in Brazil, I would say. We even talked to Laura Carvalho about it when she on was our show.

How do you think that economists from different fields of economics, Luiza, can earn these labels and can stimulate an environment of debate that I would call healthier here in Brazil?

Luiza Nassif: So, I think we can be unite in certain values and guidelines and objectives, for example, here we know that both you and I, we have in common the fact that we are fighting against machismo within the academy and in society as a whole. So, it doesn’t matter if I’m heterodox and you’re orthodox or whatever, we have that in common. What makes the difference is how we observe this problem, the type of tools we have. So, in fact, we are very complementary. So, I would say that if we can find common goals, it is very possible and it is even very favorable that we have different backgrounds and that we can bring these different tools that we have learned to think about the problem in different ways. Anyway, what I often see is an idea among the heterodoxy that there is no critical thinking within orthodoxy, so that would be the great prejudice of heterodoxy with orthodoxy, as if they are by definition status quo, they don’t want to change anything and they are working there to maintain the system as it is, one, in short, the reproduction of a more right-wing ideological system, it would be like that. I think this view is very archaic to begin with and it is very, anyway, it is really prejudice, it is lack of information, it is lack of coexistence and I’ve been living away from Brazil for a long time, I have been living away from Brazil for seven years, but the impression I have is that the orthodox and heterodox world here in the United States is even more immobilized, nor do I have contact with orthodox people to be honest, I don’t even have the possibility to apply for a job at an orthodox university. There is no such exchange at all. And my view is that in Brazil, by definition, we are already a peripheral economy, so when we think about how to develop Brazil’s economy, this naturally put us in a slightly more critical point of view than it is mainstream, of what is the majority in the global field. So even in this sense, when we stop thinking about micro problems in Brazil and start to think a little more about the macro Brazil and the global economy in general, we already have a very, very strong point in common there. So, I would say that it is to focus on what we have as a goal and understand that tools are there to achieve goals. The tools are not, anyway, they are not neutral, of course, so you need that understanding, but they are not what define who you are.

Laura Karpuska: Certainly the tools do not define who you are. It is intellectual honesty, technical rigor that will define a good academic debate or a public technical debate. So, without a doubt this is what really matters.

Luiza, we are coming to the very end of our podcast and we always close with a question that I personally like very much, which is the following.

If you could go back in time and talk to the young Luiza, what would you say to her?

Luiza Nassif: I’m going to go back to that point where we talked about this awareness of machismo, of class consciousness, so I think I would do it, I would go in two points. Anyway, this is part of my trajectory so it is difficult to say that I could have changed something there. But my trajectory comes in two points. First comes an awareness of what I was suffering from was a type of discrimination, that there was discrimination against me for, in short, mainly by gender. So I think that I would go there for that Luiza and say that what you are feeling a lot of people feel, but mainly I think that what is important I think that this is missing a lot for those who are working in these fields is to be aware not only that you suffer from discrimination and try to fight against that system, but to also understand how you are privileged, what are the privileges you have experienced and how you are part of a system that also discriminates. So, I think that more important for Luiza to understand, more important than that, I understood back there that I suffered some kind of discrimination was for me to understand that I was part of a system that discriminates too. So, I, as a white woman, what is my role within the economy to break with race discrimination mainly. Anyway, so I think if I could bring this awareness to the young Luiza, bring this awareness to me a little earlier I think I could have done different things and, in short, have brought more change around me.

Laura Karpuska: I think that the young Luizas of today already have all this in mind. I think the generation, we even talked about it already, the younger generation has this awareness that I think you and I didn’t have so much or that our generation, on average, didn’t have so much. I think it is a good way for us to close the podcast, always thinking that there is complementarity in people and economists who use different tools, who have the same concerns either with Brazil or with the world and we will stop here now.

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The EconomistAs podcast is a production affiliated with USP’s EconomistAs group.

Our producer is Ediane Thiago, Laura Karpuska and Paula Pereira are the podcast coordinators, and the other members of the Economists committee are Fabiana Rocha and Maria Dolores Dias. Our sound producer is Fernando Yane, singer Flavia Albano, trumpeter Alan Marques, designer Tata Amato, and our interviewee today was Luiza Nassif.

Thank you very much and until the next EconomistAs podcast.