Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?: A Story of Women and Economics

by Katrine Marçal

Hardcover, 2016




Pegasus Books (2016), Edition: 1, 240 pages


"When philosopher Adam Smith proclaimed that our actions are motivated by self-interest, he used the example of the baker and the butcher to lay the foundations for his "Economic man." He argued that they gave bread and meat for profit, not out of the goodness of their hearts. It's an ironic point of view coming from a bachelor who lived with his mother for most of his life-- a woman who cooked his dinner every night. Nevertheless, Smith's economic man has dominated our understanding of modern-day capitalism, Such a viewpoint disregards the unpaid work of mothering, caring, cleaning, and cooking. Essentially, the father of modern economics has based our whole concept of capitalism on a system that ignores half of its participants. ...Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner? charts the myth of the economic man, from its origins at Adam Smith's dinner table to its adaptation by the Chicago School to its disastrous role in the 2008 Global Financial Crisis."--Jacket flap.… (more)


½ (39 ratings; 3.5)

User reviews

LibraryThing member DavidWineberg
Homo Economicus is a concept in economics that is wrong. It has failed almost every test, every environment, and every theory. Katrine Marçal has found a new way it is has failed. It totally misjudges women. It helps repress them, keep them subservient, underpaid and unappreciated. They are second
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class contributors when they are considered at all. Economic models are developed basically without them. This is hardly the first book to damn homo economicus, but he persists and thrives nonetheless. It just continues to make economics wrong. The book is a thorough and thoughtful attack on homo economicus, from a feminist standpoint.

Marçal writes in a very fast style. Her paragraphs seem very often single sentences, which quickens the pace. It doesn’t stop her from beating a point to death, but it makes reading the book a breeze. Economics can be so absurd she only has to report on it and it comes across as sarcastic and satirical. It usually doesn’t even require a comment from her. But the book is an endless stream of such nonsense – that we actually operate by. Our governments make faulty decisions based on faulty statistics plugged into faulty models.

The core argument is that housework should count. Canada once calculated women’s work – maintenance, childcare, cooking – to be worth between 30 and 45% of GDP. But GDP includes none of it. This is hardly the only problem with GDP, an unrealistic and artificial fabrication, and ignoring the value contributed by women is an age-old festering sore that Marçal picks at gleefully.

There are so very many reasons why economics is wrong. This is a major one, but there are more important missing components, like natural resources. Raw materials are not part of any standard economic model. We assume they are always available. Free. Free to consume and free to waste and free to pollute. This is the biggest reason the planet is wheezing and groaning – because economists decided homo economicus was no longer part of the ecosystem. He was above it and could exploit as he pleased without accounting or consequence. Marçal finally gets to this point at the very end, giving it one page.

Marçal’s neutral, positive solution: “Economic science should be about how one turns a social vision into a modern economic system.” If only.

David Wineberg
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LibraryThing member jen.e.moore
Economic theory is based around the idea of Economic Man - a perfectly rational individual whose only relationships with other people are in trade or in competition (all traditionally masculine traits, of course). Of course, humans aren't like this, but over time Economic Man has gone from a
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simplification for the purposes of theorizing to an ideal that we strive to emulate in all things. This isn't just wrong, it's damaging. It leaves out fundamental, necessary parts of the human experience, like bodies, like dependency, like love. It breaks people and economies and societies, and because we don't understand what we're doing, we just keep doing it over and over again.

The GDP doesn't include unpaid women's labor - childcare, housekeeping, cooking for the family. Feminism's economic progress has been calculated in terms of how many women take paid jobs, but has ignored the fact that this means that their unpaid labor still needs doing, and that this represents a massive shift in the way our economy functions (or, too often, doesn't).

The prose in this book is written in crisp, short sentences in short paragraphs, which, combined with the subject matter, gives the impression of a cold, sarcastic rage. Marçal is engaged in the process of tearing down one of the pillars of society, and she's doing it with a vengeance. I wish I had faith that she would succeed.
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LibraryThing member arewenotben
Great in the parts when it addresses the book's advertised point regarding a feminist reading of economic theory, but this covers only around a third of the book with more general economic criticism filling the rest. Interesting enough, if a little 101, but not what I signed up for.


Bread and Roses Award (Shortlist — 2016)
Augustpriset (Nominee — 2012)
The Observer Book of the Year (Politics — 2015)


Original language



168177142X / 9781681771427
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