Thursday, October 13, 2005

Misunderstanding Smith's Domestic Life

From the north eastern federation of anarchist communists in Canada, comes an unusual piece: “The World’s Largest Workplace: social reproduction and wages for housework” by P. J. Lilley and Jeff Shantz

“But how did we get into an economic system of evaluation that refuses to account for, and truly recognize the real value of women's unpaid work? Basically, the system of accounting for value was defined by bourgeois men who wished to evaluate the growth of wealth in the nation state. Economists like Adam Smith started out by separating moral, aesthetic and use "value" from "market" value. As Marilyn Waring points out in her detailed book of feminist economics, If Women Counted, "If Adam Smith was fed daily by Mrs. Smith, he omitted to notice or to mention it. He did not, of course, pay her. What her interest was in feeding him, we can only guess, for Adam Smith saw no 'value' in what she did."
Oh, Dear! What a load of, er, ‘misunderstandings, from two authors, three counting Marilyn Waring, who may not be familiar with Adam Smith’s domestic circumstances..
Adam Smith never married. His intentions in that direction were unfulfilled – the ‘lady in Fife’, with whom he courted, also remained unmarried and died twenty years after him. He lived with his mother all her life, so ‘Mrs Smith’ was not his wife. His thoughts about her are found in his Correspondence, (Corr. No 79, page 98-99)) in 1784, when she died, and probably answer the authors’ question: “What her interest was in feeding him, we can only guess, for Adam Smith saw no 'value' in what she did.”
She was someone:

‘who certainly loved me more than any other person ever did or ever will love me; and whom I certainly loved and respected more than I ever shall either love or respect any other person, I cannot help feeling, even at this hour, as a very heavy stroke upon me.’

His cousin, his mother’s niece, was Jane Douglas, who was his mother’s companion and housekeeper. They shared the household almost continually from 1746 to 1788 (when Jane died), moving with Adam from Kirkcaldy to Edinburgh, Glasgow, back to Kirkcaldy and then back to Edinburgh. From this shared the income he earned from teaching and writing.

To suggest he did not ‘value’ his mother and his cousin is quite astonishing; I am surprised that so-called anarchists want to put a price on family affection.

The paragraph’s opening is also strange:

“But how did we get into an economic system of evaluation that refuses to account for, and truly recognize the real value of women's unpaid work? Basically, the system of accounting for value was defined by bourgeois men who wished to evaluate the growth of wealth in the nation state.”

Humans have always lived in society and earlier ones in the main were much the same as ours; the modes of production might have changed but people remain much the same. So, to what society are anarchist-communists comparing? Capitalism has many critics, but to compare its failings with all those that preceded it and finding capitalism wanting is a disappointing reading of history.

But then so is the idea of an anarchist (freedom from State coercion) – communist (totalitarian coercion of the worst kind. No doubt there is an explanation; though there is none for these errors about Adam Smith.

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