So Adam Smith is the guy who basically invented capitalism in the 1700’s (thanks a lot -_-). He was like, oh we shouldn’t thank the butcher, the brewer, or the baker for their goods because they didn’t do it out of the kindness of their heart. They did it for self-interest. He thought that if everyone moved around the world selfishly, the economic market would work perfectly.
But Marcal’s big point is that he never factored in the person who actually prepared the meal at home. The woman (his widowed mother) cooking all his meals is valued at exactly zero in all his economic thought. Actually, she’s not even a thought–not even factored in. All of the care that she and so many other women do and have done is not even considered work of value. Though, if you wanted to figure out the numerical value, you could outsource and find out that 24/7 house-care isn’t cheap (and will likely be yet another disenfranchised woman).
Beyond the question of numbers, this situation also begs the question of motivation. “Economic Man,” as Marcal calls this fictional figure of economic duty, says we all ONLY do things that will benefit us, we need constant competition to be active, and our choices must be completely rational. But then why do mothers care for their kids? The field of economics is completely and utterly inhuman and assumes we are too. The economy doesn’t work around human bodies. If it did, there would be a baseline of human needs that would be covered across the board before anything else got added. Instead, it has made our bodies economic. We’ve become human capital. We are in the business of selling ourselves. We invest in ourselves by going to school to make more money. A salary thus becomes a return on capital. Our lives have become our own personal small businesses.
One important story she uses to discuss this is the (apparently) over-used economic question: if two people are put on an island and one has a pound of rice and one had twenty gold bracelets (or whatever), the value changes. Suddenly, in this market, the gold is worthless. The person with the rice won’t trade even a cup for one bracelet. But, for Marcal, this scenario ignores the obvious human thing which is that if two people were truly stuck on an island together and one has a pound of rice, they’d probably share it, if for nothing else than our need to be social. Here, we see that even men aren’t “Economic Man.” Even though we’ve been socialized to believe gender splits us neatly down the middle–men are supposed to be rational, women are supposed to be emotional, and so on–obviously those delineations aren’t accurate, and we actually share all these human qualities. But capitalism and sexism together treat all of us as inhuman caricatures, which is exactly what we need to be to go along with this whole schema.