Marilyn Waring speaks at Red and White Club

By Julie Creaser

Nearly 1,000 Calgarians turned up at the Red and White Club Monday night to hear Dr. Marilyn Waring debunk the old political and economic adage, "there is no alternative."
Waring, a political economist from Massey University in New Zealand, offered alternatives for evaluating the current international economic order, which she said places little value on unpaid labour and the environment.

To articulate this, Waring described an ongoing study in Nova Scotia, which is attempting to create a data bank for evaluating the contribution of unpaid labour and the environmental value of resources to society.

"In Nova Scotia, the value of these areas equaled 571,000 full-year, full-time jobs," she said.

She argued that policymakers must consider this work when determining public policy, adding that women who must care for children and elderly parents or engage in volunteer work often do it on top of their paid jobs.

"The unspoken assumption is that all these women were not in the paid workforce while engaging in this type of work," she said.

She went on to note that the last Canadian census tried to account for the overlap of paid and unpaid responsibility of women in society.

Waring’s interest in how things are counted in economic terms stem from her 12 years in the New Zealand parliament, to which she was elected at the age of 22 and served as the only woman representative at that time.

She is a self-proclaimed proponent for seeking ways to incorporate the environment and unpaid labour into the global economic order.

"The Exxon Valdez was a hugely productive oil spill," Waring told the audience with a hint of irony.

She explained how the intense focus policymakers place on raising gross national product detracts from the simple fact that, while an oil spill may make money by employing people during the clean-up, it is still an environmental disaster.

"There is no accounting for deficit when dealing with market productivity," she said. "While we might not be able to impute a value on the intergenerational consequences of environmental indicators, we still have to give it visibility even if the [value] is unknown."

Waring’s speech was geared toward the University of Calgary’s academic community, which partly sponsored her talk in conjunction with International Women’s Day.

Dr. Doreen Barrie of the Political Science department introduced Waring.

"Her most valuable contribution is the attention she has brought to the millions of people whose work is uncounted and ignored," she said.

Waring is the author of the book If Women Counted, which is also known outside of North America by its original title, Counting For Nothing.

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