The Double X Economy and measuring things

Professor Linda Scott from Oxford University has coined the term the Double X economy to refer to the need to look at global economic issues through different eyes.   Now the competition is strong for catchy concepts which might waft their author to fame and fortune.  But this one has a very down-to-earth application.  I’d urge you to listen to the part in Scott’s inaugural lecture where she talks about what it means for girls in many Afircan countries to have to use cloth rags as sanitary towels.

Scott is an economist who has plenty to say about the failings of neo-liberal approaches, but also about the irrelevance of some radical critiques.  She reminds us of how far there is still to go in many countries when it comes to the practicalities of girls’ aspirations.  Above all, we need to do more to understand what we should be measuring when it comes to thinking about economic progress.

I saw a direct link  between this and the discussion on this morning’s Start The Week programme on Radio 4, which was about the application of mathematical and physicist (?physical? – what is the correct adjective from physics?) concepts and tools to  economic and social issues.   What is the arrival of ‘big data’ bringing to our understanding of the world?  who decides what is a significant pattern from all this data?  what has the entry of physicists and mathematicians into the world of finance meant for our capacity to manage the economy?  I’m always loth to stereotype, but there was a very clear pattern from the sample of 5 participants:  the 3 men were all pretty gung-ho, the two women more cautious – or should I say critical.  

That’s a slightly unfair  picture.  At least one of the men acknowledged the need for some kind of restraint on playing with these tools when it has such huge impacts on people’s finances and personal lives, and on our understanding of what matters in the real world.  But Tiffany Jenkins had to do a sterling job (which she did very well) on arguing for social control and accountability when it comes to applying these very abstract and seemingly technical approaches.

I’m not at all happy with the idea that disciplines and ways of thinking should be polarised along gender lines.  But when if comes to deciding what needs to be measured, and how, there are some fairly sharp divides.

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