Between Statistical Imperatives and Theoretical Obsessions

An Inquiry into the Definition and Measurement of the Economy

by Greg Ogle


This website contains my PhD thesis. At one level the thesis is about national accounting and what we mean by "the economy", and at another level it is an attempt to draw together insights from feminist, socialist and green political economy (with a postmodern, or at least a post-positivist, epistemological base) to inform an alternative political economy.



Table of Contents

Other Publications


The thesis was completed and passed in June/July 2000. Two chapters were published in refereed journals (see publications) during the course of writing the thesis, but I have made no attempt to publish any of it since finishing. This is not because I think the thesis was not good enough to publish. Overall, I think there is a lot of good thinking in the thesis, and the referees, Nancy Folbre and John Barry were very positive in their comments. And since it was written the world has rushed headlong into the monetisation and commodification of all sorts of things - including pollution as we struggle with the unfortunate externality of climate change.

I have not attempted to publish the thesis, partly from exhaustion at the time, and partly because of different (but arguably related) work commitments (campaigning for The Wilderness Society). And I often wonder about the power of ideas and the need to publish. Ultimately though, I still believe that ideas are important, and I have been inspired by writers in socialist, feminist and green traditions. So if there is any contribution to those traditions in this thesis, then feel free to use and reference the ideas presented here.


This thesis critiques the official definition and measurement of the economy found in the national accounts and asks feminist, green and socialist questions about "the Australian economy". The historical analysis and epistemological theory of the thesis suggests that the national accounts defined 'economy' is a reification of neoclassical and Keynesian theory. Given this, the interrogation of exactly what it is meant by 'the economy' is an important step in the development of an alternative political economy.

Feminists began this interrogation by critiquing the line drawn in the national accounts between production ("the economy") and that which is not production (ie. not part of "the economy"). This line excludes and renders invisible most non-market production (eg. household production). However household labour is not like market production and the attempts to extend the definition and measure of the economy (in Marxism as well as in orthodox accounting) have also been critiqued by feminists. Yet this creates an impasse. To include non-market production in the main definition and measure of the economy is to hide much of its difference from market work, but to focus on its difference is to render it again outside of the view of mainstream economics.

There are similar tensions in green debates as attempts to revise national accounts for environmental costs and ecological sustainability have been criticised as inappropriate and anthropocentric. These parallels are important, but the thesis pursues the feminist arguments, asking what would work look like if we took what women actually did (rather than the market) as a starting point.

The analysis of emotional labour and 'gendered work' suggests not simply that there are other tasks ('emotional'/caring labours) which are not included in market based definitions of work, but that work is fundamentally sexualised and embodied: and hence the products of work can not be entirely alienated for sale in the market. This cuts across the official definition of production, but also suggests that any attempt to measure work and production is flawed because it is premised on the separation of product from producer.

However this does not resolve the impasse confronting a feminist informed economics. Thus the thesis begins to explore the possibility of defining and measuring the economy in such a way as to highlight rather than hide the difference of women's work. This can be done by seeing the economy as a hologram: a metaphor which emphasises that what can be seen in the economy is standpoint dependent. But with a hologram, the dependence on standpoint, and the existence of other perspectives, is highlighted, not hidden.

This hologramatic approach is opposed to the official accounts' monodimensional definitions and measures which insist that all labour should be accounted for (in the same way) in a measure of the economy. This official approach goes back to neoclassical economics and the nexus it establishes between work, production, welfare, the market and the economy. Thus, advancing an alternative definition and measure of the economy requires breaking this neoclassical nexus and recognising different types of labour and economic activity.

Anwar Shaikh and E Ahmet Tonak's modern Marxian accounts are based on a classification of four different types of economic activity: production (narrowly defined), distribution/exchange, social maintenance, and personal consumption - the first three of which constitute different types of labour. Despite very different theoretical perspectives, this restricted definition of 'production' is similar to that used in the transaction cost literature and accounting.

While I reject the larger theoretical frameworks of both Marxian and transaction cost accounting, these restricted definitions of production do allow for a more consistent comparison of market and non-market production. Estimates made using a more restricted definition of production show that non-market production makes an even greater contribution to the economy than the extended (neoclassical) accounts suggest.

A very different approach to breaking the neoclassical nexus is contained in the "green" attempts to measure economic welfare. In accounting for defensive expenditures, environmental costs and resource depletion, these accounts recognise that not all economic activity is 'productive' of welfare. This makes a politically important critique of economic growth, although the indexes remain largely gender-blind and would be improved by recognising the (Marxian) distinction between production and exchange/transaction activity. When suitably revised, the Australian measure of economic welfare - the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) gives a view of the economy which is different to the original GPI - as well as being radically different from the official accounts' story of economic growth.

These green and Marxian analyses and estimates are very different approaches to defining and measuring the economy, and quite different again to the approaches focused on emotional labour which eschew measurement altogether. Yet in important ways, they are all informed by feminist, green and socialist political economy and all serve to break the neoclassical nexus. The different starting points of each approach offer different insights into "the economy", but unlike the neoclassical standpoint, they do so in a way which allows other possibilities to be seen and pursued.


List Of Tables
List Of Figures
List of Abbreviations

Introduction: The Official Story and the Unofficial Thesis

Different Official Definitions
Outline of Thesis


Chapter 1: The Unofficial History of the Official Story

The History of "Production"
The Neoclassical Moment
The Keynesian Moment
Epistemological Standpoints

Chapter 2: The In/visibility of Women's Work in 'The Economy'

Feminist Arguments
Valuing Women's Work
Australian Estimates
Market Centrism

Chapter 3: Feminist Debates about Accounting for Women's Work

Problems with the Extended Accounts
Time Based Alternatives
Household Time Use and the Politics of Measurement
Socialist Feminist Parallels
Domestic Labour Debate
Post Domestic Labour Debate Formulations


Interlude: Environmental Parallels

Defensive Expenditures and Environmental Costs
GDP as a Welfare Measure
Resource Depletion/Sustainability
Critiques of Valuation


Chapter 4: Emotional and Embodied Labour

Household emotional labour
Emotional Labour in Paid Work
Differences, Definitions and Critiques
Importance of the Analysis
The Problem of Emotional Labour Revisited
More Than Commodity Production
Difference From Commodity Production

Chapter 5: Measuring the Hologram (and the Neoclassical Impasse)

Problems in Measuring Emotional Labour
The Impasse
The 'Value' of Emotional Labour
The Neoclassical Nexus



Chapter 6: Breaking the Nexus I: A Restricted Definition of Production

Feminist Concerns
Marxian Definitions
Transaction Costs
Emotional Labour
Problems in Transaction Cost and Marxian Frameworks
What is the Purpose of Accounts?
Consistent Comparison
Making Women's Work Visible

Chapter 6a: Empirical Estimates of 'Production'

Existing Estimates
Market Production
Defining Non-Production Activities
Estimating Market Production (Narrowly Defined)
Household Production
Defining Non-Production Activities
Estimating Household Production (Narrowly Defined)
Combined Results

Chapter 7: Breaking the Nexus II: Economic Welfare Definitions

Economic Welfare Indicators
Results and Implications
Gendered Inequality
Wider Issues
Recognising Different Labour - Exchange Labour
Potential for Revised Measures

Chapter 7a: Revising the Estimates of Economic Welfare

Gendered Inequality Adjustments
Estimates and Results
Other Structural Adjustments
Exchange Costs Adjustments
Estimates and Results



Appendix 1: Data for Restricted Product Estimates

Appendix 2: Further Data and Methodological Issues in the GPI

Gender Wage Gap
Why an Index?
The Data
The Index
Exchange Expenditures
Changes in ABS Industry Classifications
Calculation & Raw Data





Did Jesus do a PhD?

There seems little doubt that Jesus did in fact do a PhD. This is not a Barbara Thiering type re-reading of scripture, nor a divine secret revealed to me in a vision. It is obvious from the general biblical narrative. It is not just that the biblical tale took three years and the end result was a thick book. Consider that when Jesus first left his parents and began arguing theology in the temple, he was told he was not ready - just like an undergraduate. More importantly, it was made clear that Jesus the student had to be about his father/supervisor's business! We are also told that Jesus spent three years journeying around doing fieldwork, lived in poverty and on charity, rejected the temptation of riches (ie. a job that paid real money) and then tried to set up a band of friends and followers to quote his words (thus increasing his citation index count). In the end, and typical of a PhD, the effort killed him, the Father/supervisor took the credit for finishing/resurrecting the project, and when the bloody thing was finally published, nobody knew what it was about!


The PhD experience is summed up by Jesus Christ (Superstar) himself:

Once I was inspired, now I’m sad and tired
Surely I’ve exceeded expectations,
Tried for three years, seems like thirty
Could you ask as much of any other man?
But if I write,
See the saga through, and do the things you ask of me,
Would I be more noticed than I ever was before?
Would the things I’ve said and done, matter any more?
Notwithstanding the above, see the Thesis Acknowledgements for my comments on my actual supervisors who I am glad to say did not follow the divine model. Also note: there are other witicisms in my thesis (not least because national accounting is such a boring topic), but the jokes are mainly about lawyers rather than god (although the former often think they are the latter).


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