The beating heart of the economy

Her Blueprint, the blog of the International Museum of Women, has a really interesting post, and related podcast, about economics and language. Feminist economist Nancy Folbre argues that the language–liquidity, evasion, and safety net, oh my–we’ve been using to describe our economy are, perhaps, part of why it’s been ailing so badly. Most dangerous are the metaphors we employ, which Her Blueprint points out are largely automotive in nature: “jump-starting the economy” or “economic engine.” These aren’t accurate, Folbre argues, and only serve to further dumb down an already financially less-than-savvy populace. Instead, she argues, let’s use metaphors that really propel us to create an economy that serves people:

The [new terminology] that I’ve suggested … is the economy as a beating heart. There are mechanical replacements for hearts, so it’s not that they don’t have certain processes which can be a little bit reminiscent of the machine metaphor. But the heart is also much more organic. And key to the idea of a heart metaphor is circulation. That is you have to keep the resources moving around to keep the economy healthy.

Speaking of economics…If you’re in the big apple, don’t miss WAM!NYC’s Financial Literacy 101 event on September 27th, led by the amazing Manisha Thakor. Info here.

Join the Conversation

  • Matthew T. Jameson

    It’s unclear from the post (either on Feministing or at Her Blueprint) exactly what this heart metaphor has to offer. OK, it’s an alternative to an automotive metaphor, which has some -unstated- problems with it, but so does any metaphor, including the heart metaphor (for example, we now have a situation where the blood supply has been cut off . . . does that mean that the muscle of the economy has died? What a depressing way to think about economics). The heart metaphor also fails to capture the inherent malleability in the economy. One thing that is nice about the car analogy is that in a car you can replace parts piecemeal and create an entirely new vehicle, kind of like the way in which economic infrastructure can be recreated to affect fundamental shifts in the economy (e.g. moving from agrarian to industrial). Also,

    So what does the heart metaphor get us, and why is it being featured on a website that purports to present “art and ideas for women everywhere”? I actually find this very concerning, simply because it maps so closely onto a stereotype that says women can’t understand things like cars and engineering, and therefor need “organic” metaphors (which the author seems to be framing as somehow superior to mechanistic metaphors, without explanation). I give women a bit more credit.

    Maybe my reaction here is totally knee-jerk, and someone tell me if it is. I just don’t like the idea that an “organic” metaphor of a heart is an intrinsically better “idea for women,” than understanding the economy as a big, mean, misogynistic car engine, especially when the heart metaphor is also replete with problems. Hearts are also inextricably tied to emotionality, making this metaphor even more problematic, from a feminist perspective.

    Is my reaction totally out of the blue here? I’d love to hear others’ reactions.