The Feminist Economics of Trade.

Author:Vijaya, Ramya M.
Position:Book review

The Feminist Economics of Trade, edited by Irene Van Staveren, Diane Elson, Caren Grown and Nilufer Cagatay. Colchest: Francis Taylor Group, 2007. ISBN 978 0 415 43637 3, 352 pages.

This latest book from the IAFFE book series "Advances in Feminist Economics" is a compilation of 14 different theoretical, empirical and policy perspectives on the gender dimensions of international trade and globalization. The methodological plurality in the different contributions makes the book a valuable resource for students and policy makers looking for an alternative to the standard neo-classical analysis of trade and globalization.

The book begins with a critique of the standard analysis of globalization that is often derived from neo-classical theory of free markets and trade. In chapter 2, Lourdes Beneria, invoking Karl Polanyi's theme of the social construction of markets, argues that free trade doesn't just come about freely. In many instances it has required a deliberate set of government policies aimed at increasing capital mobility and expanding market-oriented production. Such policies do not consider the question of how people without any access to capital might be able to participate or how expanding market-oriented production might impact non-market production that sustains households. Given the gender relations in many developing economies, lack of access to capital and the burden of non-market production are issues that most often impact women.

In chapter 3, Diane Elson, Caren Grown and Nilufer Cagatay formalize this critique by looking specifically at the principle of comparative advantage that drives mainstream trade theory. When countries specialize and trade according to their comparative advantage, they experience net gains with a zero trade balance and merely transitory unemployment. The authors examine alternate theories based on Marxist and Post-Keynesian perspectives that question this comparative advantage story. The common critique is that empirical evidence does not support the predictions of trade according to comparative advantage. In fact, balance of payment imbalances and rising unemployment levels have persisted in many countries and are not merely transitory.

Therefore it is not comparative advantage but absolute advantage that drives trade, with the latter being based on access to capital and technological advances. The authors argue that this absolute advantage principle is more useful in describing some of the gender...

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