Campbell and Gillespie (eds), Feminist Economics and Public Policy

Jim Campbell and Morag Gillespie (eds), Feminist Economics and Public Policy, Routledge, 2016, xx + 212 pp, 1 138 95086 3, pbk, £34.99

The feminist economist Ailsa McKay died in 2014, and this book is an edited collection of the papers given at a commemorative conference held in January 2015. The book is divided into three parts, reflecting McKay’s three main research interests: gender budgeting; women, work and childcare; and Citizen’s Basic Income (CBI). This review will concentrate on the final section of the book.

In chapter 14, Chris Pierson, who supervised McKay’s Ph.D. thesis on CBI, summarises the historical section of that thesis, which goes back to Thomas Paine, and then offers his own rather longer historical perspective. This begins with early Christian sources, which relativise private property in relation to human need; moves on to Scottish and English philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and then discusses contemporary political economists who view property as a social system rather than as an individual right. Whilst this historical exercise is interesting, it is not quite the argument for CBI that Pierson suggests that it is, because it could just as easily argue for means-tested benefits. Ailsa McKay’s historical research was rather more relevant.

In chapter 15, Annie Miller compares the current UK social security system with a system based on CBI. CBI’s claimant unit would be the individual, not the household; economies of scale would be left with the recipients, not extracted by the Government; coverage would be universal rather than conditional; and a CBI would enhance employment incentives. Miller explores the relationships between CBI and disabled people, and between CBI and lone parents, and also CBI’s labour market effects, and she concludes that CBI would ‘contribute to the emancipation of women, giving them more life choices’ (p. 174).

In chapter 16, Caitlin McLean (the first Ailsa McKay Postdoctoral Fellow in Economics) explores the ethics, economics and politics of CBI by offering concise and comprehensive surveys of the literature. She discusses the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, the Namibian pilot project (but unfortunately not the more robust Indian project), and a variety of related experiments. McLean correctly notes the recent turn in the debate towards issues relating to feasibility and implementation, and she calls for more interdisciplinary research in order to improve the evidence base for CBI.

In chapter 17, Morag Gillespie asks whether CBI is a radical and transformative idea for gender equality. She outlines McKay’s preference for an economics that can evaluate a wider variety of human activity than the traditional discipline does, and points out that such a broader economics would value CBI in ways that the traditional discipline cannot. She asks whether CBI would institutionalise women in the home rather than emancipate them in wider society, and concludes, with McKay, that while CBI might not solve the problem of the gender division of labour, it would promote a greater individual autonomy for women, particularly in relation to the quality of paid employment.

In their concluding chapter the editors emphasise that Ailsa McKay advocated for CBI because it would recognise ‘the totality of women’s contributions to the economy and wider society’ (p. 205), and they suggest that this will only be recognised if the discipline of economics changes in the way that McKay thought that it should.