What is economic life? How have scholars defined the parameters of their study of the provisioning process – that is, the production and reproduction of human material life? Economic thinkers have offered a range of answers to this question. Classical economist Adam Smith focused his analysis in The Wealth of Nations around general well-being (or ‘general opulence’ as he termed it), defined as the production of the ‘necessaries and conveniences of life’ produced by labor (Smith, 1776 , p. 1). While most of his analysis focused on the role of markets in producing these necessaries and conveniences, production outside of markets and exchange relations could easily fit within his definition. In Capital, Karl Marx (1867 ), building upon Smith’s analytic base, pointed out that market production of exchange values may deliver, rather than general opulence, inequality, miserable working conditions, and economic crisis. Once again, focus was primarily on market production, as Marx argued that commodity production and exchange was the heart of a capitalist economic system. Still, within his analysis – while adhering to his period’s cultural assumptions about ‘natural’ differences between women and men – he addressed the role of women’s nonmarket production in the well-being of working-class families, which was jeopardized by capitalism’s relentless demand for labor (ibid., p. 395fn).
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