Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hazel Henderson - 'housewife economist'

"You are exercising the responsibilities of citizenship, and you are setting an example to your children, at the same time that you are working for their health and welfare. Best of all, you are learning firsthand about one of the most exciting frontiers of our growing knowledge and technology - how to manage our natural heritage so that it can support the needs of our increasing population, and at the same time remain orderly and beautiful, a fitting and joyous setting for future generations."
This is what Henderson wrote in a 1966 article in Parent's Magazine, as a young activist mother in New York about her work fighting air pollution in the city. (Rome, A. (2003) “Give earth a chance”) She had just organised Citizens for Clean Air by passing out leaflets to mothers during her daily walks in the park with her infant daughter.

She had no formal university education. She was born in England in 1933 and at the age of 25 she married and moved to New York where she was living with her husband and infant daughter when her life as an activist began. Returning from the park with her daughter she found it took an hour to scrub the soot off her child. Speaking to other mothers at the park confirmed that they all had the same experience – soon a group was formed and a journey began, that eventually led to the passing of the Clean Air Act.

Dr Henderson wanted to understand why the economy did not value the health of children, and why should 'cleaning up the air' cost too much as she was repeatedly told. So she began a relentless process of questioning and research, talking to economists, writing, arguing and so on teaching herself economics, finally becoming a "self-educated futurist, environmentalist, and economic iconoclast” with several honorary doctorates.

She says "I had to teach myself economics, because every time I wanted to organize something there was always some economist telling me it would be uneconomic. I knew I was right in my activism; I felt it in my body. So there had to be something wrong with economics, and I decided that I had better find out just what it was that all those economists had got wrong."

I found discovering Hazel Henderson's life story as inspiring as reading her writings, for more absorbing and detailed accounts: and

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