It's pretty universally agreed that our world is in bad shape nowadays. People of a more liberal persuasion blame capitalism. If only as many resources were spent on raising children or protecting the environment as on advertising, they claim, the world would be a better place.
Conservatives blame feminism. With all those women going to work instead of saying home with their kids, we shouldn't be surprised that society is falling apart in many ways, poverty is growing, and crime is rampant.
But maybe they're both wrong. I mean, I am a feminist capitalist, and yet I think we could do better than we're doing, by a long shot.
The trouble, it seems to me, is more a question of priorities than of ideologies. I can agree that the free market is the best way to serve our needs -- but that doesn't mean I am free to practice business in an unethical way. I can agree that women should have equal opportunities at work, without saying that kids don't need to be taken care of.
Let's talk about capitalism first. In our current free market, it is possible for business owners to practice their trades in ethical ways. The trouble is that people don't think they have to do it. If I have to hear the words "private vice is public virtue" one more time, I think I'll scream. Vice is vice, virtue is virtue.
Okay, an example. Say it is cheap to run a sweatshop in hazardous conditions, and more expensive to pay employees a just wage and give them a safe working environment. Capitalism says the business owner should pick the cheaper option, right?
Wrong. Capitalism says the business owner can choose what he wants to do. And an ethical person would choose the ethical option.
Ah, but what if he wants to make money more than he wants to do the right thing? Well, then the customers can pressure him. They can refuse to buy the sweatshop clothes. In this way they can make it much more expensive to use a sweatshop, because of the lost business.
But in order to make capitalism work, you have to be vigilant. You have to take responsibility yourself. And you cannot -- you must not -- say, "Well, that's the way the market works, I have nothing to do with it." The market is not a person; it has no morals. But you are a person, and you do have morals.
Business people do the wrong thing all the time, sadly. They say things like, "This isn't a very good product, but I sell it because there's demand for it. Not my fault if it breaks after a month." Or, "I know I'm overcharging, but everyone else does it too." Or, "Sure, there's no way they can live on this wage. But if they agree to it, it must be good enough." That is no way for a decent person to talk. Read the social encyclicals, what they say about the unbridled market that sees people as mere numbers.
The fact is that as humans and as moral actors, material considerations shouldn't be the only things on our minds. John was criticizing Chik-Fil-A years ago as uncapitalist. He said that they aren't just selling a product, they are selling a feeling of self-righteouness. Well, of course they are. So is Starbucks, when they sell fair-trade coffee. Why shouldn't we buy a product that serves our moral values as well as our material ones?
When capitalism is working, that's what happens. We have the economic freedom to choose an ethical product or an unethical one; our job is to pick the ethical one. When we don't do this, capitalism will result in injustice.
Meanwhile, feminism isn't the problem either. It isn't primarily about mothers going to work while the kids are raised by the television. Feminism is about giving women choices. And the right choices are going to be ones that serve not only our own needs, but those of our families as well.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the only thing that is going to make things fair for women, allowing them to gt paid equally, use their talents equally, and get promoted equally .... is for men to step up and make their kids a priority too. Women are penalized because they tend to be more family-oriented and put their kids before their careers. But what if everyone put kids before careers? What if it was expected that people didn't stay late at work because the kids need to be picked up at daycare ... and leaving at five was considered a responsible, appropriate thing to do? What if pretty much everyone made an effort to take a career break when their kids were small?
Well, it would stop pitting women's needs against children's needs, for one thing. Here is a great article about men doing just that: Men get serious about work-life balance.
The problem is not capitalism, and it's not feminism. It's materialism. When we put money or worldly respect over the needs of others, especially our families -- it does not matter what your economic system or ideology is. Your system will be unjust, and it will fail. We don't need a different ideology. We need to put our priorities in the right place. In short, we need to practice virtue.