Posts

NAACP Head Can Use Foul Language because He’s ‘One of the Best Guys’

Perhaps NAACP now stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Cursing and Profanity. Don Harris is the white head (yes, he really is white, and reminiscent of a pustule, and, unlike Rachel Dolezal, even identifies as white) of the Maricopa County Chapter of the NAACP. He’s also very concerned about injudicious use of language, which is why he was on hand to try to collect the scalps of six Desert Vista High School girls who lined up to spell the word “ni**er” with letters and asterisks printed on their shirts, on their recent picture day. The girls were suspended for a complete school week, but this wasn’t good enough for left-wing activists.

Change.org circulated a petition reading, “[The girls’] punishment was 5-days suspension. This hurtful use of a racial slur is a complete disregard for the dignity of the black community in Arizona and across the nation and the punishment does not fit the total ignorance and cruelty of the crime[*].”

*Some exceptions may apply: please ignore the “dignity of the black community” when rap thugs and their wannabes use the word continually.

And despite the picture having been taken without the school’s knowledge, the petition continued, “We demand the resignation of the school’s principal, Christine Barela, immediately for deeming this 5-day vacation from school an acceptable punishment.”

Yes, the girls and their principal should be drawn and quartered and their body parts scattered in the far reaches of the realm. That’ll show ‘em!

So Harris, the white head, participated in an event last week in the Tempe Union High School District to discuss why the powers-that-be didn’t go medieval on the girls. But after the meeting, The American Mirror writes, “while participants were speaking with the media, he was caught on camera saying Channel 12 reporter Monique Griego had ‘nice t[**]s.’”

Hey, I think Howard Stern has just found his next guest.

But here’s where it really gets amusing. When Phoenix’s New Times called the NAACP office to ask about Harris’ remark, he replied, “The meeting was over. I apologize if anyone was offended. I could have said nothing. …I’m really f*****g sorry.” Maybe that’s how little Don learned to apologize at home. Caught with his hands in the cookie jar? “I’m really @#$%&! sorry, ma!”

Harris wasn’t done, though. Since he’d pledged $5,000 for the “n-word effort” (whatever that means, in practical terms), the New Times, being politically correct itself, asked if an effort should be made to eradicate “sexist” language. Here was his response, as the paper relates it (I’ve cleaned it up):

“I’m going to slash my wrists,” he spews. “Better yet, I’m going to throw myself out of a f*****g window, except I’m on the first floor …I’m one of the best god****d people in the state.”

“They’ve seen me now, they’ve seen what I’ve done. I’ve given up my law practice. I’m down here six, seven days a week. That’s what my commitment is. I support NOW, the women’s organization — god***n! — are you sh*****g me? Are you going to write this up?”

Now, I very much like Harris’ first two propositions. Instead of following such a course, however, something else is more likely; as the New Times amusingly put after mentioning that the vulgarian abruptly hung up the phone, “No doubt he’s back working to eradicate an offensive word” (not, however, in the service of the NAACP; he resigned shortly after the scandal).

To be clear, I don’t come at this from a politically correct perspective. Rather, the operative principle here is common decency, the kind George Washington (who never used profanity) and our grandparents generally exhibited. For instance, the aforementioned Mirror ran the very clever headline, “OMG: NAACP leader uses F-word to apologize for using T-word after N-word meeting.” Well crafted, but I could respond, “Writer uses God’s name in vain to criticize NAACP leader for using F-word to apologize for using T-word after N-word meeting.” And that’s the point: what should our social standards for speech be?

The problem with the politically correct thought police is not that they use social pressure to stifle some speech; again, whether it’s stigmatizing the use of profanity or something else, every group does that.

The problem is that the PC code is almost entirely wrong, quite stupid and allows for great contradiction.

Leftists descend to the very nadir of inanity, sometimes objecting to terms and names such as black hole, niggardly, Easter eggs, Christmas Trees and crippled as they rail against “microaggressions” and stigmatize substantive speech (“safe areas” and speech codes). And they sometimes do it via profanity-laced tirades that would make a drunken sailor blush. They have things backwards. “Niggardly” and other legitimate terms relate qualities and concepts; profanity is simply verbal violence and ugliness.

Of course, some will roll their eyes at my “God’s name” comment and, as one respondent who emailed me years ago mockingly put it, Little Lord Fauntleroy standard. But note that I grew up in the Bronx and have heard it all — I also ultimately saw through it all. Moreover, aren’t such comments reminiscent of when leftist Bill Maher said about a decade or so back that the Boy Scouts should be tolerated because the “squares” need some place to go? We’d do well to remember C.S. Lewis’ observation: “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. …We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” I’d add, we mock virtue and are surprised when vice reigns supreme.

That the respondent in question was no liberal illustrates an important point: more and more conservatives today are using profanity publicly, with it appearing even in commentary as they play the caboose to the engine of liberalism. That is to say, it apparently means nothing to them that it is liberals who mainstreamed vulgar language; they’re more than happy to embrace and defend yesterday’s liberals’ cultural norms and scoff at those who object, coarsening society along the way. This gets at the true relationship between the processes known as liberalism and conservatism, as G.K. Chesterton so colorfully explained:

The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins.

The reason this two-step-dance process of national death occurs is simple: reference to taste and not Truth. This is illustrated perfectly by Harris. It’s not surprising he thinks he’s “one of the best” people in his state and polishes up his credentials by saying he supports NOW; this is reminiscent of Bill Clinton and ex-senator Bob Packwood, both of whom supported feminism publicly and abused the feminine sex privately; it also reflects research showing that while leftists rail against greed in principle, they’re defined by it in practice. They seem to believe they can indulge their beloved personal corruption and then expiate it with public displays of faux virtue.

More to the point, however, is that they exemplify that modernist mistake of self-deification. A person who believes in Truth (by definition absolute) uses it as his yardstick for morality. Now, when he looks around at others, he sees that they pale in comparison to this perfect standard.

But so does he.

Thus, he realizes that he and his fellow man truly are brothers in sin, both needing salvation, and can honestly say “But there for the grace of God go I.” But what about when someone is a relativist and doesn’t believe in Truth? What is his yardstick for behavior?

It’s usually himself. Not believing there is an objective standard for morality — and thus not really believing in morality, properly defined — the only yardstick he has left is emotion. This is why, as this study shows, most Americans make what should be moral decisions based on feelings.

This often leads to great arrogance and contempt for others. Having a behavior standard reflecting your emotions is just another way of saying it merely reflects you. This makes it easy to view yourself as perfect, for it’s relatively hard to be out of conformity with yourself. A yardstick never fails at being three feet long.

Yet since no one is a carbon copy of you, others will always fail to measure up to your “truth” the way you do. So you look in your ethereal mirror and see this font of virtue, and you look down on the Lilliputians below and see vice. And you have thus put yourself in the place of God and have reduced others to disobedient children in need of your guidance and discipline.

This explains the infamous superciliousness of those we call leftists, but remember that many “conservatives” are just a bit behind the twisted curve. It’s sadly amusing to ponder a film such as Idiocracy (whose creation itself reflects descent into idiocracy), which portrays a degraded, vulgar, dystopian future, and think that all and sundry are making it prophetic. And if we haven’t yet destroyed ourselves and are still doing the two-step dance of civilizational death in 30 years, it’s easy to imagine conservatives shouting @#$%&! and @#$%&! and @#$%&! at those who point out that they’re politically and linguistically just like yesterday’s Hillary Clintons.

Contact Selwyn Duke, follow him on Twitter or log on to SelwynDuke.com

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is of Don Harris. Source: KPHO/KTVK.

How Sexist Is Your Office Temp? by Sarah Skwire

My Facebook wall is bursting with people arguing over a recent article from theWashington Post that claims that air conditioning in the office is sexist.

Women, argues Petula Dvorak, are naturally inclined to suffer more from the cold, so office thermostats set at 68 or 70 degrees keep men comfortable, but make women miserable. Her article strongly implies that this is done because men lack consideration for the comfort of others and because women are denied the power and the agency to get temperatures set where they want them.

I am a small cold woman who keeps two blankets in her office. I sympathize.

But despite my sympathy, I think Dvorak — and most of my Facebook friends — are missing an extremely important point: The fact that there are women suffering in overly air-conditioned offices is not a sign of how oppressed we are. It is a sign of how far we have come.

The economist Claudia Goldin has written persuasively about the long-term changes in women’s work over the course of the 20th century. She notes that the soaring rate of women’s labor force participation from the 1950s-1970s is part of a greater, century-long revolution. And it is that revolution that means that there are more and more women who are able to be in an office to begin with.

Once we’re in the office, we’re cold. But let’s not allow the chill to lull us to sleep. We can complain so loudly about the A/C because women are present in working environments in increasing numbers. That’s a good thing.

Dvorak gets a lot of mileage from her outrage over men’s office attire. They wear suits and ties and broadcloth shirts and are thus comfortable in air conditioning, while women dressed in seasonally-appropriate attire shiver from cold.

Why, she wonders, don’t men simply dress more appropriately?

Office dress codes are certainly part of the answer, but a larger part of the answer seems to be that women got a revolution that has missed men entirely — a revolution in dress.

Underneath her conservative suit, the working woman of the 1950s would have worn something like the Playtex Living Girdle, made of perforated rubber, and designed to produce the sleek figure required by the fashions of the time.

Rubber girdles certainly did that. But they were also hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable. Women who were freed of them by the new fashions of the ‘60s and the invention of pantyhose were nothing but grateful.

And the current generation of women — who have rejected even pantyhose as a relic of the past — are freer than ever… and colder. Ditching girdles and hose means that we have fewer layers between us and the office air conditioning. We’ve burned our foundation garments, but the fire hasn’t kept us warm.

I certainly don’t suggest returning to girdles or leaving the workplace in order to stay warm.

But I do think it’s dumb to blame the patriarchy, as represented by the guy in the next cubicle, for the fact that we’re cold.

We’re cold because we won the revolution. And now we have the power to request more equitable dress codes for our male colleagues, or to design offices with individualized climate controls, or to recognize that the world isn’t perfect, but that sometimes a little sweater can help.

Sarah Skwire
Sarah Skwire

Sarah Skwire is a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis.

“Paid Family Leave” Is a Great Way to Hurt Women by Robert P. Murphy

In an article in the New Republic, Lauren Sandler argues that it’s about time the United States join the ranks of all other industrialized nations and provide legally guaranteed paid leave for pregnancy or illness.

Her arguments are similar to ones employed in the minimum wage debate. Opponents say that making particular workers more expensive will lead employers (on aggregate) to hire fewer of them. Supporters reject this tack as fearmongering, going so far as to claim such measures will boost profitability, and that only callous disregard for the disadvantaged can explain the opposition.

If paid leave (or higher pay for unskilled workers) helps workers and employers, then why do progressives need government power to force these great ideas on everyone?

The United States already has unpaid family leave, with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. This legislation “entitles eligible employees … to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.” Specifically, the FMLA grants covered employees 12 workweeks of such protection in a 12-month period, to deal with a pregnancy, personal sickness, or the care of an immediate family member. (There is a provision for 26 workweeks if the injured family member is in the military.)

But “workers’ rights” advocates want to move beyond the FMLA, in winning legally guaranteed paid leave for such absences. Currently, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have such policies.

The basic libertarian argument against such legislation is simple enough: no worker has a right to any particular job, just as no employer has the right to compel a person to work for him or her. In a genuine market economy based on private property and consensual relations, employers and workers are legally treated as responsible adults to work out mutually beneficial arrangements. If it’s important to many women workers that they won’t forfeit their jobs in the event of a pregnancy, then in a free and wealthy society, many firms will provide such clauses in the employment contract in order to attract qualified applicants.

For example, if a 23-year-old woman with a fresh MBA is applying to several firms for a career in the financial sector, but she has a serious boyfriend and thinks they might one day start a family, then — other things equal — she is going to highly value a clause in the employment contract that guarantees she won’t lose her job if she takes off time to have a baby. Since female employment in the traditional workforce is now so prevalent, we can expect many employers to have such provisions in in their employment contracts in order to attract qualified applicants. Women don’t have a right to such clauses, just as male hedge-fund VPs don’t have a right to year-end bonuses, but it’s standard for employment contracts to have such features.

Leaving aside philosophical and ethical considerations, let’s consider basic economics and the consequences of pregnancy- and illness-leave legislation. It is undeniable that providing even unpaid, let alone paid, leave is a constraint on employers. Other things equal, an employer does not want an employee to suddenly not show up for work for months at a time, and then expect to come back as if nothing had happened. The employer has to scramble to deal with the absence in the meantime, and furthermore doesn’t want to pour too much training into a temporary employee because the original one is legally guaranteed her (or his) old job. If the employer also has to pay out thousands of dollars to an employee who is not showing up for work, it is obviously an extra burden.

As always with such topics, the easiest way to see the trade-off is to exaggerate the proposed measure. Suppose instead of merely guaranteeing a few months of paid maternity leave, instead the state enforced a rule that said, “Any female employee who becomes pregnant can take off up to 15 years, earning half of her salary, in order to deliver and homeschool the new child.” If that were the rule, then young female employees would be ticking time bombs, and potential employers would come up with all sorts of tricks to deny hiring them or to pay them very low salaries compared to their ostensible on-the-job productivity.

Now, just because guaranteed leave, whether paid or unpaid, is an expensive constraint for employers, that doesn’t mean such policies (in moderation) are necessarily bad business practices, so long as they are adopted voluntarily. To repeat, it is entirely possible that in a genuinely free market economy, many employers would voluntarily provide such policies in order to attract the most productive workers. After all, employers allow their employees to take bathroom breaks, eat lunch, and go on vacation, even though the employees aren’t generating revenue for the firm when doing so.

However, if the state must force employers to enact such policies, then we can be pretty sure they don’t make economic sense for the firms in question. In her article, Sandler addresses this fear by writing, in reference to New Jersey’s paid leave legislation,

After then-Governor Jon Corzine signed the bill, Chris Christie promised to overturn it during his campaign against Corzine. But Christie never followed through. The reason why is quite plain: As with California, most everyone loves paid leave. A recent study from the CEPR found that businesses, many of which strenuously opposed the policy, now believe paid leave has improved productivity and employee retention, decreasing turnover costs. (emphasis added)

Well, that’s fantastic! Rather than engaging in divisive political battles, why doesn’t Sandler simply email that CEPR (Center for Economic and Policy Research) study to every employer in the 47 states that currently lack paid leave legislation? Once they see that they are flushing money down the toilet right now with high turnover costs, they will join the ranks of the truly civilized nations and offer paid leave.

The quotation from Sandler is quite telling. Certain arguments for progressive legislation rely on “externalities,” where the profit-and-loss incentives facing individual consumers or firms do not yield the “socially optimal” behavior. On this issue of family leave, the progressive argument is much weaker. Sandler and other supporters must maintain that they know better than the owners of thousands of firms how to structure their employment contracts in order to boost productivity and employee retention. What are the chances of that?

In reality, given our current level of wealth and the configuration of our labor force, it makes sense for some firms to have generous “family leave” clauses for some employees, but it is not necessarily a sensible approach in all cases. The way a free society deals with such nuanced situations is to allow employers and employees to reach mutually beneficial agreements. If the state mandates an approach that makes employment more generous to women in certain dimensions — since they are the prime beneficiaries of pregnancy leave, even if men can ostensibly use it, too — then we can expect employers to reduce the attractiveness of employment contracts offered to women in other dimensions. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Mandating paid leave will reduce hiring opportunities and base pay, especially for women. If this trade-off is something the vast majority of employees want, then that’s the outcome a free labor market would have provided without a state mandate.


Robert P. Murphy

Robert P. Murphy is senior economist with the Institute for Energy Research. He is author of Choice: Cooperation, Enterprise, and Human Action (Independent Institute, 2015).

Microaggressions and Microwonders: Are mountains out of molehills proof the world’s getting better? by Steven Horwitz

A recurring theme of recent human history is that the less of something bad we see in the world around us, the more outrage we generate about the remaining bits.

For example, in the 19th century, outrage about child labor grew as the frequency of child labor was shrinking. Economic forces, not legislation, had raised adult wages to a level at which more and more families did not need additional income from children to survive, and children gradually withdrew from the labor force. As more families enjoyed having their children at home or in school longer, they became less tolerant of those families whose situations did not allow them that luxury, and the result was the various moral crusades, and then laws, against child labor.

We have seen the same process at work with cigarette smoking in the United States. As smoking has declined over the last generation or two, we have become ever less tolerant of those who continue to smoke. Today, that outrage continues in the form of new laws against vaping and e-cigarettes.

The ongoing debate over “rape culture” is another manifestation of this phenomenon. During the time that reasonably reliable statistics on rape in the United States have been collected, rape has never been less frequent than it is now, and it is certainly not as institutionalized as a practice in the Western world as it was in the past. Yet despite this decline — or in fact because of it — our outrage at the rape that remains has never been higher.

The talk of the problem of “microaggressions” seems to follow this same pattern. The term refers to the variety of verbal and nonverbal forms of communication that are said to constitute disrespect for particular groups, especially those who have been historically marginalized. So, for example, the use of exclusively masculine pronouns might be construed as a “microaggression” against women, or saying “ladies and gentlemen” might be seen as a microaggression against transsexuals. The way men take up more physical space on a train or bus, or the use of the phrase “walk-only zones” (which might offend the wheelchair-bound) to describe pedestrian crossways, are other examples.

Those who see themselves as the targets of microaggressions have often become very effective entrepreneurs of outrage in trying to parlay these perceived slights into indications of much more pervasive problems of sexism or racism and the like. Though each microaggression individually might not seem like much, they add up. So goes the argument.

I don’t want to totally dismiss the underlying point here, as it is certainly true that people say and do things (often unintentionally) that others will find demeaning, but I do want to note how this cultural phenomenon fits the pattern identified above. We live in a society in which the races and genders (and classes!) have never been more equal. Really profound racism and sexism is far less prominent today than it was 50 or 100 years ago. In a country where the president is a man of color and where one of our richest entertainers is a woman of color, it’s hard to argue that there hasn’t been significant progress.

But it is exactly that progress that leads to the outrage over microaggressions. Having steadily pushed back the more overt and damaging forms of inequality, and having stigmatized them as morally offensive, we have less tolerance for the smaller bits that remain. As a result, we take small behaviors that are often completely unintended as offenses and attempt to magnify them into the moral equivalent of past racism or sexism. Even the co-opting of the word “aggression” to describe what is, in almost all cases, behavior that is completely lacking in actual aggression is an attempt to magnify the moral significance of those behaviors.

Even if we admit that some of such behaviors may well reflect various forms of animus, there are two problems with the focus on microaggressions.

First, where do we draw the line? Once these sorts of behaviors are seen as slights with the moral weight of racism or sexism, we can expect to see anyone and everyone who feels slighted about anything someone else said or did declare it a “microaggression” and thereby try to capture the same moral high ground.

We are seeing this already, especially on college campuses, where even the mere discussion of controversial ideas that might make some groups uncomfortable is being declared to be a microaggression. In some cases this situation is leading faculty to stop teaching anything beyond the bland.

Second, moral equivalence arguments can easily backfire. For example, if we, as some feminists were trying to do in the 1980s, treat pornography as the equivalent of rape, hoping to make porn look worse, we might end up causing people to treat real physical rape less seriously given that they think porn is largely harmless.

So it goes with microaggressions: if we try to raise men taking up too much room on a bus seat into a serious example of sexism, then we risk people reacting by saying, “Well, if that’s what sexism is, then why should I really worry too much about sexism?” The danger is that when far more troubling examples of sexism or racism appear (for example, the incarceration rates of African-American men), we might be inclined to treat them less seriously.

It is tempting to want to flip the script on the entrepreneurs of microaggression outrages and start to celebrate their outrages as evidence of how far we’ve come. If men who take the middle armrest on airplanes (as obnoxious as that might be) are a major example of gender inequality, we have come far indeed. But as real examples of sexism and racism and the like do still exist, I’d prefer another strategy to respond to the talk of microaggressions.

Let’s spend more time celebrating the “microwonders” of the modern world. Just as microaggression talk magnifies the small pockets of inequality left and seems to forget the larger story of social progress, so does our focus on large social and economic problems in general cause us to forget the larger story of progress that is often manifested in tiny ways.

We live in the future that prior generations only imagined. We have the libraries of the world in our pockets. We have ways of easily connecting with friends and strangers across the world. We can have goods and even services of higher quality and lower cost, often tailored to our particular desires, delivered to our door with a few clicks of a button. We have medical advances that make our lives better in all kinds of small ways. We have access to a variety of food year-round that no king in history had. The Internet brings us happiness every day through the ability to watch numerous moments of humor, human triumph, and joy.

Even as we recognize that the focus on microaggressions means we have not yet eliminated every last trace of inequality, we should also recognize that it means we’ve come very far. And we should not hesitate to celebrate the microwonders of progress that often get overlooked in our laudable desire to continue to repair an imperfect world.

Steven Horwitz

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Microfoundations and Macroeconomics: An Austrian Perspective, now in paperback.

By the Power Vested in Us: Confessions of a freedom bride by ALYSON HUDNALL

My fiancé is white. I’m not. We plan to jump the broom this summer, to honor my heritage and the hardships of couples like us. The tradition was born under anti-miscegenation laws that forbade blacks from marrying. And signing an official state marriage license feels inappropriate, considering the racist history behind it.

Anti-miscegenation laws had been a part of US history since colonial America. In the late 1700s, states began increasing their control over marriage by requiring a license. By the 1920s, 30 states had enacted laws that further prevented interracial marriage, including my home state, Virginia, with the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. It wasn’t until 1968 that banning interracial marriage was declared unconstitutional in the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia.

Had my partner and I been engaged only 50 years ago, our application for a marriage license would have been rejected. Our only choice would’ve been to jump the broom. Theoretically, our marriage license still could be rejected, because it’s an application process, and all it takes is one bigoted judge to turn it down. And it isn’t just blacks or interracial couples who have been targeted by these invasive institutions.

Opening briefs for same-sex marriage arguments have already been filed with the Supreme Court. For gay rights supporters, the hope is that bans on same-sex marriage will be declared unconstitutional. If this hope is realized, then every state will be forced to recognize heterosexual and homosexual couples equally. However, I’m not convinced this is a step in the right direction.

As it stands, a marriage license is the most effective way for a couple to legally protect themselves. A license comes with over a thousand legal rights, including those relevant to medical emergencies, child custody, and inheritance. It’s important that those rights be respected by every state, but they should also be freely given to consenting adults without constraint. Marriage falls within our right of association, and the state should not be able hold it hostage while ordering you to submit to a blood test or pay a fee. No government agency should be able to reject you unless your marriage falls outside of two simple parameters: consensualand adult. The only “permission” to marry I should need is my partner’s. And now we’re left with an extremely difficult decision.

Do we reject the notion of state-regulated marriage and live as an unrecognized couple, or sign the license and perpetuate conventions we find wholly abhorrent? If we don’t sign the marriage license, we could end up paying lawyers hundreds of dollars to draw up contracts in an attempt to get some of the same rights and recognition as a legally married couple (“some” being the key word here). I don’t like to think about how it will feel to jump the broom in honor of my predecessors and then sign a piece of paper with a legacy of keeping couples like us apart.

ABOUT ALYSON HUDNALL

Alyson Hudnall is a Young Voices Advocate and the founder of Liberty in Color.

The Force That Liberated Women

The innovations and opportunities of modern markets freed women more than men by STEPHEN DAVIES:

Everyone in the world today has cause to be thankful that they live in a world and a time shaped by modern capitalism. However, women have particular cause to be thankful above and beyond the gains in material well-being that they share with men.

The contrast between the great majority of human history and the world that has grown up since the mid-18th century, most notably the enormous and unprecedented increase in wealth and physical comfort that has taken place since then, even for those who count as poor today, means that everyone alive today is very fortunate compared to their ancestors.

This huge and measurable increase in well-being is mainly due to modern capitalism and its central feature, sustained innovation, along with the crucial supporting institutions that make that possible: the rule of law, free exchange and inquiry, and individual liberty.

The condition and prospects of women have changed profoundly for the better in the modern world, and this is due centrally to capitalism as an economic and social system. Ideas and thinking have also played an enormous part, but this is one of those cases where the material circumstances and relations of human beings are fundamental. Women have gained a capacity of self-direction and a range of opportunities and options that were denied to their predecessors.

We may truly say that capitalism has liberated women.

Liberated from what, exactly?

The short answer is that capitalism liberated women from material constraints arising from the reality of living in a world of little innovation, slow or nonexistent growth, and chronic material deprivation. This was also true for men of course, but for reasons both natural and social, the conditions of premodern life affected women much more severely and stringently than they did men.

Physical strength

In traditional society, hard physical labor was the lot of everyone except a very small and privileged minority; the alternative was to starve. At the same time, the threat of violence played a much larger part. Innovation of any kind was seen as dangerous at best, blasphemous at worst.

Given the natural contrasts in physical strength between men and women, this was a world with a very clear sexual division of labor. Women did all kinds of productive work, but many tasks — including many that were more highly rewarded — were monopolized by men. Even more significantly, institutions that wielded power were dominated by men because of their ultimate basis in physical force, which men could exercise more readily. Individual women might enjoy power and influence, but women in general did not.

Fertility

Most importantly, women had little control over their fertility. Unless they chose a life of chastity, they were almost certain to have children.

This huge biological fact had extensive social consequences. On the one hand, it gave women great social influence by virtue of their maternal role. This influence was outweighed by the way that their maternal role led to stringent regulation of their behavior and options. Men faced many restrictions as well, but nothing so severe.

Women had even less in the way of choices about what to do in their lives than the majority of men did. Even women from the elite had a much more constrained set of possible roles than their male counterparts. This arrangement was rationalized and supported by an ideology of female subordination, a sexual double standard, and an array of ideas about women’s ultimately inferior and limited function.

New economic opportunities

The advent and development of capitalist modernity steadily undermined the constrained and limited world of women. A range of new economic opportunities arose for them, even before the advent of machinery and the factory but massively accelerated by them. Increasingly, women could earn an independent income and support themselves, something that was practically (as well as legally) difficult in traditional society. This meant that not being married, but rather being independent, was no longer an utter disaster nor tantamount to a death sentence.

Technology

Later on, modern capitalism produced a suite of devices and innovations that physically freed women from the demands and limitations of domestic labor. To take one example, the modern washing machine freed women from the need to spend one or often two entire days of each week doing laundry. Other domestic appliances had similar effects.

The automobile gave women personal mobility and freedom of movement in a way that they had not often had before. The advent of cheap books, newspapers, and magazines created opportunities for many more women to become writers and to communicate their ideas and experiences. It also brought about a level of contact with the wider world and with other women than had ever been feasible.

Eventually, the innovation at the heart of modern capitalism brought about cheap, reliable, and effective contraception and liberated women from the constraints of a central aspect of their biology. None of this would or could have happened without modern capitalism.

The steady decline in the importance of physical strength meant that the variety of life paths open to women expanded even more than it did for men. All of these material changes were matched by intellectual ones that again would not have amounted to more than a jeu d’esprit in the absence of the material conditions created by modern capitalism.

Starting with early figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges, a succession of women attacked traditional ideas of the nature and role of women and made the case for women’s autonomy and independence.

The ladies of laissez-faire

One thing that is little known but should be pointed out is that almost all of these pioneer feminists were ardent laissez-faire liberals and supporters of capitalist industry. They were well aware of the connection between the autonomy and freedom of choice that they advocated for women and the economic transformations that had made freedom possible as a lived reality.

All women today should reflect on how the scope of their agency and self-determination has increased far more than that of their fathers, husbands, and brothers in the last 200 years.

Modern capitalism and its innovations have disproportionately benefited women and changed the material conditions of humanity. To be a woman is no longer to be in a state of natural and inevitable disadvantage in the course of life.

ABOUT STEPHEN DAVIES

Stephen Davies is a program officer at the Institute for Humane Studies and the education director at the Institute for Economics Affairs in London.