Among my peers, and more broadly among my generation, capitalism has come to be perceived rather unfavorably. Historical instances of power abuses under the capitalist systems of Western society have created an impression of capitalism as a system of oppression. It is a reputation that is not wholly unjustified; there are serious problems which exist within our current economy, and our past still impedes our present. I believe the problems our generation faces, economic or otherwise, cannot be solved without an honest, open dialogue. However, statements like “Capitalism is incompatible with feminism” are exasperating, and I feel a need to defend capitalism from careless inclusion with undesirable labels of sexism or racism. Simply put, the false equivalence of capitalism to bigotry is dangerous and without merit.
Without diverging into an ECON 1001 lecture, just know that capitalism is based on the idea of a free market economy where the market distributes goods based on the laws of supply and demand. The assertion that an economic system, which makes no reference to gender or race, is incompatible with feminism (or equality more broadly speaking) is extraordinary. We can discuss the limitations of capitalism more generally, but attributing moral intentions to an economic theory is silly (and curiously anthropomorphic).
I suspect some of you may think that I am being too literal: “Of course capitalism isn’t sexist in principle!” “But the history of the west is one of sexism, racism and capitalism!” Advocates of this line of thinking often seem to be unaware of the difference between correlation and causation, a misconception that I imagine greatly irritates statistics professors world over. The mere existence of sexism or racism within societies is obviously insufficient to pronounce guilt on capitalism’s behalf. Those attempting to invoke history must account for a myriad of cultural influences while somehow managing to isolate economics in totality.
Occasionally, the position is defended without explicit reference to history to show causation, instead contending that a free market could never exist in practice. The argument follows that the free market is not free, but instead is manipulated by the powers that be (read white men), who naturally wish to preserve their own interests. Of course this argument can only exist in a historical (causation fallacy) context if it intends to show incompatibility between capitalism and social equality. Capitalism is principally concerned with what is produced, not who produces it, a metric that is perfectly indifferent to the race or gender of those on the scale.
I hope I am not guilty of assuming the worst of others, but I must acknowledge some disbelief in this position. Perhaps a different explanation could explain the inclusion of capitalism in conversation where it does not seem to belong: political pragmatism. Fortunately, anti-racism and anti-sexism political agendas have very high approval ratings among millennials; anti-capitalist sentiment however, does not enjoy the same degree of support, and the support for communism is sparser still. Associating the fight for equal rights with a fight for an economic revolution is a smart tactic for rallying support, though perhaps disingenuous.
I cannot state with any certainty where the opposition to capitalism is rooted, if it be the result of savvy political maneuvering, a romanticized view of communism or simply lazy thinking. I can however state with a good deal of certainty that among millennials there is a significant difference between the near-unanimous support for gender equality, and those who identify as feminists. This seems, at least in part, due to the unrelenting assertion that only those with the correct economic views are allowed in the club. The choice between capitalism and human rights is a false choice, and so long as it is positioned as such, people who would be allies in the fight for equality will be hesitant to affiliate with social causes that could benefit us all.
How’s that saying go?
“We should all be feminists.”