Since the legitimacy of feminism as a concept and as a political movement has been debated in Objectivist and Libertarian circles, I would like to continue to develop some ideas about how Objectivism and Libertarianism relate to what I believe will be the cutting-edge struggles of the 21st century.
Over the years, I have moved away from some of the applications of Objectivism. One of the applications I no longer embrace is laissez-faire capitalism. I think laissez-faire is woefully inadequate to deal with a number of problems, the biggest one being the problem of free women reproducing at or above replacement levels.
My contention is that reproduction is the fatal thorn in the side of laissez-faire capitalism and the primary reason there is so much denial about women’s issues throughout the Objectivist and Libertarian communities.
Free market ideologues in the Western world who purport to believe in freedom for women have the luxury of pretending that all women need for their economic well-being is laissez-faire capitalism. The assumption is that since the world is currently over-populated, reproduction could not possibly emerge as a problem in a laissez-faire society.
The reason so many can afford this luxury is because most of the world’s women are slaves who reproduce through the use of force, applied directly by explicit rape, arranged marriage and the prohibition of divorce (contractual rape), and indirectly by economic dependency and laws against birth control, including sterilization and abortion.
Since the production and rearing of children is by its very nature expensive, those forced to have more children than they can reasonably afford by necessity have to rely on others for help. The price of that help often means supplying sexual favors on an ongoing basis; i.e., bearing unaffordable children often means “allowing” oneself to be continuously raped (marrying someone undesired and unloved) as the price of getting support. The raping leads to more children and greater and greater dependency, and hence the cycle is repeated endlessly over generations, centuries, and millennia.
In short, forced reproduction via direct and indirect forms of rape has meant plentiful people and therefore cheap labor. Women have functioned as the engines that produce the labor that feeds the other great engine, that of wealth production. Women have mortgaged their lives, their health, their happiness, their prosperity, and their independence in order to function, largely involuntarily, as engines of reproduction. Very simply, the most important source of capital on earth is the reproductive labor of women, a labor that produces the wealth-producing labor, the essential fuel necessary to create and sustain all human industry.
Remember in Atlas Shrugged, the cavalier, ho-hum attitude that the moochers had toward the productive ability of Hank Rearden? Why the cavalier attitude? The non-producers thought they could always fall back on Rearden’s productivity, they had him in their pockets, they didn’t have to cater to him, he would just produce no matter what.
This is precisely the attitude that has been shown to women from the beginning of human history. Because they never had a choice in the matter of their most valuable social work, that work could be taken for granted. One generation replaced another, just as regularly and routinely as the rising and the setting of the sun: Captive women languished as breeders of low-cost labor, which in turn languished to breed another round of low-cost labor.
Women have babies and raise them, come hell and high water. In the eyes of Objectivists and Libertarians, women don’t require compensation of any kind, not a safety net of welfare payments, subsidized housing, food stamps, guaranteed medical care for themselves and their children (including taxpayer-provided immunizations), guaranteed maternity leave, job security during pregnancy, disability payments while recovering from childbirth, subsidized or publicly funded education or day care, tax credits, tax deductions, family medical plans, social security payments and a lifetime of free medical care for their disabled children, or even mandatory child support from fathers.
There are some Objectivists that have even suggested that in a truly “free” society mothers would be required to pay more in taxes or fees than the childless to cover the governmental costs of protecting their children. Imagine being charged fees for the “privilege” of producing the next generation of labor!
In any case, it is the belief of this mindset that the entire burden, all the costs and risks associated with bearing and rearing children, can be placed solely on women, and they will still be willing to bear on average the replacement value of 2.1 children a piece (or more) generation after generation.
In the past, one could argue that women got paid for reproduction through support by their husbands. But they were not entitled to that support and stood in relation to their husbands as children with their hands out, or as slaves provided for by their masters. In the event of divorce or abandonment, men could—and many did—leave their wives and children with nothing.
Nearly fifty years have passed since the publication of Atlas Shrugged, a book that explores the consequences of inventors and businessmen—the most important wealth producers—going on strike. Today, there is no group of inventors and businessmen on earth who feel a need to take such drastic action. The world is still very socialistic, yet the kind of oppression that could lead to something such as a strike of entrepreneurs has not taken root. On the contrary, Communism has been defeated nearly everywhere on the planet.
Instead, a more subtle strike is being staged silently by millions.
What happens when those who carry the world, not on their shoulders but within their own bodies, have the ability for the first time in human history to choose not to do such carrying?
Might they choose to shrug?
The problem with laissez-faire capitalism is that there are no incentives within the market that can be provided to women to get them to start and sustain the engine of reproduction, precisely because reproduction, like government, exists outside the realm of the market, and like government, is what makes the market possible in the first place. Government provides the framework, the scaffolding, so that the construction of an economy can take place. Women provide the raw material, the people who do the actual building.
The economy is like a game of baseball. In order for the game to be played successfully you need a uniform set of rules accepted by all who choose to play, enforced by umpires not under the direct and exclusive employ of either team. That’s government.
But even with a uniform set of rules and umpires to back up those rules, you need a steady supply of players. If one player is injured or sick or retires or quits, another needs to be available to take his place. That’s reproduction.
With no rules (and someone to enforce them) and no players, you have no game, just the idea of a game in some theoretician’s head. Laissez-faire capitalists don’t know how to fund government nor how get rid of government, if, like the anarchists, such capitalists believe it is unnecessary. Laissez-faire capitalists don’t know how to provide women with incentives to reproduce at or above replacement levels without any form of mandated or guaranteed compensation and support. Laissez-faire capitalists don’t know how to form a working economy, which is why they haven’t bothered trying, and when I mean try, I mean create one apart from the existing system. Talking is a geek exercise in futility. This world, even this country, is no closer to laissez-faire than it was 50 years ago.
Overall, the economy and society are highly regulated, and some segments subsidize others. Government mandates the movement of wealth from the childless to those with children, a form of subsidy that grows continually and will continue to grow, despite Objectivist and Libertarian claims of its immorality.
The reason for this growth is obvious to anyone interested in the truth: If you give women education, equal access to the marketplace, the freedom to marry and divorce at will, and most importantly, complete control of that engine that lies within their own persons, their own reproductive capacity, which is the world’s most important natural resource, many women, possibly most, will bow out of the very costly and under-compensated enterprise of producing and rearing people at or above replacement levels.
When that happens, when women obtain this most fundamental freedom, the population will drop like a brick out of a window. Without carrots, something to sweeten the pot to replace the previously wielded sticks, women will cease to reproduce in numbers that will stun the world. It is already happening in the Western world, camouflaged largely by worldwide immigration from rapist nations to Western ones. (Without immigration most Western nations would face serious problems from a declining and aging population.)
When the worldwide liberation of women occurs the world’s governments will have to scramble to provide women with incentives to reproduce. No longer will anyone rational be able to pretend that reproduction is not a social value; it will become glaringly apparent.
According to Objectivists and Libertarians, the term “social value” is a fantasy construct, what Objectivists would call an “anti-concept,” a term that does not reflect reality. Only individuals exist so there can only be individual values. But logically the term “social value” refers to a value that is shared by many individuals collectively but is not “held” or “possessed” by any one individual.
For instance, if one lives in a country with a strong military defense one enjoys a value called security that one would not enjoy if one lived in a country with no such defense, especially if that country were a pariah nation that could not count on other stronger nations to come to its defense. A strong military is a social value because all gain from it. Accordingly, all should pay for it. It would be wrong for those who benefit the most from the military to pay nothing toward its cost.
The purpose of taxes is to make sure this does not happen. Contrary to Objectivist and Libertarian philosophy, taxation is not only not theft, but a lack of taxation would be a form of stealing since an organized society would depend on the donations of the generous and civic-minded, while the stingy and self-absorbed would get a free ride.
Since every single human being living in society benefits from trade and the division of labor that allows for the production, distribution, and accumulation of wealth, and hence a modern interdependent economy, every single human being benefits from the ongoing production of new generations that sustain this economy. That said, even though reproduction is an individual value chosen by parents, it is also a social value because it is a value that the current generation of adults will gain in their own lifetimes.
In short, children are primarily of value to the parents who produce them and secondarily of value to the society as a whole. As a result, the primary costs of children ought to be borne by their parents and only secondarily should such costs be passed on to others. To what extent such costs should be passed on to others as payment for the social value of reproduction will ultimately depend on what incentives women (and to a lesser degree men) require.
In the past, it was not necessary to transfer such costs to society as a whole because the value of reproduction had always been obtained through the use of force and therefore always taken for granted.
No doubt Objectivists and Libertarians would argue that all labor and all consumption has a social value. When people buy cars they enable those who work for car manufacturers, dealers, etc., to keep their jobs. That an individual pursuing his own self-interest benefits others is part of the beauty of capitalism. Reproduction, they argue, is the same. A woman pursues her own individual value—having a child—and others indirectly benefit from the child growing up and working. So damn what? Why does she, the mother, deserve compensation?
Well, the reason this line of thinking doesn’t work is because the economic production of wealth is not comparable to the non-economic production of people. To reproduce at or above replacement levels is, first of all, prohibitively expensive for many people, more expensive than buying an average car or even buying an average house. And because once a child is born, one cannot bail. One cannot get rid of one’s investment and cut one’s losses—not morally at least. This means having children is not only more expensive than most other ordinary endeavors in life, it is also more risky.
Another point needs to be raised here as well. The conditions and requirements of existence change over time. One thing Objectivists and Libertarians tend to do is forget the contextual nature of truth. They fall into the same trap of religionists—they assert principles and pretend for the sake of intellectual convenience that these principles are absolute. Nothing is absolute. Even human nature is constantly evolving, although that evolution on a genetic basis is very, very slow.
In the past, children had far greater economic value than they do today and the costs of rearing them were far cheaper. The growth of agriculture made the value of a child’s labor substantial in the pre-industrial world. Also, when it is possible to treat your children as property, when you can dispose of their labor and their persons at your whim, then it is possible to transform them from economic burdens to beasts of burden. A ten-year-old child that needs to be supported and educated is far more expensive than a boy working 60 hours a week on the farm, or a girl working the same hours as a maid or put to market as a wife or whore. When you can put your children to work or sell them off they pay for themselves and maybe even bring you a profit.
In the post-industrial Western world children are no longer an economic asset to the family farm or household, and since it is illegal (and immoral) to sell their labor in the marketplace, children are far more expensive to raise than in the past, hence the need for social investment to defray the costs of reproduction, costs that in the past were defrayed in large part by the children themselves.
Reproduction is a social value as well as an individual one because no society can long endure if another generation is not waiting in the wings to seize control of the economy when the present generation grows old and retires. If there is no next generation, people will not and cannot achieve their expected (and desired) life spans.
Some will no doubt argue that sustainable rates of reproduction are not necessary to laissez-faire capitalism. This is sheer idiocy. What would be the point of establishing a laissez-faire society that would become extinct within a few generations? The simple fact is that only when the costs (and risks) of reproduction are greatly minimized will free women choose to reproduce in sufficient numbers to sustain civilization.
And those, by the way, who have been lulled into thinking that human childbirth is at least reasonably safe as a “natural” function (and medical care for it need not be guaranteed) need to understand that it is not safe, but inherently life-threatening and health-damaging. Childbirth is reasonably safe for millions only when accompanied by expensive medical care. Here’s the reality check:http://www.unicef.org/pon96/woestima.htm
Laissez-faire capitalism is yesterday’s news. It is dead in the water and nothing can revive it. Laissez-faire deals with economics but what makes the free market possible is outside the sphere or realm of economics. The same problem that the anarchists have with government, Ayn Rand had with reproduction. And that problem is understanding that there are institutions and enterprises outside the market that make the market possible. Objectivists and Libertarians are like people who see one part of the elephant and mistake the one part for the whole animal.
This group of people who make such noise about freedom, who think of themselves as radicals for capitalism, as embarkers on a revolution such as the world has never seen, are, in reality, backward-looking hypocrites who look to the past for solutions on the thoroughly idiotic premise that the world was a freer place at that time. Stuck in the muck of the nineteenth century, where a thin veneer of freedom for some men lay on top of the massive enslavement of women, they fail to understand that conditions tolerated by chattel yesterday will not be tolerated by free women today. And the power of free women in the Western world today is only a fraction of the power that will be waged by free women everywhere tomorrow.
When freedom for women is extended worldwide, for the first time in history women will be able to use their full bargaining power in matters of sex and reproduction. Women have always been the most numerous and tragic of the world’s venture capitalists, risking everything for the sake of children they never had a choice in bearing. Once the choice is theirs, once they own the means of production, their own precious bodies, the power in their hands will be world-transforming.
The collective shrugging of millions of women, who for the first time in history will be able to roll the boulder off their backs, will be thunderous. The resulting drop in population will precipitate a worldwide shortage of labor. And the engine of the world will start to sputter and stall. When that occurs there will be an increased pressure to subsidize childbearing and childrearing.
Worldwide freedom for women will make today’s world unrecognizable. The global reproductive strike will increase the value of labor tremendously, narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, and without subsidies, make the production of children even more expensive than it already is. (The costs of everything will go up with no source of cheap labor available on earth.)
It is freedom for women that is the great human revolution and will lead to the overthrow of the oldest and most tyrannical form of slavery the world has every known: the commandeering of female bodies for sexual, social, and reproductive labor against their owners’ will, without their consent, and without compensation—only the support every slave gets so his living body can continue to put out for his master.
Karl Marx said “From each according to his ability to each according to his need,” robbing the man of ability of the fruits of his labor. Nature has evolved so that the fruits of female labor accrue to those who do not do the work or bear the costs. Reproduction is costly to females, costless to males. That is the state of nature and no one’s fault. But in the human species where males understand the consequences of their actions, and those without children understand that no society can exist without new generations being born to sustain it, it is unjust that such work is uncompensated and pure tyranny that those who do the work are under the control of those who do not. It would be as if a seasonal worker had the right to run the business of his employer, even the right to force the owner to keep his business open, regardless of cost or risk.
Fifty years from now if women in the Western world are still free they will be compensated by taxation and various indirect forms of wealth transfer and social compensation (like family medical plans where single individuals subsidize individuals with children) that will dwarf what is offered now. And if the non-Western world ever frees its captive female population such that women there can go on reproductive strike as well, there will be cash bonuses paid worldwide for women to bear children, and full maternal supports for women up until the age of weaning and perhaps even longer.
Two hundred years from now if this species hasn’t gone extinct or declined into another Dark Age, people will look back at the last few millennia and the first centuries of this one with astonishment that the production of people, something at once so valuable and so costly, had been instituted and maintained by so-called civilized people through the use of force, and compensated, not as payment for services rendered, but solely through alms. Women, producers of the most important capital on earth, were either chained like the most menial of slaves and driven by sheer physical force to produce, or were left unchained to beg as supplicants entitled to nothing, despite work, which as the saying goes, is never done.
Ayn Rand stated that there is no dichotomy between the moral and the practical, one of the most original and profound statements made by anyone at any time. If the application of ones “ideals” results in a society that self-destructs that is proof positive that one’s ideals are bankrupt. To any laissez-faire capitalist who disagrees with the above thesis, I challenge you to disprove it in the only way that counts. Build a laissez-faire society and see how many free, intelligent, and educated women agree to reproduce in it.
When the results come in, do what you should have done in the first place: check your premises.
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