It Wasn’t Feminism or Trade Unionism, It Was Capitalism
Free market capitalism, not feminism and trade unionism, has been largely responsible for the advancement of prosperity and stability in the modern world.
It is clear that human beings do not inhabit a perfect society. Around the planet there is still misery, exclusion, oppression, and injustice. But even if we are not in an ideal scenario, the truth is that we live in the best world that human beings have ever enjoyed.
Of course, this is difficult to gauge when coming from a “glass is half empty” perspective, that focuses on current global trouble spots. But if we compare where we are today with respect to the place where we have come from as human beings, there are not many doubts about our overall trajectory. Using historical comparison, it is not impossible to be optimistic.
Of course, history is not linear and although the world generally advances in life expectancy and well-being, there are many cases of regression. But they also offer a clear case of analysis. Wars, autocracies and statism have always generated backwardness, violence, and authoritarianism. Systems based on freedom, private property, trade, and respect for others have led to prosperity. Examples? They are abundant, even in our corner of the world.
The institutions embodied in the Constitution of the United States have produced better results than other political experiments. The change of course in Argentina after the Battle of Caseros is another indisputable case. The recent Venezuelan suicide with Chavismo shows how to destroy a society.
Although the historical analysis may be unfair within the context of issuance of currency, the division of labor, and the development of the free market, factors that took the man out of the caves, when comparing the present with the post-industrial revolution world, the feminists and the trade unionists predicate the successes on equality of women and workers.
Women’s quota laws, positive discrimination, minimum wages and “labor rights” are usually considered responsible when analyzing the differences between today’s world and the days where most of the people worked from sunrise to sunset for mere subsistence, and where the woman occupied a secondary role in a world of men.
That incipient capitalism of the 18th century, which, examining it from the current perspective, can offer very jarring images, was the starting point of the world we have today. No one had ever thought about labor rights, the empowerment of women, or the rights of children. Only when the world began to embrace capitalism, and people began to eat every day, did the notion of equality enter the agenda.
What generates labor rights?
But even if the trade unionists protest, the reality is that they have not been responsible for the welfare of the workers in the world’s successful countries. The notion that work is a right, and that wages are determined by the union “struggle” are two fallacies that, unfortunately, are still often heard today.
“Labor rights” such as compensation and benefits as a result of government laws (and not the agreement between the parties) instead of promoting improvements for workers, harm them in general. When labor legislation is rigid, as in the case of Argentina, where dismissing an employee costs a fortune, the other side of the coin is a painfully constricted labor market, where jobs are few and far in between.
In addition to the informality that this generates, a bottleneck of low supply and high demand is systematically generated. Dismissals amount to tragedies, and many people have unhappy lives in their jobs, paralyzed by the fear of leaving their workplace in the face of uncertainty and fear regarding the difficulty of finding something else.
When agreements are free and voluntary there can be no such thing as unemployment, since resources are limited and the needs of the human being are endless. Of course, in a low-capitalized economy, wages can be miserable.
But the solution to the problem of decent income is not related to “employment.” Salaries depend on the capitalization of each economy in question: the more capital invested, the better the wages. Before little capital and before the flight of the investment, the wages are smaller. Understanding these issues makes it easier to answer a basic question: What generates more investment: institutions that respect property rights and voluntary agreements, or contexts in which strength and interventionism prevail?
Capitalism: the emancipator of women
Although groups that defend positive discrimination would suggest that the tools of state coercion have been responsible for the emancipation of women, the truth is that the market economy has been much more efficient in this task. When John Stuart Mill wrote The Subjection of Women in 1869, the classical thinker argued with backwards people who argued that women had a mental inferiority based on physical issues.
Women have had an incredible economic rise. But what has given them the possibility of taking flight is equality before the law, on the one hand, and the market economy, on the other.
When statism, bureaucracy, and government control reign supreme, the results take a back seat. First there is cronyism and politics. When the market economy pursues efficiency, the only thing that matters is the ability to satisfy others. The primitive world ruled by force was a land of men. The current world based on trade and cooperation changed everything.
Although it is paradoxical, the greater the influence of groups that seek to increase state intervention and reduce free and voluntary agreements, the more complications there will be for those people who lack privileges.
Institutional frameworks must undoubtedly guarantee freedom and equality before the law. Only with this point of departure will the future be promising. Every time that common sense was abandoned, the results have been bleak. History, generously, continues to give us ample examples of progress and regression on a daily basis. It is up to us to learn the lessons.