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CEQLS: Capitalism and the family

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Lecture given on January 13, 2011 in Bratislava and on January 14, 2011 in Banská Bystrica within Conservative Economic Quarterly Lecture Series /CEQLS/ by Steven Horwitz, Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics, St. Lawrence University (USA)

Publié dans : Économie & finance
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CEQLS: Capitalism and the family

  1. 1. Capitalism and the Family Steven Horwitz St. Lawrence University USA
  2. 2. The argument  Prior to the emergence of capitalism, the family was not an especially nice place  What we know (and love) as the “modern family” is a product of capitalism  This makes both progressives and conservatives uncomfortable  The mutual freedom of markets and social life is consistent with (classical) liberalism
  3. 3. Two points about the family  No such thing as the “traditional” family.  All social institutions evolve and change  The post-WW II family was a particular historical phenomenon, not a universal family structure.  Important to distinguish the form of the family from the functions of the family.  What families look like is a distinct issue from what families do.  Confusion and ambiguity around “normal” family
  4. 4. The Modern Family  Marriage by choice & love  The family is nuclear, private and insulated  Chidren are sentimentalized and childhood is sheltered  Equality of the sexes and women have financial independence  more divorce
  5. 5. The Pre-modern Family  The family as an economic institution  Household = the unit of production  Family members contributed to production  This was mostly agricultural, but also small crafts  Last names  Most lived at the margins  Also a political institution  Political power for the rich, networks of cooperation and community for the poor
  6. 6. The Pre-modern Family  Contrast to the modern family:  Marriage was arranged, but even if chosen, not really about love  Women were almost property - Coverture laws  Children were economic assets  Labor and old-age support  Multiple pregnancies  Lack of sentimentality about children  Families were public institutions  Church, state, and community regulations  What hasn’t changed: family is indispensible as a transmitter of cultural norms and values.
  7. 7. What did Capitalism Do?  Wage Labor  Factories hire non-family  Separates home and work  Wages and wealth rise  Family size shrinks  Women and children to home  Marriage becomes about love  Childhood changes  Along with democracy, this “privatizes” the family  The state, the church, and the community all are restrained
  8. 8. The Changing Role of Women  Growth in female labor force participation  Labor demand + Human Capital = higher wages  Fall in time needed at home  Rising wealth = alternatives  Increase pre-dates 1960s  Feminist movement was a result, not a cause  More important: The Pill
  9. 9. Family in the 20th century  Capitalism’s wealth led to two key trends:  Women’s financial independence  Decline in the benefits of specialization by gender  Thus: marriage offers fewer material benefits  BUT: larger emotional/psychological role  It’s now ALL about love  Rise in divorce rates is one result  Preferences and constraints  Wealth and freedom made this inevitable
  10. 10. The 21st Century?  New: the demand for same-sex marriage  Capitalism and its wealth produced:  The possibility of surviving outside the family  Cities that made anonymity possible  A broder ethos of “anything that’s peaceful”  The separation of sex, marriage, and kids  A change in marriage from economics to love  The demand for SSM is the result of these  Real revolutionary change in the family was when capitalism made marriage about love.  Western civilization needs families as norms transmitters – the question is whether multiple forms are able to do so.
  11. 11. A final thought “The liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead.” - Hayek, “Why I am Not a Conservative” Free markets produce a social world and culture that we cannot, and should not try to, control. Liberalism has a rational optimism that its results will be desirable.

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