The Market and Social Justice

Think of the music and film industries. Would you call them socially liberal or socially conservative? If you believe what many Americans say about Hollywood and rock/pop stars, it’s that they usually lean socially liberal. And yet, at the same time, what could be more capitalistic and American than Hollywood and selling rock albums?

This is one of the paradoxes of American politics. The free market has spoken, and it has given us Grindr and Modern Family and Lady Gaga. It helps us to accept LGBTQ individuals and be more open to granting them equality of marriage and adoption. And if demand exists for a gay dating app, or a show about a transgender student’s struggle to fit in, or birth control for unmarried persons, then it will open up markets in those areas. Strangely enough, due to a quirk of history, it is social conservatives who claim the free market as their own, although they will complain about the media and consumer society in the same breath. Perhaps free enterprise does not play nice with the strategically (and misleadingly) named “family values.” If anything, consumer culture has given us David Bowie’s gender-bending and pop anthems about marriage equality.

In fact, if you look at where feminism and LGBTQ politics truly flourished, it is in capitalistic democracies. It is the former Soviet republics that are the slowest nations in Europe to liberalize. I should be careful to not be too reductionistic by stating that capitalism inevitably leads to the liberalization of social attitudes, but the connection is definitely present.

Alas, the man who wrote The Communist Manifesto also happened to be skeptical of religion and tradition, and ever since free markets were associated with godly men and communism with secular ethics. Given America’s entangling of religion with socially conservative values, it is easy to how free markets and social conservatism got stuck together. But if you look past that quirk of history and look toward the future where free enterprise is taking us, it is apparent that the market is not necessarily kind to social conservatism. In fact, if social conservatives really wanted society to retain their values, history tells us that their most effective strategy would be to raise the hammer and sickle. Thankfully, we live in a society of economic freedoms, and I believe social freedoms are soon to follow.

Perhaps supporters of social justice should be more appreciative of capitalism. Now, this form of capitalism can be much more moderate than that of the Republicans and libertarians; there is still room within free markets to accommodate a carbon tax, some aid for the unemployed, and other measures to address economic distortions. Therefore, let us dissociate capitalism from social conservatism and become true liberals.