Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Morality vs. Production

In Economics in One Lesson Henry Hazlitt says: "The progress of civilization has meant the reduction of employment, not its increase. It is because we have become increasingly wealthy as a nation that we have been able virtually to eliminate child labor, to remove the necessity of work for many of the aged and to make it unnecessary for millions of women to take jobs." (73)

Hazlitt originally wrote this over fifty years ago and revised it some thirty years ago. He writes against the various schemes designed to mindlessly create more employment, as though employment in and of itself is a necessary good and benefit to society. Contrary to this, Hazlitt argues that production is the greatest good and benefit to society. As it turns out, employment is a necessary means to that end, but frequently the means is turned into the end.

The quote above however suggests that there are specific cultural values driving at least some of the economic policies. Making it "unnecessary for millions of women to take jobs" is now a string of political cuss words. If there is a higher priority of putting women in the work force, then the drive for employment as the highest good and benefit makes more sense. Framed as the liberation of an oppressed social class, the push for employment as a status symbol, as an emblem of liberty takes precedence over drives for greater production which in that light sound greedy and materialist in comparison. Liberating American women from unemployment is a moral issue. How can you value "production" over morality and freedom?

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