Capitalism and Motherhood: Does It Pay to Have Children?
efore looking into the influence of capitalism on motherhood, let us begin with an age-old question: Can capitalism survive? Karl Marx, as we all know, thought not. He claimed that ever-increasing competition and the drive for profit would intensify the exploitation of labor, sharpening class conflict and triggering the inevitable downfall of capitalism.1 Responding to this question almost a century after the publication of the Communist Manifesto, the well-known economic theorist Joseph Schumpeter agreed with Marx that capitalism was doomed, but not because it produced misery and heightened exploitation. On the contrary, he saw capitalism as delivering unprecedented material benefits and a higher standard of life for all classes—and his paradoxical thesis was that “capitalism is being killed by its achievements.”2 Schumpeter outlined several reasons for believing that the capitalist order would self-destruct.3 First, he argued that as the capitalist engine of productivity generated goods and services and lifted the social and economic conditions of all classes, it lowered the special social and political powers of the
business class. Moreover, by increasing the general standard of living, amount of leisure time, and educational opportunities for the masses, and by bringing down the costs of newspapers, books, and radios (television was not yet a common commodity, even among the rich), capitalism cultivated a seedbed for the rise of an independent intellectual class. Although their standards and interests would eventually become hostile to those of large-scale business, once unloosed in society the intellectual class cannot be brought to heel. Finally, he believed that the capitalist ethos inculcated rational habits of the mind, leading individuals to calculate life’s choices through a cost – benefit lens framed by utilitarian ends. Ironically, he argued, this rationalization of human behavior sapped the vitality of the very family and social values that originally animated the capitalist spirit and sparked entrepreneurial activity.4
Schumpeter saw the disintegration of capitalist society already under way in the late 1930s as the capitalist order was breached by the introduction of widely accepted public interventions in the market economy. He interpreted government regulatory measures, progressive taxation, social security legislation and other public provisions for welfare (which laid the foundation for modern welfare states) as signaling the march into socialism.5