For many years social conservatives have sought to limit reproductive rights for women and deny equal rights to sexual minorities in the name of “family values.” Now Republican legislators in Iowa want to limit divorce rights, saying that such limits are necessary to stop the daughters of divorced couples from becoming promiscuous (see Daily Kos, Huffington Post). I can easily see this latest conservative attack on sexual and marital rights catching on in other states. What will they think of next?
It’s obvious why grassroots religious conservatives support such efforts: Their religious beliefs dictate heterosexual marriage and parenting as the only valid way of life. Republican politicians and their financial backers obviously benefit from these efforts as a way of drawing religious conservatives to the polls to vote Republican. Less obvious are the potential economic incentives for rich conservatives to support the “family values” crusade. For employers and the wealthy, the “family values” crusade can help to ensure a surplus of low-paid labor through forced childbirth, limit employment choices for workers and tie workers to their jobs, cultivate a more docile and obedient workforce, and promote “family-style” mass consumption and consumerism.
Ensure a surplus of low-paid labor:
Forced childbirth helps to ensure a surplus of labor, including a reserve supply of unemployed workers, which benefits employers by keeping wages down and reducing workers’ bargaining power. With high unemployment, workers desperate for jobs will accept low pay and unsatisfying conditions just to have a job. When any job opening attracts hundreds or even thousands of applicants, employers can demand higher qualifications, discriminate against applicants on any basis they like, and offer little in the way of pay or benefits. High unemployment forces workers to take temporary and part-time jobs with no benefits or job security. The growth of unpaid “internships” that should be paid jobs attests to the fact that some workers now will even work without pay for the sake of getting their feet in the door somewhere. Discrimination against unemployed workers further pushes them to accept unpaid or low-paid jobs just to be able to say that they are “employed.” Unemployed workers can also be used as scabs in the event of a strike.
For all these reasons and more, employers and the wealthy have a vested interest in limiting women’s reproductive rights, limiting access to family-planning services, and cutting budgets for all tax-supported public services used by poor and working-class people. Any limitations on reproductive rights and access to family-planning services at the state or federal level will have little effect on the wealthy, who can simply jet-set to another state or another country or hire discreet private doctors for any reproductive needs they might have. De-funding family-planning services and cutting budgets for other tax-supported services—health care, education, welfare, etc.—also helps to cut taxes for the wealthy. Allowing employers to deny insurance coverage for birth control likewise helps them to cut costs. Employers and the wealthy have a vested interest in forcing the rest of us to have babies, cutting tax-supported public services of all kinds, and keeping working-class people at the poverty line or below, so desperate for a job that they will accept anything.
Limit employment choices and tie workers to their jobs, cultivate a more docile and obedient workforce:
For those so inclined, being married with children can be wonderful, and I don’t wish to disparage that way of life. After all, I’m a product of that way of life on the part of my parents. Marriage with children is also, however, a powerful coercive mechanism for getting people to work and making them work harder for less pay. Single people and people without children are far freer than the family-bound to leave a job they don’t like and seek preferable alternatives elsewhere. They are far freer to tell their employers, “I want a raise or I’m leaving,” and far freer to take the risk of union organizing or going out on strike. The family-bound have fewer options and less bargaining power with employers, and this is obviously benefits employers.
The conservative war on reproductive rights and family-planning services is related to the conservative war on public education: Cutting public education budgets, downgrading the quality of public education, demonizing unionized teachers, and making an enemy of “elitist” public higher education obviously helps conservatives to cut taxes for the wealthy. At the same time, it helps them to limit choices for working-class people by limiting their access to quality public education. The wealthy can send their children to exclusive private schools and private universities, where they will receive a quality education. Working-class people and their many children, meanwhile, will be trapped in a life of taking whatever jobs they can find. Overworked, under-educated, desperate workers are also less likely to make trouble for their bosses and easier to manipulate at election time—just wave the American flag and the Holy Bible and tell them to vote Republican and then get the hell back to work. Just think: If all those college students who volunteered and voted for Obama in 2008 had instead been putting in 12-hour days at a meat processing plant, John McCain might be president right now. As with reproductive rights and family-planning services, employers and the wealthy have a vested interest in enjoying quality education for themselves while denying it to the rest of us.
Promote "family-style" mass consumption and consumerism:
Just as single people and people without children have more choices on the job market, they also have more choices regarding consumption. The single and the childless can get by on less money, live in smaller homes, drive smaller cars or no cars at all, and make other consumer choices that are not necessarily the most profitable for the corporate establishment. Families with children have larger homes, drive larger automobiles, shop for children’s clothing and toys, and stock their kitchens with mass-market food items purchased at supermarket chains. Corporate consumer advertising mirrors the “prosperity gospel” of evangelical megachurches: In both, the ideal American family consists of Mom, Dad, and the kids living in an energy-gobbling single-family home and driving a gas-guzzling family van or SUV to the mall to stock up on eco-unfriendly consumer items—not some single or childless person living in a small apartment and riding a bicycle to the local hippie fair-trade shop.
In short, promoting “family values” helps employers and the wealthy to ensure a large, captive population of worker-consumer units with a limited range of options based on what is most profitable for employers and the wealthy: Force poor and working-class people to have as many babies as possible, then deprive them and their children of any tax-supported means of improving their lives. Reserve reproductive and educational choices for those who can afford them. Keep wages low. Keep working-class people poor, desperate to find a job, and then desperate to keep their jobs. Blast advertising at them so they’ll work even harder to buy those all-important consumer items you’ve convinced them they need to have. Turn them into debt-slaves and make them work still harder to pay it back. Cut their Social Security and Medicare, so you can work them until they drop dead. Why should longer life spans for working-class people mean anything but more years with their noses to the grindstone? The wealthy can enjoy a long, happy retirement, and the rest can work until they die.
Rich conservatives have an obvious political motive for their support of the religious "family values" crusade: It helps them to bring grassroots religious conservatives to the polls to vote Republican. Like the conservative war on public education, meanwhile, the "family values" crusade has many potential economic benefits for employers and the wealthy: "Family values" ties in effectively with efforts to cut taxes for the rich, to ensure a surplus of labor through forced childbirth, to limit employment options and bargaining power for workers, to cultivate a more docile and obedient workforce, and to promote a standard form of mass consumption and consumerism. For rich conservatives, “family values” is all about profit and power.