This morning, while driving Trevor to school, we got into a discussion of Sparta vs. Rome. Its a common topic in the Tolladay household, at least among the menfolk, because its an idea that comes up often in the military games that Trevor likes to play.
Often Trevor runs across young men who have been exposed to the movie 300 and assume that Spartans were The Best Warriors EVR! This is a natural assumption, but fails once you start to look for other societal indicators besides martial prowess. Our shorthand for this argument is to ask about the many monuments left standing in the ancient city of Sparta. “What,” you respond with sarcasm, “there aren’t any?” Any classist worth her salt will tell you that the Spartans used to say, “The walls of Sparta are its young men.” Indeed they were, which is why if you go there today your find a bunch of farmland and a few small archeological digs, while if you go to Rome you literally have to watch you feet to keep from tripping over ancient stuff.
All that was on my drive to school. When I got home I read this rather marvelous blog post by Kelly Barnhill about feminism. Suddenly the two ideas smashed into my head like peanut butter and chocolate, the result of which I submit below.
For starters, lets go back to ancient Rome and Sparta. Most people don’t know this but ancient Sparta fielded such an excellent army precisely because it maintained so many slaves. Sparta was the only Greek Polis to field a professional army for precisely this reason. The other city states, with the exception of the Athenian navy which was itself an oddity, simply did not have the extra resources to pay for a long-standing army. This is because armies are expensive. You have to pay a man to stand around and train all day. And most importantly, to not do other work like farm work. Every other solider in Greece was a farmer first, and a solider second. Sometimes a distant second. This was because Greece at that time was relatively poor. There simply was not enough cash on hand to pay for professional soldiers, except on the rare occasion when you needed to hire mercenaries. Sparta by-passed this trouble by subjecting thousands of Greeks and forcing them to work for their Polis. That’s right, the Greeks known most for “fighting for their freedom” didn’t actually practice freedom at home.
But this is a post about Capitalism not slavery, right? So let me get to that.
See slavery has its own sets of economic conditions, ones that are easy to read about in that other place we often encounter slavery, the American South prior to the Civil War. Sparta and the American South both experienced a common limitation of slavery. They found that it is difficult to maximize ones profit when the people doing the work are doing so against their will. Which is to say, capitalism works better when the workers are motivated.
I know, pretty straight forward, right? I mean everyone gets this, at least everyone who was raised in a capitalistic society like ours. The carrot is better than the stick, or as Teri likes to say, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. This is also the reason why in Rome one finds thousands of monuments, while in Sparta one finds grazing sheep. Give the citizens a choice and you gain vast amounts of wealth. Give them no choice and you gain very little.
But there’s another side to this that often gets missed. If capitalism works better when the workers are motivated, it works better still if they have some capital to invest. This is the great lesson of the last century. Countries all over Europe and here in America, passed laws that allowed workers to earn more wages, and invest more capital. (just in case you’re not getting it, I’m talking about unions here) And when they did, low and behold, their national economies took off. This is because all those middle class families invested small amounts of their capital back into their communities, and all those small investments, when multiplied by thousands and thousands of families, added up to some serious wealth. Not only did the rich get wealthier, the middle class did as well. And everyone benefited.
And right there is the issue in a nutshell. The more people you have in a system that have capital to invest, the more that system will prosper. The bigger the carrot, the larger the cart.
Which is were I come to feminism. See I dig feminism as an ideal, but really its not my main approach. I look at it like this. If we, as a country, can harness more individuals to the capitalist cart, then the faster it will go, and the more it can pull. More individuals means everyone: Men, women, black, white, straight, gay, etc. And the more “everyones” we have pulling, the better off we all are.
In short, capitalism offers a good reason to be a feminist, because it is the best and easiest way to benefit more people in our society.