Skip to content

Morality of capitalism and human dignity

The recent debacle of United Airlines kicking off and countenancing the assault of a paying customer reveals how corporate America often puts rules before people and how capitalism often places profits before human dignity.

Overbooking is a device that most airlines use to maximize their profits. Unfilled seats mean lost revenue. This means that some people will inevitably be bumped from flights. But in the airline’s economic calculus, this is deemed an acceptable trade-off. A customer’s inconvenience is subordinate to profits.

The man had purchased a ticket from United, so, as a consumer, he was justified in expecting that he would be able to use it. That is the essence of capitalism: a fair exchange of money for goods or services. But the airline decided they had “overbooked,” so they asked passengers (who had already paid) if they would be willing to relinquish their seats. Several took the offer.

Not surprisingly, one person did not want to leave. Why should he? He paid for his seat and was anxious to reach his destination. When the man was unwilling to give up what he had paid for, he was forcibly removed from his seat by security officers, who ended up bloodying him and dragging him along the floor of the plane.

When we watch the video of the event something in us says, “That’s not right.” Pay attention to that feeling. It is our conscience speaking. That is what prompted the widespread outrage online—not simply the fact that people who have been bumped from flights share in the man’s frustration but the immorality of a system that leads to a degradation of human dignity. If corporate rules and the laws of capitalism lead to this, then they are unjust rules and laws.

What is the solution, then, to a system that gave rise to such treatment? To recognise that profits are not the sole measure of a good decision in the corporate world. To realise that human beings are more important than money, no matter how much a free-market economist might object. To act morally. And to respect human dignity. – Fr James Martin @ America

Back To Top