We had several especially worthy nominees for this year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian Award. Greg nominated Charles Montesquieu, I nominated David Einhorn, and Matt nominated Steve Wynn. But Anna Jacob nominated this year’s winner: Earle Haas, the inventor of the modern tampon.
Montesquieu’s nomination was especially important in light of the clear shift away from rule by law to rule by regulators. No one knows what the health care bill actually required; most of the important parts were left to be decided later by regulators. The new financial regulation is similarly just a template for regulation to be determined later. This is a very corrosive and dangerous development in a representative democracy and Greg was right to warn us about this.
But it is not quite worthy of “The Al.” As Greg notes, we are letting Montesquieu’s ideas about the rule of law slip away from us. If someone were able to reverse that alarming trend, that person might be worthy of “The Al.” There is no shortage of good political philosophers and most have received plenty of recognition. The tricky and courageous part is to properly implement those ideas.
My nomination of David Einhorn was, I thought, a useful antidote to the economic illiteracy of the Occupy Wall Street movement as well as the petty financial regulators who impede short-selling to appease mob anger and (they claim) promote stability. But I’m not sure Einhorn’s contributions have lacked proper recognition. Financial news regularly repeats whatever he says and gives him plenty of credit for correctly identifying past corporate frauds and excesses.
Steve Wynn probably most closely resembles Al Copeland in his personal biography. They are both business people whose products are adored by some while denounced by others. They both nearly drove their businesses into the ground. They both have reputations for being personally difficult. But despite all of these and other failings, they have both done much more for humanity than most people who win humanitarian awards.
But the “Al” is not given for personal similarity to Al Copeland. Wynn has built some very nice hotels, turned around an increasingly seedy Las Vegas, and launched a fast-growing subsidiary in Macau. But frankly my life (and most other people’s lives) would be just fine without these things. I like the frivolous nature of Wynn’s gambling hotels, just like Copeland’s spicy chicken, but the “Al” is not mostly about being frivilous.
Earle Haas’ tampon, on the other hand, has made an enormous difference in improving women’s lives and making our society better. Women often felt confined to their house a few days every month. This limited their ability to work, travel, and engage in public life almost as much as restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia — at least for those few days. Just look at the ad copied above. The tampon allowed women to more regularly work during World War II to increase productivity. The tampon helped defeat the Nazis!
But the tampon also helps illustrate where advancements for women really tend to come from. Technological innovation, like the tampon, helped liberate women and that innovation comes from a capitalist system. Earle Haas invented the tampon, at least in part, to make money. Tampax Corporation brought the product to a mass market primarily to make money. And women were successfully educated about the benefits of tampons through advertising. Contrary to the loosely Marxist notion that advertising artificially creates desires for unnecessary products, just look at how essential advertising of tampons was in overcoming irrational opposition and ignorance of its benefits for women and society.
Activists, politicians, and other miscreants who regularly receive credit for advancing the interests of women have often done no such thing. In fact, quite often they have undermined the cause. Demanding that women be paid the same even if they are more likely to be absent from work just discourages people from hiring women. But inventing new technologies that reduce the need for women to be more absent from work allows women to be paid the same without harming their employers. If speeches and laws created reality we would be right to recognize the activists and politicians. But Earle Haas was able to create a new reality that no speech or law could do on its own.
If the tampon was good enough to defeat the Nazis and undermine Saudi-like restrictions on women, its inventor is good enough for the “Al.”
(Updated for missing paragraph)