Prominent Jesuit Blames ‘Morality of Capitalism’ for United Air Incident

United Airlines
The Associated Press/ Y. Huh

Prominent Jesuit James Martin S.J. argues that “the morality of capitalism” is to blame for the horrible incident on United Airlines that involved a man being violently dragged off of a plane after the airline overbooked the flight, in a column for America magazine this week.

“A toxic cocktail of capitalism and corporate culture led to a man being dragged along the floor,” Father James Martin argues. Martin, a Jesuit priest, and the Editor-at-Large of the Jesuit Magazine, America, has appeared on such television shows as The Colbert Report to discuss the Jesuit brand of Catholicism. This week, Martin suggests in a new column that the anarchic nature of free-market capitalism has led to such a chaotic society that a firm could instruct a large, imposing, man to drag a passenger down the aisle of their airliner, leaving him bloodied and disoriented without financial or professional repercussion.

But is this an accurate reflection of reality?

First, the men who removed the passenger from the aircraft were officers with the Chicago Department of Aviation, a state entity under the direction of the government of the city of Chicago. This distinction is important because it reveals that the violence on United Flight 3411 was committed at the hands of the state, rather than at the hands of a private firm.

Perhaps more importantly, in response to the incident, United shareholders democratically decided with their dollars that the firm should have to answer for the incident. The company’s market capitalization (the total dollar market value of a firm), dropped by a whopping $1.4 billion on the day following a video of the incident went viral. Thousands signed petitions calling for the resignation of United CEO Oscar Munoz.

There are already policies ingrained in America’s capitalistic society that protect consumers from being mistreated by the firms with whom they choose to do business. As a result, the passenger will likely wage a successful lawsuit, resulting in further financial and public relation repercussions for United and the Chicago Department of Aviation.

This raises the question that I posed to Father Martin in a tweet yesterday: how would the state correct this issue better than the market?

What economic system would prevent such an incident from occurring?

Martin tries to argue that the all-encompassing pursuit of profit led to the incident and that capitalism promotes a corporate culture in which money is more important than respecting human dignity.

What is the solution, then, to a system that gave rise to such treatment? To recognize that profits are not the sole measure of a good decision in the corporate world. To realize 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.

Except that the United incident shows that profit-seeking businesses cannot afford to disrespect human dignity. Firms that respect their passengers are rewarded by investors and customers; those that do not get crushed.

Tom Ciccotta is a libertarian who writes about economics and higher education for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or email him at