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Barack Obama and equal pay for women  

By Selwyn Duke
web posted July 14, 2008

What do you call a man who sermonizes about the evils of paying women less than men but allows that very practice in his own office?  While a certain unflattering noun would leap to the minds of most, we can now apply a proper one: Barack Obama.

Although the Illinois senator has vowed to make pay equity between the sexes a priority in his administration, it has been revealed that he doesn't practice what he preaches.  Writes CNSNEWS.com:

"On average, women working in Obama's Senate office were paid at least $6,000 below the average man working for the Illinois senator . . . .  Of the five people in Obama's Senate office who were paid $100,000 or more on an annual basis, only one – Obama's administrative manager – was a woman."

Now, some might call Obama a hypocrite.  Isn't he guilty of the very invidious discrimination he claims plagues America?  It's certainly easy to take this tack, and many on my side will have a field day doing so.  Yet, such an analysis only qualifies us for a job such as, well, working in a leftist senator's office.  Let's look a little deeper.

Treating this topic recently, I cited member of the fairer sex Carrie Lukas, who wrote:

All the relevant factors that affect pay – occupation, experience, seniority, education and hours worked – are ignored [by those citing the wage gap]. This sound-bite statistic fails to take into account the different roles that work tends to play in men's and women's lives.

In truth, I'm the cause of the wage gap – I and hundreds of thousands of women like me. I have a good education and have worked full time for 10 years. Yet throughout my career, I've made things other than money a priority. I chose to work in the nonprofit world because I find it fulfilling. I sought out a specialty and employer that seemed best suited to balancing my work and family life. When I had my daughter, I took time off and then opted to stay home full time and telecommute. I'm not making as much money as I could, but I'm compensated by having the best working arrangement I could hope for.

Women make similar trade-offs all the time. Surveys have shown for years that women tend to place a higher priority on flexibility and personal fulfillment than do men, who focus more on pay. Women tend to avoid jobs that require travel or relocation, and they take more time off and spend fewer hours in the office than men do.

I then added:

To expand on this, women are more likely to decline promotions citing familial responsibilities; tend to gravitate toward lower-paying fields (e.g., favoring social sciences over hard ones); and, according to US Census Bureau statistics, full-time men average 2,213 working hours a year versus only 1,796 for "full-time" women. Thus, the same data telling us women earn less than men also explains why.

So it's entirely possible that Senator Obama is a sexist, misogynistic creep who gleefully rubs his hands together and laughs demonically while scheming to persecute his female employees.  Maybe he has nothing better to do.  But far more likely is that the aforementioned factors explain his office's inter-sex pay differential.  Perhaps his male employees work more hours, have been more likely to accept promotions involving greater responsibility, have more experience, sacrificed "personal fulfillment" and instead chose more lucrative fields, and/or have greater seniority.  Whatever the reasons, I'm quite sure of one thing: The phenomenon is attributable to natural, market-based factors and not a conscious desire to disenfranchise women. 

Of course, I could nonetheless level charges of invidious discrimination in an effort to score political points – just as the senator has done.  Instead, though, I will extend him a fairness that he denies to the millions of American businessmen he demonizes through implication.  That is the right thing to do, Mr. Obama.

Ironically, fairness is what leftists claim to want to achieve when issuing their feminist, 77-cents-on-a-dollar rallying cry.  Yet this is an often ambiguous concept.  "OK, Duke," you say, "you want specificity?  How about equal pay for equal work?"  Well, that's an interesting concept.

I once read that female fashion models earn three times as much as their male peers.  Then, it's well-known that heavyweight boxers make more than lightweights.  Would you support government intervention to ensure pay equity among fashion models and boxers?  I mean, as for the latter, lightweights have to train as hard and also endure ruinous blows.

Of course, you might point out that to succeed in the lightweight division, you only have to beat lightweights, but to keep your teeth in the heavyweight division, you have to beat heavyweights, a more difficult task.  So it's fair, isn't it?

I agree, but often fairness is reckoned very differently when the lower-paid group has been assigned victim status.  For instance, in tennis, there long was talk about the "grave injustice" of offering female players less prize money at Grand Slam events.  Yet it's the same as in boxing.  Whether or not the women train as hard, the fact remains that to succeed in women's tennis, they only have to vanquish women, not the far stiffer competition on the men's tour.  Thus, in either sport, it's ridiculous to rally for equal pay based on an equality argument because the systems are inherently unequal, in that both lightweight boxers and female tennis players are offered an arena in which to compete that excludes the best competition.  Yet the competitors do have recourse.  If lightweights want the glory and purses of the heavyweights, they can move up into that division.  Likewise, if the women want the men's money, they should play on the men's tour.

Yet this doesn't explain the discrimination against male fashion models in an industry where all and sundry compete in the same arena.  They all do "equal work," don't they?  Perhaps, and this is the problem with advocating social engineering in the name of fairness.

What we earn has nothing to do with idealistic notions of fairness but is determined by the value the market – our fellow citizens, in other words – assigns to our labors.  Is it fair that rap thugs and sports stars earn more than doctors and teachers?  Is it fair that mainstream media propagandists who peddle the wage-gap myth earn more than an alternative-media journalist who tries to debunk it (well, that's not fair!)?  Not just female fashion models but also heavyweight boxers and male tennis players earn more money for one reason, and one reason only.  It has nothing to do with performing more arduous work but because the market values them more highly.

At the end of the day, the only question is who will determine wages and on what basis?  Should it be 300 million citizens or a small number of politicians and bureaucrats, a market democracy or market autocracy?  In other words, all of us, every day – through what we buy, watch and show interest in – essentially "vote" on what will get produced, how much people get paid, etc.  Are we fair?  Again, fairness is a hard thing to reckon.  I can't boast about our embrace of shock jocks and reality television, but I will use a variation on a famous Winston Churchill line: Market democracy is the worst system in the world . . . except for all the rest.  I'll take the "unfairness" of the market over that of pseudo-elite politicians any day.  Now let's contrast these two models.

Actually, the market does in fact discriminate.  It compensates those who work longer hours, accept greater responsibility and risk, and prevail over stiffer competition more than those who don't, for instance.  (This is why I used the modifier "invidious," meaning "likely to create ill will," earlier in this piece – not all discrimination is created equal.)  And, as I illustrated, certain groups benefit from this moral discrimination, such as heavyweight boxers and men.  Then there are groups privileged simply because of what they are, such as female fashion models (however, "what they are" makes their employers more money).  Now, I ask again, should the government intervene on behalf of lightweight boxers and/or male fashion models?

Regardless of your answer, a Big Brother market autocracy won't.  What it will do is train its sights on only politically-incorrect targets, such as men.  Thus, in the name of eliminating discrimination, statists are creating second-class groups which are told that they alone may not enjoy compensation commensurate with the market's assessment of their worth, simply because it's fashionable to discriminate against them.  You see, when jockeying for votes by playing group politics, some groups must be cast as villains.  And guess what, men, you're one of them.

Now that's what I call invidious.

Not surprisingly, this social engineering is already having an effect.  In this article, writer Carey Roberts explains:

Female physicists are getting $6,500 more [than men]. Co-eds who majored in petroleum engineering are being offered $4,400 more. And women computer programmers are being enticed with $7,200 extra pay. In fact for dozens of majors and occupations, women coming out of college are getting better offers than men . . . .

Why these disparities? Because in traditionally male-dominated professions, employers are willing to ante up more greenbacks to attract females in order to forestall a costly discrimination lawsuit.

And this is just the beginning.  The left will never acknowledge that men earn more due to legitimate market forces, and since trumping those forces isn't easy, expect more government action to achieve "fairness."  I wrote about this in my piece, the one I cited earlier:

. . . we can see a glimpse of the future in Norway, a land synonymous with über-feminism. In 2002, the nation embraced affirmative action on steroids, mandating that 40 percent of corporate boardroom members must be female. Since only seven percent were prior to this social engineering, just imagine how many highly qualified men are now denied jobs in the name of complying with this quota.

The implications of such government meddling are more profound than you may think, in that it harms women and children as well.  As I went on to explain:

. . . as we force employers to deny positions, promotions and pay raises to qualified men in order to satisfy social engineers, many men will no longer be able to fulfill their obligation to put bread on the table. And this hurts the traditional family, forcing women out of the home to compensate for their now financially handicapped husbands and relegating children to day-care centers . . . .  [And] It means, ladies, that your husbands, brothers and sons will find it increasingly difficult to get a fair shake in this Norway-quota brave new world.

So we can choose the discrimination of the market's meritocracy or that of the statists' bureaucracy.  I, for one, will settle on the people's determinations every time.

I say this even if they do sometimes give us things such as rap thugs, reality television, and Barack Obama. ESR

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