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April 19, 2012

Comparative Advantage and Our Terribly Unfair, Sexist Economy

In the Atlantic, Marty Nemko makes the argument that our economy is biased against men:

The 77-cents-on-the-dollars statistic is calculated in a way that is biased against men. For example, while among all physicians, men earn more than women, men are more likely to be in specialties requiring longer training, high-stress, and irregular hours, for example, surgery and cardiology. In contrast, women are more likely to be pediatricians. Despite that bias, across all careers, surveys report that childless women under 30 make more than men. More than 90 percent of workplace deaths, military deaths, and severe workplace injuries (e.g., amputations, black lung disease) occur to men. Such dangerous work justify higher pay for men.

Visit American workplaces, especially major corporations, and you'll find that anti-men practices are not only tolerated but routinely imposed by employers. Women but not men are encouraged to form committees and caucuses to advance their sex's causes in the workplace, often at men's expense. Examples:

• Mentor programs for women only

• Special training for women only

• Fast-track-to-executive position for women only

In honest conversation, most people will agree that, on average, men are more often willing to do the things it takes to get promoted, for example, to make time to take advanced technical courses by forgoing recreation such as sports or shopping. Men are more likely to be willing to move to a God-forsaken place (Montgomery, Alabama, anyone?) for a promotion, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to work longer hours.

Now isn't that just like a man?

Seriously, I'm willing to stipulate that there's a very large grain of truth in most of the things Nemko complains about. On the other hand, I've worked for employers in 10 states and have never run into a single mentorship, training, or fast-track-to-executive program limited to women. In fact, it's safe to say that I've never encountered any formal or informal group or practice that limited its membership or benefits to women and I'm pretty sure the reverse is true as well.

Is there bias against men in many areas of the workplace? Sure, but then there is bias against women in other areas. In the aggregate, men and women have different interests and strengths and thus, different comparative advantages in the job market. I'm going to resist the temptation to counter each of Nemko's examples with heart wrenching stories of how terribly, horribly unfair life can be for working women because I believe his arguments should be considered on their merits without playing tit for tat, IYKWIMAITYD.

I have no real quarrel with the argument that government shouldn't be placing its finger on gender balancing scale. Mere contemplation of the long list of well intended social engineering debacles the government has thrown taxpayer dollars at over the last few decades is enough to send Powerless Men and the Helpless Women They Oppress Simply By Existing straight for the nearest liquor cabinet. In the 1960s, Congress decided to "help" poor black families and after millions of redistributed tax dollars and decades of angst-ridden navel gazing we got 70% illegitimacy rates and dysfunctional homes for our pains. This kind of change makes the status quo look downright utopian by comparison.

Over 4 decades of Warring on Poverty with nary an exit date or strategy in sight is less an advertisement for the efficacy of the Nanny State than an object lesson in the power of unintended consequences. What's missing in all of this hand wringing and selective anecdotary is any respect for the resiliency of the human spirit.

50 years ago, the shoe was most definitely on the other foot with regard to workplace gender bias. Women who wanted to work struggled with significant disadvantages in an environment where men controlled most powerful positions in industry, the legal system, and government. Feminism has managed to narrow the achievement gap between men and women and - in some cases - has actually flipped the balance.

On the right, bashing feminists has become de rigeur and to be fair, some of the loonier radical feminists make the temptation nearly impossible to resist. But like any knee-jerk reaction, reflexive feminist bashing begins to sound like responsive prayers during 11 o'clock morning prayer:

"Lord, for eyeless shrimp blindly bumbling about in oceans the Obamessiah promised to heal, we pray."

"Deliver us from man-hating FemiNazis and their Hateful, Man-hating Hatitudinous Ways!"

"...for 15 year old boys whose beautiful and natural right to consequence free sex has been harshed by nightmare visions of Planned Parenthood v. Casey..."

"Deliver us from man-hating FemiNazis and their Hateful, Man-hating Hatitudinous Ways!"

"...for women, chained to their desks by oppressive feminist anti-stereotypes..."

"O God of our Fathers Proudly Genderless Forebears, deliver us from man-hating FemiNazis and their Hateful, Man-hating Hatitudinous Ways!"

Life is unfair to so many people in so many ways. Do you have an idea for fixing all of this that doesn't involve more government and more taxes and more unintended consequences? Great. Let's hear it.

Now excuse me while I make my own damned sandwich :p

Posted by Cassandra at April 19, 2012 08:51 AM

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Comments

"Do you have an idea for fixing all of this that doesn't involve more government and more taxes and more unintended consequences?"

I've told you this several time, but, bless your heart, I'll tell ya one more time...now try to remember, m'kay? The answer is 42.
Unless Algebra is asking you to find his X again...then all bets are off.
That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.

Posted by: Snarkammando at April 19, 2012 10:03 AM

Helmets should be mandatory for all men in every workplace.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 19, 2012 10:29 AM

Do you have an idea for fixing all of this that doesn't involve more government and more taxes and more unintended consequences?

A solution sort of suggests itself, at least to the problems the Atlantic article cites. Simply stop the government-run programs and preferences for women. That involves less government (and therefore fewer taxes); and while it may or may not avoid unintended consequences, that's true of any course of action.

Some of the preferences (especially in terms of scholarships) would continue because they are of a private nature; but so what? Men can set up scholarships too (or join the military, which is a major scholarship program that is disproportionately used by men).

We can even feel good about the programs we are ending, because they did what they were designed to do. They gave women the support they needed to strive for, and achieve, parity. Now that things are as they are, mission accomplished!

Posted by: Grim at April 19, 2012 10:33 AM

Now excuse me while I make my own damned sandwich

On your way back, could you bring me a beer? There's a good girl.

Do you have an idea for fixing all of this that doesn't involve more government and more taxes and more unintended consequences?

Politically difficult, but yeah, I do: get government out of the way and let the market handle it. 100+ years ago, business management was discovering the principle that actively taking care of their employees led to greater production at lower cost--even in the mines and mills. Private sector unions, impatient with the pace (not unjustifiably), arose and pushed that pace. Then government came along and "improved" things by over-empowering the unions.

"More unintended consequences?" Sorry, can't help you there. There are two truisms about rules: they nearly all have unintended consequences, and nearly all of them need exceptions made. The practice is to have more rules in our construction of an ever more complex epicyclic orrery of rules. But the real answer is to have fewer rules, and let the folks, and the private market, work it out.

That's the thing about free markets. They're overrun with successes and failures, but they tend be better at self-correction than others are at correcting them (or any other system) from the outside.

Helmets should be mandatory for all men in every workplace.

Then I'll just have to get bigger rubber bands.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 19, 2012 10:44 AM

On your way back, could you bring me a beer? There's a good girl.

OK, that was funny :)

Posted by: Cass at April 19, 2012 10:48 AM

Simply stop the government-run programs and preferences for women. That involves less government (and therefore fewer taxes); and while it may or may not avoid unintended consequences, that's true of any course of action. Some of the preferences (especially in terms of scholarships) would continue because they are of a private nature; but so what? Men can set up scholarships too (or join the military, which is a major scholarship program that is disproportionately used by men).

Bravo, Grim. You'll get no argument from me (betch never thought you'd hear those words from a womyn!)

There are two truisms about rules: they nearly all have unintended consequences, and nearly all of them need exceptions made. The practice is to have more rules in our construction of an ever more complex epicyclic orrery of rules. But the real answer is to have fewer rules, and let the folks, and the private market, work it out.

Amen, Brother Hines.

Posted by: Cass at April 19, 2012 10:50 AM

Helmets should be mandatory for all men in every workplace.

I am reminded of one of my all-time favorite lines from a comedy routine:

"These people need your money. To buy hats."

Posted by: Trick or Treat for Umiself at April 19, 2012 12:14 PM

Here in Texas, so many of men's athletic scholarships go to football that most other sports have a dearth of scholarships, all as a result of Title 9. So a male athlete that is not huge... Has a reduced chance of a scholarship because of 'fairness'.

Posted by: TexasMom2012 at April 19, 2012 12:33 PM

"Life is unfair to so many people in so many ways. Do you have an idea for fixing all of this that doesn't involve more government and more taxes and more unintended consequences?"
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out and I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race

Posted by: Buckshot Metatarsal at April 19, 2012 12:51 PM

Obviously, son, you need to be edumacated about the many and splendiferous ways you're being oppressed by the Evil, Chinese Toy-Loving 1 Percenters Who Refuse to Share Their Ill Gotten Gains With the Proletariat.

*sigh*

If you weren't so dumb, you'd realize that *I* am your maste... err... your keeper.

Posted by: Barack Obama at April 19, 2012 01:07 PM

Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race

Spoken like a man who is taxed at a higher rate than his secretary.

Posted by: Warren Buffet at April 19, 2012 01:09 PM

I'm for the mandatory man-helmets.
Pop Quiz:
What's the gender-neutral replacement for "mandatory?"

A) OVULATORY
B) EMANCIPATORY
C) EMASCULATORY
D) MATRICULATORY
E) EQUIVOCATORY

Any answer will do. I'm wearing a helmet.

Posted by: spd rdr at April 19, 2012 03:52 PM

I'd imagine:
F) REQUIRED

But that's just me.

Posted by: MikeD at April 19, 2012 04:57 PM

Silly man. Things should only be gender neutral when *we* want them to be gender neutral.

That said, I'm liking confusatory. But equivocatory would be a close second.

Posted by: Cass at April 19, 2012 05:13 PM

What's the gender-neutral replacement for "mandatory?"

In much of today's world, perhaps "mandatory" already is gender neutral....

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 19, 2012 05:37 PM

Confusatory is good, I agree. As Chaucer's Chauntecleer said, "Mulier est hominis confusio."

Posted by: Grim at April 19, 2012 05:52 PM

"I'm for the mandatory man-helmets. "
Only ifn them thangs come with beer goggles.

Posted by: Larry at April 19, 2012 06:43 PM

Grim, if I remember what very little Latin I have, you'd better start running :p

Posted by: Cass at April 19, 2012 06:57 PM

My sol'n? Simply end preferences for all.

Why? Punishing one group for transgressions by members of that group generations ago only generates new victims, and doesn't redress the wrongs.

Posted by: ry at April 19, 2012 09:02 PM

My first secretary made more than I did, in 1967 (she was University Staff, I was a Student Employee and five years younger than her.) I learned -so- much from her about managing people, coping with bureaucracy, writing to an audience, how to make a mint julep, ... thank you, Donna. You made me a better boss for the rest of my life.


How to fix the problem? I don't know if it can be fixed. People with power are going to be tempted to abuse it, and there's little that can be done about them by anyone other than their supervisor. A couple of them can corrupt a huge company. I've tried at times to "fix" those things from the inside, and have always failed. (The abusers are -- or were when I was doing this -- more often male, but by reports, the females are catching up.)


Is that my "Angel" personality leaking out? ;)


As I signed into the monthly meeting tonight, the Treasurer said "Tom, you have to renew your membership before next month." Happily; they always have great speakers, and while there were giggles when I asked to join, I'm proud to. Association for Women in Computing.

Posted by: htom at April 19, 2012 11:05 PM

"You're doing it all wrong!"

The way to promote freedom is to first make sure everyone is thinking alike. That's real patriotism: squelching any hint of dissent.

That way, the guys can work out whatever issues they have with women and call it "conservatism," and women who value being liked more than they value clarity of ideas can join in.

Purity of conservative essence!

Posted by: Joy McCann/Little Miss Attila at April 20, 2012 12:43 AM

I will admit that the dynamics of the blogosphere often give me heartburn, but then I have had that problem in meat space as well.

There will always be people to whom belonging to a group and enforcing some level of social/intellectual conformity on the group will be important. After all, that's how groups coalesce in the first place: they agree on some set of standards or shared something-or-other and then use their shared "whatever" to draw the line between "us" and "them".

I think that's why some people are so threatened by disagreements around the margins of whatever they consider to be conservatism: if what you thought were the core principles does not match what they thought were the core principles, that boundary becomes less clear.

I don't know if it will help, but I try to think of this as having more to do with social bonding than conservatism. It's not at all important to me that my friends agree with me chapter and verse: I'm not big on intellectual conformity as a litmus test for friendship. Let's face it - some of my dearest and oldest friends are Democrats! I actually treasure the ability to discuss ideas with people I respect, who just see things differently than I do. I still don't agree with them, but they are reasonable people and it's surprising just how much we *do* agree upon.

But that view is far from universal and even for people like me, there are exceptions.

That's why I don't write about certain subjects anymore. When I run into the mindset that it's OK to treat other people in ways you would never accept from others, that's something of a deal killer for me. So I guess even Pollyanna has a 'do not cross' line :p

Who knew?

Posted by: Cass at April 20, 2012 08:29 AM

The abusers are -- or were when I was doing this -- more often male, but by reports, the females are catching up.

I like the way you framed the problem in terms of people being predisposed to abuse power. I think this is at the heart of a lot of the behavior feminists framed as "male" - it wasn't so much being male as it was a question of how people behave when there's a power imbalance.

We're starting to see some of the same behavior with women in the workplace because there are some perverse incentives for women that give them relative immunity, and also just because they have power and are acting like dumb humans act.

Again, who knew? :)

Posted by: Cass at April 20, 2012 09:16 AM

...think of this [disagreements within a group] as having more to do with social bonding than conservatism.

To go off on a tangent, briefly, I agree that this has nothing at all to do with conservatism--or with liberalism. We have only to look at the derision loaded onto the Republican party by the Democratic Party because the Republicans have public disagreements over what the Party's course should be. The Democratic Party so values monolithism and group-think that it actually feels threatened by an entirely separate group that is more fractious and disputatious.

Yet no one can confuse the Republican Party with conservatism or the Democratic Party with liberalism. Both are little more than social groups with a measure of political power seeking to maintain/enhance that power.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 20, 2012 09:42 AM

Nemko sniffs at women doctors who do mostly pediatrics, implying shorter hours. Well, I have been a hospital mom, and my son's pediatrician would appear at 5:30 or 6 am to check on my little guy (I would still be in my nightgown), and the last thing I saw before going to sleep in my son's hospital room, sometimes as late as 10:30 pm, was his pediatrician. In between those bookends, he put in a full day at his office. I wondered if he ever saw his family.

So, pediatrics is not a fluff job, just for girls. My 2 cents.

Posted by: MathMom at April 22, 2012 12:03 AM

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