Sexual Politics

Episode 3 has hit the airwaves. Episode 3

It seems to be conventional wisdom that women make less than men doing the same job. But how true is this? If men made a dollar for every woman that made 77 cents, why would any executive hire a man? Is gender discrimination really worth 23% of labor costs? There really must be more to it.

With regards to a proposed bill going through Congress mandating “fair” wages across genders, I stumbled upon this opinion piece in the NY Times:

…for proof, proponents point out that for every dollar men earn, women earn just 77 cents.

But that wage gap isn’t necessarily the result of discrimination. On the contrary, there are lots of other reasons men might earn more than women, including differences in education, experience and job tenure.

When these factors are taken into account the gap narrows considerably — in some studies, to the point of vanishing. A recent survey found that young, childless, single urban women earn 8 percent more than their male counterparts, mostly because more of them earn college degrees.

I think there’s a lot to be said for that. Women, for better or for worse, simply tend to go into professions that aren’t as well-paying. This is not a stereotype, this is true.

Universities, for example, typically pay professors in their business schools more than they pay those in the school of social work, citing market forces as the justification.

What are the market forces? If you’re a business professor you probably have some credentials that will make you a lot of money elsewhere. This is called a high opportunity cost by economists. Contrast this with those with high credentials in social work or even English professors. What is there opportunity cost? Do the universities really need to pay them high salaries to woo them into academia? Not really. What can someone with a phd in English do except teach? Not much. Women tend to go into these areas that naturally pay lower.

One could argue that each gender going disproportionately into different fields reflects sexism in society. But I don’t think some law will correct this; it will more likely create headaches for business people and superfluous litigation.

Could a wage disparity exist between men and women? Could there be a glass ceiling of sorts? I’m not denying it. I just think it’s exaggerated, even if only a little.

Way back, Carson talked about how people generally make up their minds on certain issues before even hearing the two sides of an argument. People will furthermore only hear what they want to hear – and what they want to hear is what agrees with them. I think the issue of guns, and gun control more specifically, is a great example of this. Although one court case is trying to change the image of the gun rights issue, guns carry a stigma with a lot of people that they will probably never be able to shake off.

I grew up in a neighborhood where guns were pretty much non-existent. In fact, I can’t think of anyone from my childhood who owned a gun. We lived in a safe neighborhood where self-protection wasn’t an immediate concern (though this incident in Wilmette did get national attention) and not many hunters were around. As a result, I grew up kind of thinking guns were creepy – and still kind of do. Guns are for redneck Southerners, gangbangers, animal-torturing lunatics, and/or general weirdos. Guns have no place in a society made up of educated, law-abiding citizens. Or at least, so I believed.

I think this impression of guns sticks with a lot of people. Guns are weird and unnecessary and having gun control legislation- or maybe even the complete ban on guns – makes the world a better place. But once I tried to look at gun rights and gun control objectively, I started to realize that gun control is pretty damn stupid. Gun control has a few aims, among them:

  • Stop criminals from getting guns.
  • Stop innocent children accidentally killing themselves from guns around the house.

Stop criminals from getting guns. Does gun control really do this? There are more than 10,000 laws about gun ownership and purchasing on the books. Is one more really going to stop bad guys from getting them? In fact, gun control can even help to fund organized crime. Gun control is somewhat of a Prohibition on guns. Like Prohibition of alcohol or drugs, organized crime – gangs, the mob – profit by supplying hard to get or illegal items. Criminals commit crimes, by definition. Why would they care to respect laws regarding gun control?

We often hear of horror stories involving children who wandered into their parents closet and then shot themselves by accident. But how often does this really happen? Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics fame, is often cited for his quote that “If you own a gun and have a swimming pool in the yard, the swimming pool is almost 100 times more likely to kill a child than the gun is.” Basically, yeah, guns kill kids. So do bath tubs, toasters, and scissors.

Ok ok. I know gun ownership is a much more complicated subject than what I just laid out. In the end, it is essentially a cost-benefit analysis (if we are only looking at the matter on utilitarian grounds) of the good gun ownership does in crime deterrence versus the bad it does by widening access. But, I’ll just say briefly that looking at statistics and studies that compare states with right to concealed weapons and states without, I believe that gun control does more harm than good. John Lott’s book More Guns, Less Crime is a great synopsis.

For the time being, rather than get into a detailed debate on gun control, I want to focus on a specific court case going on now. Rather than being a hunter or redneck, Otis McDonald is just an old dude who lives in a bad Chicago neighborhood. For the sake of time, let’s analyze gun control as it applies to Otis’s situation. Otis lives in a neighborhood full of crime and gangs. He is often threatened outside his house in broad daylight for apparently doing nothing wrong. Otis wants a gun to protect himself.

Gun control advocates would say that rather than give Otis a gun, we should work harder to take the guns away from the people that are making Otis feel unsafe. I think that the situation at hand makes that solution impractical. Like I said before, preventing those fiends from getting guns would be impossible unless we had a police state. Like alcohol during Prohibition or drugs now, people always find a way to get their hands on stuff the want. The people who bother Otis, especially.

So what is Otis to do? Call the police whenever people threaten him? Come on. That might take 15 minutes and by that time he’s either dead or the threatening people have scattered. Giving Otis a gun – or, at least convincing the troublemakers that Otis might legally have a gun – is a deterrence in itself. Right now, only the troublemakers have guns. They know they have the upper hand. Law-abiding citizens have nothing to defend themselves but the police. The possibility of Otis owning a gun and its deterrent effects is seen by right to carry concealed weapons laws. If people are allowed to carry concealed weapons on the street, not every citizen will buy a gun; but if criminals know that some people are packing heat, it definitely will make them think twice about robbing just anybody. I think the proof is in the pudding (pictured here) for the effects of something like this when one looks at statistics.

I know gun control is a complicated issue. I don’t mean to say that Otis’s situation is the only kind of situation in the battle over guns rights and gun control. However, it does beg the question: what is someone in Otis’s position – a black, blue-collar, septuagenarian – to do to protect himself?

From Feministing, a video slamming the Hyde amendment (and by extension the Stupak-Pitts amendment to the current health care bill), which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortions:

An excerpt the transcript:

Jay Smooth: There are some members of Congress who are committed to stripping abortion from our health care, and the Hyde Amendment is how they do it.  Everyone in America disagrees with where some of their tax money goes, but nobody else ever gets to pick and choose where their tax money goes.  So we need to speak out on this right now.

[graphic] And you did.


IAmDrTiller: Some members of Congress don’t want tax dollars spent on abortion.

Jen: Well, I don’t want my tax dollars to fund the death penalty.

Omer: I don’t want more than a billion of my tax dollars going to fund the F-22 bomber, a plane the military doesn’t even want.

Am I missing something, or is this a pathetic, bizarre argument?  “Anti-abortion activists have successfully passed legislation that blocks their tax dollars from going towards a practice that they disapprove of.  However, all of us pro-choice taxpayers have done a horrible job of stopping our tax dollars from funding bunch of stupid, wasteful, immoral crap that we object to.  Therefore, it’s wrong that funding for abortions is excluded from federally funded health care programs.”

But that’s just how democracy works! Groups of citizens lobby for the support of policies they prefer, and organize opposition for policies they oppose.  The Hyde amendment is just an instance of successful democratic participation.  So if you don’t want your tax dollars paying for death penalties or useless military equipment, then you should be organizing political campaigns and lobbying efforts aimed at ending those practices.  Pro-life activists are very good at this.  Maybe those of us who want to end the death penalty and reduce national defense spending could learn something from them.

I’m pro-choice, and I think that some tax payer money should go towards funding abortions for disadvantaged women.  I also happen to agree with every “Well, I don’t want my tax dollars to fund x” statement from the video.  But the point is that the Hyde and Stupak amendments aren’t wrong because they are an example of a certain group of citizens doing a better job than other groups of citizens at successfully pushing through policy that advances their values.  The Stupak and Hyde amendments are wrong because they restrict federal funding for abortion, which is something that federal money should be spent on.  For Christ’s sake, just argue for the policy on its merits.

No wonder public support for abortion has been slipping in recent years.