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Women, Discrimination, and a Free Society

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For the first time in its history, South Korea has elevated a woman to the office of president. Newly elected Park Geun-hye is the daughter of the president and dictator Park Chung-hee, who ruled the country from 1961 until his assassination in 1979.

During her presidential campaign, she pledged to increase government aid to single parents, expand maternity and paternity benefits, and promote flexible work arrangements in order to get more women in the work force.

In an interview with NPR, Kim Eun-Ju, director of the Center for Korean Women and Politics, noted that the South Korean presidential campaign ignored what she sees as two big problems: “One is that Korean women get paid nearly 40 percent less than their male counterparts — the biggest such disparity among the world’s developed economies. The other is that Korean women’s representation in politics ranks 108th out of 132 countries.”

Also interviewed was Kim Wan-hung, a researcher with the Korean Women’s Development Institute. She spoke of how difficult it is for any government policy to undo centuries of cultural tradition: “Men work. Women stay at home. This idea is ingrained in people’s minds. The salary differential has not been considered important. And less has been done to solve this problem in Korea than in other developed countries.”

I suppose it might be the case in traditional male-dominated Korean society that women would be deliberately paid less than men for the same job. But such is certainly not the case in the United States, where record numbers of women hold political office, are on police forces, and work in what used to be considered male occupations.

So why do we in the United States still hear about the “glass ceiling”? Why do we still hear the cry of “equal pay for equal work”? Why do we still hear about the “wage gap” between men and women? What are we to make of reports from organizations such as the American Association of University Women that “among all full-time workers, women are paid about 77 cents for every dollar paid to men”?

The wage gap between the sexes was an issue in the recent presidential election. Democrats touted Barack Obama’s signing of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, while Republicans pointed out that, according to 2011 White House salary records, female employees of the Obama administration earned a median salary 18 percent less than men. Similar disparities have been found on the staffs of Democratic legislators, including Obama’s former senate office.

There is no denying the fact that in the United States men, on average, earn more than women. Now, although it is true that women’s productivity was lower than men’s when physical strength and stamina were more important in the workplace, such is generally not the case nowadays. So what accounts for the “pay gap”? The main thing is marriage and children. Women who marry and leave the work force to raise children have less experience and seniority than men when they return to work. It’s not that women are paid less; they earn less. When you compare not all men and women, but only men and women who have never been married (or had children), the wage gap disappears.

But that’s not all. According to Warren Farrell in the book Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap — And What Women Can Do About It, there are a number of things that account for a pay gap between the sexes:

  • Men go into technology and hard sciences more than women.
  • Men are more likely to take hazardous jobs.
  • Men are more willing to expose themselves to inclement weather at work.
  • Men tend to take more-stressful jobs.
  • Men are more likely to work longer hours.
  • Men work more weeks per year than women.
  • Men have half the absenteeism rate of women.
  • Men are more willing to commute long distances to work.
  • Men are more willing to relocate to undesirable locations for higher-paying jobs.
  • Men are more willing to take jobs that require extensive travel.
  • Men are more likely to work on commission.

And as explained by Carrie Lukas of the Independent Women’s Forum,

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.

But now we are also told in reports such as Graduating to a Pay Gap from the American Association of University Women that “just one year out of college, millennial women are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male peers.” They are “paid less than men are even when they do the same work and major in the same field.” The report finds that “women’s choices — college major, occupation, hours at work — do account for part of the pay gap.” However, “About one-third of the gap remains unexplained, suggesting that bias and discrimination are still problems in the workplace.”

There are two problems with this alleged pay gap.

The first is that we almost never hear complaints about a pay gap when sex roles are reversed. Female fashion models get paid much more money than their male peers. As do female porn stars. Where is the outrage? Where are the charges of bias against men? Where are the cries of discrimination? Where are the calls for government intervention to rectify the problem?

And the second is that profit usually trumps bigotry. If women have the same productivity, skill-set, and availability as men, but are willing to work for less money than men, then there would be additional profits available for the taking to any firm that hired only women.

The alleged bias and discrimination in pay is also said to exist in hiring.

Following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, Clougherty Packing Company, a subsidiary of Hormel Food Corp., has just settled allegations of discriminating against female job applicants.

Clougherty Packing sells more than 400 million pounds of pork a year, including the “Dodger Dogs” sold at the Los Angeles Dodgers’ baseball stadium. But the company also holds a federal contract of $3.9 million with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which distributes Clougherty products to food banks and other assistance programs. Federal compliance officers reviewed the company’s hiring practices and determined that between 2007 and 2009 the company violated Executive Order 11246, Lyndon Johnson’s directive that laid the foundation for a federal program that would later develop into what is known as Affirmative Action. This executive order reads in part,

Except in contracts exempted in accordance with Section 204 of this Order, all Government contracting agencies shall include in every Government contract hereafter entered into the following provisions:

During the performance of this contract, the contractor agrees as follows:

(1) The contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin. The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin. Such action shall include, but not be limited to the following: employment, upgrading, demotion, or transfer; recruitment or recruitment advertising; layoff or termination; rates of pay or other forms of compensation; and selection for training, including apprenticeship. The contractor agrees to post in conspicuous places, available to employees and applicants for employment, notices to be provided by the contracting officer setting forth the provisions of this nondiscrimination clause.

As part of its settlement with the Labor Department, Clougherty Packing has agreed to pay $439,538 in back wages, including interest, to 1,988 mostly Hispanic women who were rejected for entry-level positions at the company’s meat-packing plant in Los Angeles. The company will also “make 700 job offers to affected women as positions become available. Furthermore, the company has agreed to undertake extensive self-monitoring measures to ensure that all of its hiring practices fully comply with the law.”

Said Patricia Shiu, director of the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs,

So many Americans grew up eating Dodger Dogs and other Hormel products. These are uniquely American brands that ought to reflect American values, particularly when it comes to ensuring fairness in the workplace.

During this holiday season, I hope that this settlement can provide a little financial help and a whole lot of justice for the women who were denied a fair shot at employment. Moreover, I am glad we were able to work with Clougherty to make sure that there will be greater opportunities for women to get jobs going forward.

It should be noted that a company’s agreeing to a settlement with the government doesn’t necessarily imply an admission of guilt.

At the second presidential debate in October of last year, the question was asked of both candidates, “In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?”

Obama talked about his grandmother’s becoming vice president of a bank but hitting “the glass ceiling” and training “people who would end up becoming her bosses during the course of her career.” He then touted his signing of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

But Mitt Romney, instead of directly answering that question, focused on what he had done as governor of Massachusetts to rectify the alleged bias and discrimination against women in hiring. It was at that debate where Romney, after mentioning his “concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet,” ignominiously said he went “to a number of women’s groups” for help and “they brought us whole binders full of women.”

Once again we have two problems.

The first is that we almost never hear complaints about discrimination in hiring when sex roles are reversed. The Hooters restaurant chain features waitresses in tight shirts and short shorts. Men need not apply. The 2013 Hooters calendar features only “Hooter Girls,” not “Hooters Guys.” A Texas man received a settlement in 2009 after filing a complaint against Hooters because the company’s local Corpus Christi franchisee refused to hire him as a waiter because, he alleged, the position was being limited to females by an employer “who merely wishes to exploit female sexuality as a marketing tool to attract customers and insure profitability.” But such lawsuits are seen as publicity stunts and the men who work at Hooters are still in positions such as cook, host, bartender, or manager.

And the second, again, is that profit usually trumps bigotry. If women have the same productivity, skill-set, and availability as men, any firm willing to hire women has a much larger pool of potential applicants to draw from and, consequently, a decided advantage when it comes to salary and benefit negotiations.

But let’s assume for just a moment that some corporations, companies, and small businesses in the United States really do have a bias against women and discriminate against them in pay and hiring. Is that a problem? Is it a bad thing? Is it immoral? Should the government intervene to rectify the situation? Should discrimination be made a criminal offense?

To the libertarian the solution is a simple one: Because a free society must include the freedom to discriminate, there should be no government oversight of the workplace and no discrimination laws.

Discrimination is neither a dirty word nor an evil deed. When a man asks a woman to marry him he is discriminating against every other woman in the world. When a woman accepts a man’s proposal of marriage, she is discriminating against every other man in the world.

Some people prefer Coke to Pepsi. Pepsi may be cheaper, healthier, and better tasting, but they still prefer Coke. Perhaps they just like the color, the smell, or the Coke logo on the can. Their preference for Coke over Pepsi may be completely irrational, but in a free society it is their choice to discriminate against Pepsi as long as they don’t violate the rights of the sellers of Pepsi.

And yes, it is the same way with employment. Women may be more productive, have more skills, and have better availability, but if a firm chooses — for whatever reason — to pay women less or not hire them at all, then — in a free society — they have a right to make that choice.

The same goes for discrimination on the basis of religion, age, height, weight, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ethnicity, or color. No one has a right to employment in a particular job at a particular rate of pay.

In a free society it couldn’t be any other way.

What proponents of discrimination laws are of necessity also proposing is that the government set hiring and salary standards, maintain an army of bureaucrats to enforce them, have access to all employment records, and monitor all workplaces.

In a controlled society it couldn’t be any other way.

In a free society, discrimination could serve as the mother of innovation and entrepreneurship. But discrimination could also function as a death knell for any business because of bad publicity, boycotts, and a market that is too narrow to generate sufficient profits.

Those who object to a company’s hiring or compensation practices can choose to not work there, to not patronize the company, or to petition the company to change its policies.

In a free society every person has the natural right to associate or not associate with anyone he chooses and on any basis he chooses. And that includes business owners. In a free society business owners have the fundamental right to run their businesses as they choose, including to exercise the rights of discrimination and exclusion — as it concerns both employees and customers. A free society worthy of the name must include the freedom to discriminate — against any group and for any reason.

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