It’s not on today’s ballot, but let me cast a vote on a regendering plan tendered by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at a recent women’s conference in Long Beach.
“My goal is to do everything we can to also create more women in the legislature,” the governor said. “Because we still have 25 percent of legislators who are women in California. I think if we get that up to a level of 50-50, I think you will see decisions are being made differently because women have different priorities. We need that mix in Sacramento and in Washington in order to make great decisions.”
The governor didn’t mention the “Q-word,” but he surely knows that the preferred method for regendering is parliamentary quotas for women, already in effect in more than 30 countries. Angola has established a quota requiring that 30 percent of the candidates be women. In Rwanda, a law passed in 2003 reserves 30 percent of the seats in parliament for women.
The 30-percent female quota for parliament in Rwanda is intended to break up “old boy networks” that persisted after the violence of the 1990s, according to The Economist. That publication also points out that quotas to help women reach power “are spreading,” even where no such circumstances exist, particularly in Europe. If German Social Democrat Lissy Groner has her way, half of all the top jobs in the EU will be reserved for women. Maybe she has been talking to our governor.
“Reservations” is the euphemism for quotas used by Esther Duflo of the Department of Economics and Poverty Action Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of the 1994 book Why Political Reservations? Using India as an example, she argues that men and women have different policy preferences, and cites American studies charging that women are more “liberal” than men. She also believes that women are less likely to take bribes.
On the other hand, “reservation of a seat affects public goods allocation to the favor of the group that benefits from the reservation.” That should come as no surprise. Overall, “reservation clearly emerges as a powerful redistribution tool.” Duflo also acknowledges that “by restricting the electors’ choice set, a reservation policy introduces distortions.”
Exactly so, and restriction of choice is reason enough to oppose quotas. Another is that women don’t appear to need them. Women who have done well without quotas include Angela Merkel in Germany, Tzipi Livni in Israel, Hillary Clinton in the United States, and of course Margaret Thatcher in Britain. I should also point out that it has been nearly 20 years since California had a male U.S. Senator. Today’s election won’t change that and nobody is arguing for 50-50 gender parity on the senatorial front.
I can agree that with the governor that women have “different priorities.” Margaret Thatcher’s priority, for example, was turning around a country that male socialists had run into the ground. My own priorities include the expansion of free enterprise, consumer choice, and personal responsibility, not quotas or numerical goals.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, laments that we “still” have a legislature 25-percent female, implying that 50-50 is a matter of certain destiny and a “progressive” idea. It troubles me that he wants to do “everything we can” to get the numbers he wants.
It’s hard to see how such a breakdown could happen without some kind of quota system. Even if it came about through the current democratic process there is scant evidence for the governor’s claim that we need a 50-50 mix in Sacramento and in Washington “in order to make great decisions.”
We don’t, and there is abundant evidence that women’s capacity for bad decisions is fully equal to that of men. In some cases, women clearly surpass men in that regard. That’s why, even though it’s not on today’s ballot, I vote no on the governor’s 50-50 regendering plan.