Why the Market and Old-fashioned Meritocracy are Better for Women than Big Government

By some counts women are now more than half of the workforce in America and other affluent countries. As we observed last month, the militant sages assembled from the liberal Center for American Progress for the Shriver Report, believe this calls for stepped-up deployment by Big Brother and the Nanny State.

I do not share that view, nor do I believe that we face a major tipping point the moment women become a workforce majority. That appears to be the view of The Economist. On the cover of their January 2–8 issue, Rosie the Riveter proclaims “We did it!” I am relieved that their stories on the subject take a different view from the Shriver Report, but with some reservations.

The magazine’s briefing on “female power” indulges such tired terms as the “glass ceiling” and even invokes Betty Friedan, who along with other feminists allegedly “demonized domestic slavery and lambasted discrimination.” Again we see the lamentation that only two percent of Fortune 500 bosses are women, and the misleading and discredited charge that “in America and Britain the typical full-time female worker earns only about 80 percent as much as the typical male.” On the other hand, “Female politicians such as Margaret Thatcher and Mrs. Clinton have taught younger women that anything is possible.”

Well, I’m all for possibilities but in terms of actual results and accomplishments, Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton should not be mentioned in the same sentence. Margaret Thatcher restored the United Kingdom to prosperity, rescued the Falkland Islands from an Argentine military dictatorship, and helped to end the Cold War. As First Lady, not an elected post, Hillary Clinton, fortunately for the American people, failed to achieve a federal government takeover of health care, a quest since taken up by the Obama administration. For the record, I spend a lot of time educating Americans on why a government takeover of our health care system is a bad idea.

Things get better in the Economist’s editorial, what the British call a “leader.” There the workplace shift towards women “argues, mostly, for letting the market do the work.” With that I can agree. As for government intervention in the form of quotas and affirmative action, “the answer is no.” That is because “promoting people on the basis of their sex is illiberal and unfair, and stigmatizes its beneficiaries.”

How refreshing to hear it put in such straightforward language. Things get better still in the “Womenomics” column by a scribe known as “Schumpeter,” after famous economist Joseph Schumpeter. The column notes the orthodoxy of influential feminists such as Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and Alison Maitland, who argue that it is not enough to eliminate the glass ceiling. Rather, one needs to run a search for “gender asbestos” the alleged “inherent sexism built into corporate structures and processes.” These of course involve “patriarchal” structures.

Given that charge, Schumpeter finds it strange that some of the most successful women are found in such “hard-edged” companies as Areva, AngloAmerican, Archer Daniels Midland, Dupont, Sunoco, and Xerox. These firms run the gamut from nuclear energy to agribusiness. Banking and transport have the best record of promoting women to their boards.

Women may not have inherent differences that make them better than men in business, but Schumpeter finds that some are doing a great job. For example, Dong Mingzhu of Gree Electric Appliances, a manufacturer of air conditioning equipment, has boosted her shareholders returns by nearly 500 percent in the last three years. Schumpeter concludes that women would be well advised to ignore “the siren voices of the new feminism” and listen to Dong Mingzhu instead. “Despite their frustration, the future looks bright. Women are now outperforming men markedly in school and university. It would be a grave mistake to abandon old-fashioned meritocracy just at the time when it is turning to women’s advantage.”

Well put, and, overall, decidedly contrary to the surge of Big Government advocated by the Shriver Report. The Economist issue leaves a few loose ends, such as the notion that women are “better lateral thinkers than men,” more “idealistic,” and that the Lehman Sisters would have avoided all the trouble of Lehman Brothers. We shall return to these themes in future columns.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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