Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Freedom and the Gender Gap


The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Not Just a Personality Clash, a Conflict of Visions

"Politicians from sparsely populated areas are more likely to say they want government off people's backs so they can run their own lives. Politicians from denser areas are more likely to want government to play at least a refereeing role, to keep people from bumping into one another too abusively."

David Brooks has a new 5-minute idea: people from sparsely populated areas are interested in freedom and so vote conservative; people from densely populated areas are concerned about social cooperation and so vote liberal.

The assumption is that the conservative agenda promotes freedom and individualism by getting government off people's backs. Women know better. The constraints that restrict our options don't come from government interference--they come from entrenched traditions and the customary practices of firms. The market is not perfectly efficient, and the labor market is pretty inefficient. Left to their own devices, employers will hire friends, relatives and people who "look right." This is fine if you have friends or relatives who are hiring or if you look right for the job but it is not fine if you are a woman--or a man--interested in a job for which you do not look right.

Before the government committed itself to promoting and enforcing equal opportunity regulations women's options in the labor market were limited to traditional "women's jobs." As a women, realistically, my only options would have been have been teaching, child care, social work, nursing or clerical work. When I first applied for job, in my teens, newspaper ads were classified as "Help Wanted-Men" and "Help Wanted-Women, " with a very few classified as "Help Wanted-Men or Women." Without government interference, I would have had very few options. Government interference liberated me.

Government "interference" expands people's freedom. Women, like me, know it. Blacks know it too--and vote accordingly. Before the federal government interfered they couldn't live or go to school where they pleased. Government interference greatly expanded our options.

Our aim is not to trade off freedom for cooperation, security or anything else. It is to maximize freedom. We just recognize that, for us, it is government interference that secures our freedom.

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