Friday, August 19, 2005

Judge Roberts and Women

Oh, the hue and cry about Judge John Roberts's writings of 20-plus years ago. In one instance,
he said that a controversial legal theory then in vogue -- of directing employers to pay women the same as men for jobs of "comparable worth" -- was "staggeringly pernicious" and "anti-capitalist."
Well, he was right then, and he would be just as right today if he were to say the same thing. There is no such thing as "comparable worth," a doctrine that would substitute someone's subjective judgment about the "value" of work for the objective judgment of the market about the value of work.

In another instance,
Linda Chavez, then the White House's director of public liaison . . . had proposed entering her deputy, Linda Arey, in a contest sponsored by the Clairol shampoo company to honor women who had changed their lives after age 30. Arey had been a schoolteacher who decided to change careers and went to law school.

In a July 31, 1985, memo, Roberts noted that, as an assistant dean at the University of Richmond law school before she joined the Reagan administration, Arey had "encouraged many former homemakers to enter law school and become lawyers." Roberts said in his memo that he saw no legal objection to her taking part in the Clairol contest. Then he added a personal aside: "Some might question whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good, but I suppose that is for the judges to decide."

That's certainly not dogmatic opposition to the idea of married woment working outside the home, though the likes of Ted Kennedy and NOW (strange bedfellows, indeed) will portray it in that light.

Politically incorrect as it may be to say that encouraging homemakers to work outside the home may not be for the common good, there is reason to think that Roberts was right when he said as much. As I wrote here:
Because estimates of GDP don't capture the value of child-rearing and other aspects of "household production" by stay-at-home mothers, the best way to put 1900 and 2000 on the same footing is to estimate GDP for 2000 at the labor-force participation rates of 1900. The picture then looks quite different: real GDP per capita of $4,300 in 1900, real GDP per capita of $25,300 in 2000 (a reduction of 28 percent), and an annualized growth rate of 1.8 percent, rather than 2.1 percent.

The adjusted rate of growth in GDP per capita still overstates the expansion of prosperity in the twentieth century because it includes government spending, which is demonstrably counterproductive. A further adjustment for the cost of government -- which grew at an annualized rate of 7.5 [percent] during the century (excluding social transfer payments) -- yields these estimates: real GDP per capita of $3,900 in 1900, real GDP per capita of $19,800 in 2000, . . . an annualized growth rate of 1.6 percent. (In Part V of "Practical Libertarianism for Americans," I will [did] estimate how much greater growth we would have enjoyed in the absence of government intervention.)

The twentieth century was a time of great material progress. And we know that there would have been significantly greater progress had the hand of government not been laid so heavily on the economy. But what we don't know is the immeasurable price we have paid -- and will pay -- for the exodus of mothers from the home. We can only name that price: greater incivility, mistrust, fear, property loss, injury, and death.

Most "liberal" programs have unintended negative consequences. The "liberal" effort to encourage mothers to work outside the home has vastly negative consequences. Unintended? Perhaps. But I doubt that many "liberals" would change their agenda, even if they were confronted with the consequences.
Should women be free to work outside the home? Absolutely. They must judge what's best for themselves, in light of their obligations as parents -- if they have such obligations.

Should government be in the business of encouraging women to work outside the home -- perhaps even encouraging the breakup of families -- by spending taxpayer dollars for that purpose? Absolutely not, because such encouragement is a form of paternalism that pushes people in the direction of making decisions that they wouldn't otherwise make -- in this case, decisions that undermine the kind of civil society that makes liberty possible. As Jennifer Roback Morse wrote,
[t]he libertarian approach to caring for the dependent is usually described in terse form as “let families and private charity take care of it, and get the government out of the way.” This position is sometimes ridiculed as unrealistic or attacked as harsh. But the libertarian position, once fully fleshed out, is both humane and realistic.

The libertarian preference for nongovernmental provision of care for dependents is based upon the realization that people take better care of those they know and love than of complete strangers. It is no secret that people take better care of their own stuff than of other people’s. Economists conclude that private property will produce better results than collectivization schemes. But a libertarian preference for stable married-couple families is built upon more than a simple analogy with private property. The ordinary rhythm of the family creates a cycle of dependence and independence that any sensible social order ought to harness rather than resist. . . .

But for this minimal government approach to work, there has to be a family in the first place. The family must sustain itself over the course of the life cycle of its members. If too many members spin off into complete isolation, if too many members are unwilling to cooperate with others, the family will not be able to support itself. A woman trying to raise children without their father is unlikely to contribute much to the care of her parents. In fact, unmarried parents are more likely to need help from their parents than to provide it.

In contrast to the libertarian approach, “progressives” view government provision of social services as the first resort, not the last. Describing marriage as a “privatization scheme” implies that the most desirable way to care for the dependent is for the state to provide care. An appreciation of voluntary cooperation between men and women, young and old, weak and strong, so natural to libertarians and economists, is completely absent from this statist worldview. . . .

Marriage is the socially preferred institution for sexual activity and childrearing in every known human society. The modern claim that there need not be and should not be any social or legal preference among sexual or childrearing contexts is, by definition, the abolition of marriage as an institution. This will be a disaster for the cause of limited government. Disputes that could be settled by custom will have to be settled in court. Support that could be provided by a stable family must be provided by taxpayers. Standards of good conduct that could be enforced informally must be enforced by law.
There I go again, questioning liberal (and sometimes libertarian) orthodoxy.

Related posts:

I Missed This One (08/12/04)
A Century of Progress? (01/30/05)
Feminist Balderdash (02/19/05)
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values (04/06/05)