The “actually women make 96 cents on the dollar” response to the wage gap misses the point

Sometimes someone will bring up the wage gap, that women on average make only 75% of what men make. Then some crusaders of truth charge in to inform them that in fact if you hold all factors constant, then you end up with something closer to 96%.

Do some people think that, when holding everything else equal, the pay gap between men and women is 75%? Sure, but to focus on them is to miss the important point people who are aware of both numbers but still stress the first are making.

Part of the problem is that men’s work is valued more highly than women’s work. For which the solution is not for women to all abandon whatever it is they were doing and become engineers, but for our society to better compensate about caring positions. That jobs with more men doing them make more than jobs with more women doing them is itself a problem. The problem can exist at two levels. The first is possible discrimination in getting certain jobs. There’s currently plenty of work being done to bring women into STEM-related fields. There’s also known hesitation in the corporate world to promote women, usually out of a fear of future pregnancy/child-raising. The second is, as mentioned, the jobs themselves having a bad compensation structure. Some jobs are woefully underpaid.

More reason to decimate nonprivate evaluation

Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò wrote a great piece on how he’s a teacher, not a job trainer. I commonly complain about liberal arts institutions being co-opted as job training centers. Táíwò’s article takes the individual perspective, and gets a better personal angle on why this is bad. My usual argument is primarily that life has a lot of awesome stuff to it, and making money really isn’t that much of it. That “When will I use this?” is a common question asked about ethics classes shows how deep the problem is. We have more resources than ever being poured into higher education, but we’re getting rid of most of higher education.

Conveniently, Ben Orlin wrote about math’s role as a gatekeeper around the same time. Mathematics, an allegedly more practical field of study than any humanity, is abused as a gatekeeper. Mathematicians see beauty in math. I know many who would love to instill some enjoyment for mathematics into their students. Instead they have to teach requirements to a room full of people looking to take the test. Mathematicians by and large don’t seem fond of their role as gatekeepers. I’m not sure who does. At best playing gatekeeper is a means to dragging students into classes so administrators will agree to let the department have money.

One step out of the muck would be increased, mandatory privacy on grades, and perhaps courses taken. The gatekeeper function is much harder to fill when there’s no record to look at. Employers can’t bog down the education process with their exploitation of it as a filtering mechanism. (If they have too many applications to look at applicants as individuals, perhaps they’ll see some incentive to fix the broken job market.)

I’m not denying the importance of evaluation. Feedback is a critical part of the learning process. You have to know where you’re going wrong to fix it. Sometimes you need pointing in the right direction to improve. But these can be had without letting anyone outside the educational process aware of the feedback.

Unfortunately this idea falls among those that would require universal adoption all at once. If any small group of institutions did this at once, they would likely just be shunned. If they won’t play into the wishes of HR departments, then HR departments will shun their graduates. Then they’ll struggle to find any students. But, I retain three thoughts: One, there may still be something of use in this partial idea. Two, if UBI gets rolling, universities can exist without depending on high enrollment. Three, grade inflation is leading us down this road anyway. If everyone gets an A, nobody gets an A. If anyone can get a degree, the degree doesn’t signify much. At that point, all the degree says is one came up with tuition money one way or another. At that point, one should hope at least students get an education out of the deal.

There’s plenty of work; we need to direct resources to actually do it

Oregon now allows you to pump your own gas. While there’s some back and forth between people who are very afraid of inserting a nozzle into a hole and people laughing at them, this article points out that thanks to the old law, many people had jobs pumping gas. Most obviously, this means they have money. The advocates of universal basic income (UBI) and automation say that part can be handled anyway. Loomis rejects that as the end of the problem, though, as Americans, especially of the working class, place a lot of value in work itself. Work provides a sense of accomplishment and identity. Sending people home to watch TV and collect a weekly check won’t be accepted. We need jobs.

With a connection soon to come, some people talk about the need for job creation. Some then appeal to the virtues of so-called job creators, and others point to infrastructure projects or other public works. In either case, the discussion is centered around the need for more jobs, and the problem both are solving is people needing money.

But this is a conflation of two different problems. With the current rules in places, yes, they are tied together. If we’re talking about changing the rules, let’s at least consider them in separation. The first problem is people having work. The second is people having money.

Loomis’s article, to its credit, gives the first some importance apart from the second. Now, whether pumping gas is a good use of human resources, I don’t really know. I do know there’s plenty of work that could be done. Infrastructure is a popular goto. Roads and bridges are in need of repair. Mass transit in the US leaves much to be desired. Outside of infrastructure, some places are known for having unreasonably long lines. Put in a few more people to move things along. There’s a lot of translation that could be done but isn’t. Artistic works leave seemingly limitless options. I’m sure you can think of other things that could be done if only someone would do them. If we step away from money for a moment, there is plenty to be done. Possibly more to do than can be done with all hands on deck. Or more to be done than everyone actually wants to do. Where each job falls on the scale of importance is another question. (I do imagine our current arrangement is far from optimal. But when a few people acting out of self-interest get to organize as much as they do, of course you end up with worse results for almost everybody.)

The second, people having money, is where the jobs discussion usually centers. Of course if we implement something like UBI that ensures everyone has enough without a job, then the money problem is solved. Or, more abstractly, the problem is a matter of getting money from people with a lot of it to people who need more of it. The usual jobs answer is an answer of waiting for (or creating incentives for) people with plenty to find a way to make paying others a wage to be a way to acquire even more. A law such as having to have an attendant pump gas is one that just mandates certain people with plenty to do this. UBI generally works by just taking from those with plenty, giving to everyone, ensuring nobody needs more.

Given waiting on the few with plenty to decide to do things in the interests of everyone else isn’t really working out, furthering the gas attendant route to other areas seems like a rather viable way to address the first problem and, without a UBI, also the second. Especially for large chains where the idea of individual liberty isn’t really in play anyway (whose liberty is violated by corporate regulations?) start having higher cleanliness and service mandates. (Pump more money into medicine and law, too. Given new lawyers are having problems finding jobs and the system is badly backed up, this isn’t a problem of no work to do. This is a problem of needing to take resources from those hoarding it and putting it to use for everyone.)

Be honest; people like getting tips

I have noticed most people working for reduced MW plus tips are in favor of the current system, despite the rhetoric about how servers are underpaid. It usually comes up when the “if there were no tips, prices would increase” argument comes up.

The counterargument goes:
1. As it stands, if someone is making less than full MW after tips, the employer has to make up the difference. So we can infer at least the average server is making, after tips, more than MW.
2. If servers were paid without tips, most would make MW.
3. Therefore the total cost of servers would go down without tips.
So, obviously, prices would not be forced higher than the real price now.

The honest people arguing for the current system will then say 3 is bad, and the problem is 2. Tips enable people who would otherwise make MW to make more than MW.

(I think that’s a good thing. I guess it’s not as flashy rhetoric though.)

Get over work

Another article getting at our need to get over the idea of everyone working in the traditional sense. All hands on deck made sense when there was more work to do than people to do it. We’re at the point where everyone working 40 hours a week is impossible. We’re going towards a point where everyone working even 10 hours a week will be impossible. Work qua employment isn’t some intrinsically great thing. People don’t need jobs, people need goods and services. If we can get the latter without the former, all the better.

I disagree with the last part of the article, though. Post-employment, “What do you do?” will become a more meaningful question, not less. Instead of commonly getting answers about jobs that really have nothing to do with the person, answers will reflect how one chooses to spend their time without unneeded restraint. Of the people I know who work in jobs that they don’t really care about outside the paycheck, pretty much all of them do far more interesting and worthwhile things outside of their jobs, and those who don’t would if their jobs didn’t suck their energy away.

In response to the common objection that without a need to work people will just become lazy, in places where universal basic income has been tried, employment stays around the same rate. The need for employment is, surprisingly, even lower than the current employment, too. With most office workers only actually working about 20% of the time, if not for a religious devotion to 40 hour work weeks, we could have many people already closer to 10 hour weeks with no drop in production.

Automation is also being held back by (unreasonably) cheap labor. Fast food, for instance, can be mostly automated. Cut off the need for employment and the wages people will demand to do those jobs rather than something more fulfilling will jump up, likely to the point where building the robots is cheaper.