Bill Shorten has recently announced a raft of measures to change Super and close the gender pay gap.
This comes at the same time as calls for gender-based quotas in Parliament, board rooms and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.
These quotas are really just a convenient way of avoiding deeper questions.
What we need now, more than ever, is clear thinking.
Why gender-based quotas won’t work
Here is what famed economist Thomas Sowell thought about the matter:
‘In some states, the librarians are rated as more valuable than the chemists. In other states, the chemists are considered more valuable. Other jobs also bounce up and down in the ratings.
‘Whenever a predominantly female occupation is paid less, that becomes a basis for sanctimonious pronouncements, alleging sex discrimination. But it does not provide a basis for a moral pronouncement, because morality implies a duty to engage in clear thinking.’
Crucially, clear thinking requires a certain approach.
‘Clear thinking, in turn, include[s] not confusing effort with results. If I practice singing as long … as Pavarotti, I will have as much merit as Pavarotti — but I will still not sing as well as Pavarotti. What other people can judge, in this case all too easily, is who sings better.’
What Sowell is saying is that the gender pay gap is a case of effort confused with results.
We need to be very careful as to how we proceed.
On the one hand, we need to support the position that everyone receives the same pay for the same job.
Imagine one male mechanic is fixing the same amount of cars per day as another male mechanic.
He should be entitled to the same pay. Perhaps Fair Work could get involved. Let’s call this equality of opportunity.
On the other hand, we need to understand two things:
- Distribution of pay (for everyone) is a result of the combination of skill and interest
- Quotas will only make things worse
Let’s look at number one.
What determines what job you want growing up?
Naturally, people tend to pick something that they are good at or something they are interested in.
Usually these two tend to go together. It’s what makes people likely to have a higher income.
Merit being destroyed by equality
Skill and interest could provide an explanation for the fact that only 10% of primary school teachers are male.
While some characterise teaching as a low paying job, it isn’t.
The average wage in Australia for a primary school teacher is $62,000.
Not bad for nine months work and a one-year Masters course to qualify.
As for number two, we need to grasp unintended consequences.
For example, what if we instituted a 40% quota for Parliament, board rooms and STEM subjects? Let’s call this equality of outcome.
Perhaps the pay gap would decrease, or even be reversed, as a small number of women at the top end drag the average up.
But the idea of merit would also go out the window!
This is because we have effectively cheapened people’s achievements.
At the same time, what does this actually do for women in lower paying jobs? Nothing.
One way to secure merit is to make job applications anonymous. Get rid of the name and give them a number.
The Victorian Public Service tried this with its job applications and quickly found that more men were getting jobs.
So that was the end of that. Despite the fact that 67% of employees are women!
The average Australian public servant makes $78,000 a year. Again, not bad at all.
In Australia, it seems we have managed to take this discussion in all the wrong directions.
Equality of opportunity has been replaced with equality of outcome.
Let’s be clear. Fairness is important.
However, when you sacrifice fairness for some ideal distribution, you wind up further away from what you wanted in the first place.
Let’s not destroy merit with quotas.
By Lachlann Tierney
PS: Is the taxman too harsh on high income earners? Vote now before the poll ends.