Equal Pay for Unequal Employment

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There was a cruel joke which made the rounds when I was young. It was a story of a cripple whose left arm was crippled from birth, permanently bent at the elbow.

The teller of this joke would bend his left arm at the elbow, seemingly just to illustrate the condition of the cripple.

Nothing the doctors tried seemed to help and the poor fellow was desperate. When he told his friend of his plight, the friend suggesting going to a house of worship and praying to God. The cripple was now full of hope, rushing off to finally be healed. When he reached the altar, he knelt down.

Here the teller of the joke would kneel down with his left arm bent at the elbow.

The cripple then said this prayer, “God, I know that I did not give you much heed in the past, but I will serve you faithfully if you make my arm like the other one.”

Then the teller of the joke would bend his right arm slowly until it matched the left arm.

Those who heard the joke would laugh in spite of themselves, but it taught a valuable lesson: equality in one respect can cripple you in another. And so it is with equal pay for equal work.

The gender gap in pay might seem like something which needs to be redressed, like the bent left arm in the story. However, it assumes the healthy right arm of being employed, of having a job at some workplace where some male co-workers are paid more.

What happens, though, when a woman is seeking a job and competing for a position with a man?

Under equal pay for equal work, the man can ask for a lower starting salary than his counterparts at the company. After all, he is on the superior side of the gender gap. Nobody cares if he makes less at his new job because it is redressing the gender imbalance.

The woman, under the same equality-seeking regime, is inclined to demand the higher pay of current employees. Worse, the law demands that only that higher asking wage be entered for her. Her ability to compete on wages, on price, is crippled under equal pay for equal work. It becomes equal pay for unequal employment.

The right arm of employment is slowly bent until it matches the left arm of pay.

At this point, the supporters of this foolish plan will froth at the mouth and accuse me of having a privileged, high-paying position.

I wish.

At present, I am unemployed and massively overqualified in computer programming. The fact that I started in that field forty-four years ago at the age of sixteen, while still in high school — an obscure high school in the northern part of Westchester County which nobody has heard of, where we went by the name of Cornhuskers — now subjects me to a similar predicament to what women will face if equal pay for equal work is enacted: the presumption of equal pay for equal experience means that nobody wants to hire somebody so expensive.

Yet, if they will hear me out, I will show them a far better way. I am also an economist, have been from my earliest youth, having been attempting to find a solution to the problem of poverty from when I was a toddler. My Mom and Dad gave me my first economics text when I was ten. It was my Mom’s instigation that it was Henry George’s Progress and Poverty, because he was dancer and choreographer Agnes DeMille’s maternal grandfather. Also, I got kicked out of Sunday School for singing and dancing on the tables during the unit on David bringing the ark into the city, but that is another matter. Suffice it to say that both my Mom and I appreciated dance. As for the book, itself, I found some errors in reasoning, particularly in the single-tax solution. I wrote my first critique on it, but it is probably lost in one of my many moves.

I finished the first edition of Popular Capitalism in the mid- 1980’s and returned twenty years later to extend the concept of the provision of the necessities without condition or requirement to a nested federal structure for political economy. I also incorporated my ignored entry for the Wolfson Prize. It was probably ignored because I had the impertinence of incorporating the Euro as a trading currency rather than abolishing it as Wolfson preferred.

Be that as it may, the unconditional provision of the necessities is there shown to be the one way to liberate labor, to finally have a free market in labor. For the present case, it liberates all citizens, including women, so that they can take or leave any employ, or start their own businesses to compete with the ones which had maltreated them.

That is, after all, the ultimate goal: to be free to pursue one’s mission in life, not to be equal in one misery or another.

A scion of the Sherman and Delano families, C. P. Klapper comes from a long history of New England Communist Republicanism.

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