Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Women, Equal Pay, Lawyers, Congress, and Lack of Transparency

A NY Times op-ed today had some good thoughts on the paycheck fairness bill.  I have a couple of thoughts on this.  First, I'm sceptical of the whole gender based stereotypes thing.  Gender roles are different in different societies across different points in time.  These change without the need for legislation.  Let these processes do their work without legislation.

Second, if there is a problem that operates independently of other factors, I'm not sure that legislation making lawsuits easier is the way to go.  I'm highly sceptical that our tort happy culture needs encouragement.  Law has its place but in a Congress dominated by lawyers I think any law being passed that makes bringing lawsuits easier needs to be subjected to a greater level of scrutiny than laws that aren't as likely to create a large number of lucrative new opportunities for lawyers.

Third, if we do want to do something about unequal pay there are probably better ways of going about it.  Personally, I favor transparency for salaries.  It is already done for NY state employees and the sky hasn't fallen.  Why not extend this transparency further?  Start with only high end salaries to focus on where disparities likely have the largest effects and if this has positive effects with few negatives, extend it down the income scale.  Compliance costs will be low and if there is a big pay disparity for women within an organization it will be obvious.  Once pay is transparent I'm fairly confident the negotiating can happen naturally.  If discrimination is occurring, it is being enabled by the information disparities that occur because of employee's lack of knoledge about pay. 

Of course, I do realize there are some real privacy concerns here.  There are also a lot of individuals that won't like this because they feel they have negotiated a very good deal with their employer and don't want to see this end (there will also be a few of these who will find out that they're the suckers, perhaps a greater welfare loss than those who will actually see their pay shift to be closer to the norm.  I think ego tends to trump inflated pay.  Most people value status more than wealth in practice, though few will admit it.).

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