“Mmm, mmm, mm! Barack Hussein Obama, He said we must be clear today, Equal work means equal pay” – Charisse Carney-Nunes (Children’s song in praise of President Obama)
For those who haven’t seen it, the above line comes from a song that a group of school children were singing in praise of Barack Obama. The video can be found here.
“Equal work means equal pay” is a common theme amongst the left. Usually, this pay disparity has been a women’s rights issue. The idea has been that women usually get paid less for the doing the same job as men. Now, there is plenty of debate out there on the issue and people I respect have taken either side of the debate. Further, there are great arguments to be made on each side, arguments that are neither sexist nor denials. Whether the pay disparity exists or not, let me say here and now that I fully support equal pay for equal work.
But let us explore the meaning of “equal work means equal pay” for a moment. The most obvious explanation is that pay should be based on productivity. That if you do the same amount of work that I do, we should be paid equally. If this is true, then it must also be true that greater work means greater pay and lesser work means lesser pay. That is, if you are more productive than I, you rightly ought to be paid more for it. I have no problem with this. Pay ought to reflect productivity. In fact, it ought to reflect productivity and nothing more. (Of course, when we have freedom, especially freedom of association, one cannot always guarantee this result – but the free market will ultimately drive in that direction.)
I hold this principle to be true regardless of gender or race. In just about all arenas we should have productivity-based pay. Interestingly, progressives who championed equal pay for women have tolerated pay inequality in other areas. There are clear bastions of liberalism where pay inequality is the norm, in fact the mandate. Consider unions for example. Unions almost universally oppose merit-pay. They prefer pay based on seniority. Hey guys, equal work should mean equal pay. If a younger guy is doing the same work as a more senior person, he should be paid equally.
Or how about government employees? The average government employee makes 45% more than the average private-sector employee … but that is a skewed statistic. Statistics are murky indeed, but for the same job, the government employee makes about 16% more than the private sector counterpart (I’ll have to dig up the report to link it for you). Hey guys, equal work means equal pay. How is it that the federal government, representing the people, has chosen to invoke pay disparity among the people?
Is this not the definition of hypocrisy? Don’t misunderstand – I get it. Progressives have an issue they want to address (pay inequality between men and women). They saw how it fit nicely into a clean principle (equal work means equal pay) and ran with it – without thinking through the implications. Principles can be dangerous like that. They are generally broad sweeping in their application.
So let us press forward, good-hearted people of freedom. Equal work has to mean equal pay – for everybody. You should not get greater pay for lesser work just because you’re a member of the old boys network, or the Caucasian network, or the union network, or the government employee network. Let us hold our principles as foundational, not just catch-phrases and slogans.