Monday, August 06, 2012

Little Women


The wingnuts are now demanding that Romney pick Ryan as his running-mate. Ryan, far more than Romney, has won the... well, hearts and minds of the Republican faithful and has set the agenda. Amazing that such an intellectual lightweight is now the engine behind American conservatism, a conservatism based almost entirely on the vision of one grand dame: Paul Ryan's inspiration, Ayn Rand. Oddly enough, in one of the few instances where Ayn Rand did make complete sense, her ideas were utterly rejected by Ryan and Romney and the Republican Party.
An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).

Abortion is a moral right-- which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?

That was from Rand's book, The Voice of Reason, not one that Ryan passes out to Republican staffers on Capitol Hill. And here's another salient quote Ryan and his cronies ignore, from The Ayn Rand Letter: "Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a “right to life.” A piece of protoplasm has no rights-- and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable... Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives. The task of raising a child is a tremendous, lifelong responsibility, which no one should undertake unwittingly or unwillingly. Procreation is not a duty: human beings are not stock-farm animals. For conscientious persons, an unwanted pregnancy is a disaster; to oppose its termination is to advocate sacrifice, not for the sake of anyone’s benefit, but for the sake of misery qua misery, for the sake of forbidding happiness and fulfillment to living human beings."

The Objectivist Forum (June, 1981) reaches into the future and smacks Ryan and the rest of the GOP crazies around: "A proper, philosophically valid definition of man as 'a rational animal,' would not permit anyone to ascribe the status of 'person' to a few human cells." But, of course, right-wing political movements are always by nature paternalistic if not downright misogynistic. Let's take a look at an analysis of the Republican Party agenda towards woman, compliments of Joshua Holland's book, The Fifteen Biggest Lies About The Economy. He begins the chapter with a quote from a right-wing woman, Arrah Nielsen of the Independent Women's Forum, who makes the case for paternalism:
Because men are more likely to take jobs that are unpleasant, dangerous or dull in exchange for higher pay, they reap the financial benefit. Another reason women’s average earnings are less than men’s is that they take more time out of the workforce for care-giving.

Scholars can debate whether it is societal pressure or innate desire that makes women elect to spend more time with their children. But so long as these decisions are a reflection of women’s expressed preferences, this isn’t a problem that needs to be solved.

Holland then goes on to explain the societal catastrophe that is embedded in the whole glass ceiling approach that is at the heart of right-wing philosophy about women's roles, a philosophy that, conveniently, leads to women earning 78 cents for every dollar a man with similar qualifications earns. "Conservatives," he writes "minimize not only the damage these inequities cause for women, but also the economic toll they take on tens of millions of households in which women are the primary breadwinners. It’s estimated that during a forty-year career, the average American woman gets short-changed $434,000 in earnings. That’s not chump change."
Women have entered the workplace in huge numbers in every advanced economy during the last fifty years, but the United States is alone among the wealthy nations in basically telling women to suck it up. Every other wealthy country-- and most poorer ones-- offers some form of flexible workplace policy that allows women (and men!) to take time off to have a baby without sending their careers back a step.

Women are also penalized for cultural assumptions about gender. As the designated caregivers for sick children and elderly parents, women are expected to put their careers on hold, and they take a financial hit every time they do. There’s no earthly reason this burden shouldn’t fall on men as often as it does women, but that’s the reality and women pay the price.

And here’s a very important thing to understand about the gender wage gap: it varies quite a bit from country to country, and the United States has one of the largest. Dutch economist Remco Oostendorp studied the effect during a sixteen-year-period in eighty countries. Among the thirteen “high-income countries,” the United States tied for the fourth-greatest disparity in earnings between men and women.

For the most part, those national differences can be explained by workplace policies that either allow or prevent women from hanging onto their jobs when life demands that they take some time off. These differences are discussed at length in this chapter. The wage gap is also related to how much power workers have in general. Economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn looked at the wage gap in twenty-two countries during a ten-year period and found that when unions play a larger role in determining pay scales, the gender wage gap shrinks.

Women play a greater role in the U.S. economy today than at any time since Rosie the Riveter gave up making bombers and went back home to make babies after World War II, but U.S. corporations-- enabled by a political class still dominated by men-- continue to punish them for the high crime of being female.

The American workforce has one of the highest rates of female participation in the world. Between 1955 and 2002, the percentage of working-age women who had jobs outside the home almost doubled, while men’s workforce participation fell by more than 10 percent.7 Women went back to work as it became harder for a single earner to keep a family afloat. Economist Doug Henwood showed that a worker making an average manufacturing wage had to work 62 weeks in order to earn the median family income in 1947. By 1973, that had risen to 74 weeks, and in 2001, it was 81 weeks.

So, we can thank women’s participation for a significant chunk of the U.S. economy’s much-vaunted “dynamism.” Highly educated women entering the workforce in the 1990s added to America’s “productivity miracle.” Harvard economist Richard Freeman studied labor stats in 1998 and found that women moving into the workforce increased the employment rate by almost 10 percent. Forget about “business-friendly” regulatory environments and the wonders of “Rubinomics”-- the injection of female workers into the workforce accounted for almost two-thirds of the difference between the unemployment rate in the United States and other advanced economies (more on those data later).

Yet despite all that women contribute to our economic health, the United States was one of only 4 countries out of 173 studied by McGill University’s Project on Global Working Families that doesn’t mandate some form of paid maternal leave. That puts the United States-- among the wealthiest nations on the planet-- in the company of desperately poor Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland.

What’s more, 145 of those 173 countries mandate that employers provide paid leave for workers who become ill or who have to care for a sick child or an elderly parent, but the United States is not among them. The best we do is require some U.S. employers to offer unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This doesn’t cover all workers-- only 40 percent of the private sector workforce fall under the act-- and conservatives fought tooth-and-nail against the measure when it was passed during the Clinton administration. Conservatives continue to oppose family leave policies to this day.

Regardless of how enlightened we believe we are, the yoke of housework, childrearing, and eldercare still falls disproportionately on women. The legendary progressive economist Marilyn Waring was the first to consider the economics of unpaid housework in the 1980s. Waring estimated that if what has traditionally been thought of as “women’s work” were counted economically, it would constitute the world’s single largest service and production sector. Suzanne Bianchi, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, found that working mothers spent an average of twelve hours a week on child care in 2003, an hour more than stay-at-home moms did in 1975.

The economic penalties imposed on working women when they take time off for family responsibilities creates a double whammy that lowers fertility rates and impacts the wealth of both single women and two-income families in myriad ways. Inflexible workplaces offer socially mobile women a devil’s choice: they can advance in their careers or they can have families. According to Business Week, female corporate execs are twice as likely to be child-free as are women in the population as a whole. Those making $100,000 per year are two-and-a-half times more likely to be childless.

Yet more often, women don’t have a choice, and they take the financial hit. Karen Kornbluh noted that women without children made 90 percent of what their male counterparts earn, but working mothers earn less than 75 percent. A first child lowered a woman’s earnings by an average of 7.5 percent, a second child by 8 percent more.

It’s not that women leave the workforce permanently to have kids or care for a sick child or parent; it’s that when they leave their jobs, they usually can’t return (or they lose their seniority when they do). According to economist Heather Boushey at the Center for American Progress, “If women have paid leave they are much more likely to go back to their jobs, and much less likely to quit or switch jobs.” Not having it creates a ripple effect in their working lives, costing them seniority, raises, and future promotions and benefits. Former Clinton adviser Gene Sperling pointed out that the average time a worker needs to stay on the job to get pension benefits-- if people get them at all in our wonderful “New Economy”-- is 5 years. Men’s average time working the same job is 5.1 years; for women it’s less than 4.18

According to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, women older than sixty-five who have income from pensions and annuities pull down, on average, $10,866 per year, while their male counterparts enjoy an annual income of $16,933-- 56 percent more. And with our uniquely inflexible workplaces, a third of U.S. women work in “nonstandard” or part-time jobs with no pension benefits. Both of those factors help explain why women older than sixty-five are twice as likely to live in poverty as men.

Pretty much every aspect of women’s reproductive work is punished economically in the U.S. workplace, and that affects all two-earner, nuclear households-- the ideal to which we’re all supposed to aspire. It doesn’t need to be this way. We’re so far behind the rest of the world in commonsense, pro-women, and pro-family policies that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel to figure out what works. Yet just about every measure to close the wage gap or mandate parental leave policies is opposed by the dead-enders of a cranky old patriarchy whose views are increasingly out of step with the realities of modern life and the imperatives of a global economy. When Bill Clinton managed to squeeze the Family and Medical Leave Act through Congress, the late Strom Thurmond warned that similar measures in Europe had “contributed to a stagnating economy and unemployment.” The Chamber of Commerce has been fighting the FMLA ever since and has formed a fake grassroots group called the National Coalition to Protect Family Leave, the goal of which is to, well, destroy family leave legislation. Yet in fact, among the ten countries with the most competitive economies (according to the World Economic Forum’s annual rankings), only the United States lacks generous family leave policies.

The truth is that family-friendly policies are also good for business. In his book The Pro-Growth Progressive, Gene Sperling reviewed the gains made by firms that have gotten ahead of the curve in workplace flexibility. He cited a study of a hundred U.S. businesses that found paid parental leave to be associated with a 2.5 percent increase in profits. He mentioned another study that concluded that employees who participated in one company’s “work-life” programs were 45 percent more likely to say they’d “go the extra mile” for their employers than were workers who didn’t take part in the program. Sperling concluded that giving employees more flexibility resulted in improved “motivation, making workers more productive,” and ended up cutting costs by reducing employee turnover.

The return on investing in working families is high. A study of the impact of an after-school program in North Carolina found that enabling parents-- primarily mothers-- to work a full day before picking up their kids added $590 million to the state’s economy. The Department of Education estimates that the cost of universal after-school programs nationwide would be between $5 billion and $10 billion annually, a drop in the bucket as far as federal spending goes.

Women and the families they support-- with wages and unpaid labor-- have every reason to feel beleaguered by a culture that doesn’t care about their values. They have a clear choice between progressive and conservative solutions; they can support the right-wingers who whine about sex on TV but never do anything about it, or they can support liberals fighting for the United States to catch up with Mexico and Greece in terms of family-friendly public policies. Arguing for an economy that works for women and their families is the type of politics that once upon a time fueled the New Deal Coalition-- it represents the promise of a humanist economy.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan out of touch with women's concerns? Now why would anyone think that?

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