My Review of Barbara Bergmann, Part 2
By David Henderson
Yesterday, I posted the first part of my 1987 review of the late Barbara Bergmann’s book The Economic Emergence of Women. Here’s the next part:
To combat discrimination against women, Bergmann would have the government step up its enforcement of the affirmative action regulations. A hard-liner on this issue, Bergmann proposes: “Each branch of each large firm should have an EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] audit officer attached to its case, just as it has an IRS agent looking at its tax compliance.”
Bergmann never considers the possibility that government intervention may itself be hampering women. Yet many of the case histories she cites point to laws and regulations that have such effects. Three examples: (1) The Bell System, heavily regulated at the time, had job classifications that segregated women; (2) the state of New Hampshire repeatedly turned down a woman applying for a certain job because she couldn’t wield sledgehammers, even though they weren’t used in the job; (3) women trying to get into union apprenticeship programs have had endless difficulties. For me, the most telling thing about these examples is that they involve union power, regulated industries and public-sector jobs–all of which have been shaped by government interventions.
Gary Becker explained over 30 years ago in his Economics of Discrimination why unions would be expected to discriminate. Our labor laws help them to monopolize the supply of labor in many situations, and they naturally use their monopoly power to restrict entry. If the union is largely male to begin with, women will inevitably have a tough time getting in.
Similarly, it is not surprising that an organization like the old Bell System, whose profits were regulated by the govermnent, discriminated against women. Another company could cut its costs by hiring lower-wage women into traditionally male jobs, but in Bell’s case the cost savings wouldn’t necessarily translate into added profits (because the regulators would typically require the saving to be passed along to consumers). In short, a regulated company has less incentive than an unregulated one to hire women.
The same is true of government agencies. Taxpayers, rather than the people running the agency, benefit when it hires equally qualified but cheaper women. So there is no cost to bureaucrats when they discriminate. A major weakness of Economic Emergence is that Bergmann, who advocates plenty of government regulation to end discrimination, seems to have no interest in policies that might remove the government props under monopoly power, or might speed up deregulation, or might work to privatize government