Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In Praise of Inequality

Today's decision by the Supreme Court exempting Portmarnock Golf Club from equal status legislation is good news for Irish freedom. Freedom of association is a fundamental freedom in any democracy, and efforts by an arm of the state to prevent it should be strongly resisted. People should be allowed to associate together to meet the needs of people like themselves - regardless of gender, race or religion - if they so wish. It is generally healthy for any adult group or community to have time and space apart from the wider society to discuss their common interests and enjoy one another's company. Be it a book club, a golf club, a political party or an 'Irish wives of Polish husbands' club.

But what about equality: does the Supreme Court decision exacerbate gender differences in Irish society? Hardly. There are more fundamental forces at play shaping gender equality - and increasing inequality as experienced by men. Take Arnold Kling's analysis of how assortive mating is exacerbating labour market and global trends:

I think that perhaps the most important trend of the past thirty years is the increased importance of cognitive skills relative to physical labor. Obviously, this has been going on for more than just the past thirty years, but during the past thirty years we saw an acceleration. This has had a number of consequences:

1. It changed the role of women. Their comparative advantage went from housework to market work.

2. This in turn, as Wolfers and Stevenson have pointed out, changed the nature of marriage. Men and women look for complementarity in consumption rather than in production.

3. This in turn leads to more assortive mating, with achievement-oriented men looking for interesting mates rather than for good maids.

4. This in turn leads to greater inequality across households. It also fosters greater inequality among children. The children of two affluent parents are likely to have much better genetic and environmental endowments than the children of two (likely unmarried) low-income parents.

5. Inequality is exacerbated by globalization and technological change. If your comparative advantage is basic physical labor, you have to compete with machines as well is with workers from the Third World.

The net result is an economy that has improved considerably for people with high cognitive skills, but which has improved only somewhat for people with relatively low cognitive skills.

So what should the Equality Authority be doing about it? The obvious answer is to encourage marriage, for as Chris Dillow points out:

... rising inequality reduces marriage. This happens through three mechanisms:
1. As male poverty rises, poorer men cannot afford a wife. It is relative poverty that matters here, as a man’s marriage prospects depend upon what he can offer a woman.
2. Richer women will need a bigger share of the surplus from marriage to tempt them to wed. This means they’ll hold out for richer men, but…
3. They might lose out to poorer women, who can, in effect, out-bid them - perhaps by being more easily impressed, or less likely to nag.
The result is that rising inequality leads to a mass of poor unmarried men on the one hand and a mass of richer unmarried Bridget Joneses on the other.

There's a job for the Equality Authority - reverse engineer the trend towards greater income inequality by becoming marriage brokers. More fun than beating up on golfers. Alternatively, we could just close them down given the hopelessness of the task?

1 comment:

  1. The achievements of any society rest with it's heros and not it's herd.

    Very interesting post. You must have a hot wife.


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