Monday, November 20, 2017

When One Gap Closes, Another Opens

     Sarah Hoyt’s dissection of a fatuous article about “closing the gender gap” got me thinking afresh about the irrelevance of good intentions, the law of unintended consequences, and my favorite of all the comeuppances natural law awards to meddlers: the Fortinbras Effect.

     You’ve probably never seen the phrase “Fortinbras Effect” before. I coined it some years ago. (As far as I know, I’m the only writer who uses it.) Fortinbras was the foreign warlord in Hamlet who comes onstage at the very end of the play, after all of Denmark’s royals and their heirs are dead, and decides to assert a claim to the Danish throne. Mind you, he didn’t intend that sequence of events; he was merely well positioned to capitalize on it.

     It’s often the case that a seemingly uninvolved party to some passionately disputed controversy ultimately becomes its chief beneficiary, just as Fortinbras did. England’s War of the Roses is a commonly studied case. In that conflict, the noble houses of Lancaster and York were the combatants, but the ultimate victors were the Tudors, who took the throne and held it for more than a century afterward. The houses of Lancaster and York were henceforward only marginal players in future contests over the rule of England.

     We can see a similar effect arising from social engineers’ attempts to goose women out of their homes and into the workplace.

     First and foremost: an economy in which women can and will leave their homes to work for wages is necessarily an advanced economy. It must be at least at the verge of the transition from the Industrial to the Informational orientation. Otherwise, the physical punishment and bodily hazards of paying work would deter large-scale female participation. There are spot-exceptions, of course; the garment industry of the Nineteenth Century in both England and the U.S. is an example. However, as a rule women will not willingly leave their homes to work for wages when the economy emphasizes physical strength, physical endurance, and risks to life and limb.

     Thus, we will not see large-scale female paid labor in a purely Industrial milieu. Counterexamples would be self-correcting, as women who left home to participate in industry would be far less likely to reproduce. But when the transition to an Information economy begins – i.e., once there is a substantial “office” sector — the dynamics change. In such an economy, women can labor for wages without being at a physical disadvantage, and without great risk of injury or death. Whether the incentives to do so will be sufficient to persuade any great number of women to do so is a separate question.

     I’m not a telepath, nor do I play one on the World Wide Web. That having been said, I’m inclined to assume that the intentions of the postwar “women’s liberationists” in encouraging women to consider paid labor as a plausible alternative to homemaking were benign. America’s economy during World War II made considerable use of women while so large a fraction of our manhood was overseas. While some of the consequences of that phenomenon were benign, the explosive rise in birth rates after the war suggests that it had created a “pent-up demand” among American women for some non-economic goods: babies, motherhood, and a return to homemaking rather than the continuation of paid labor.

     It took two decades before more than a trickle of American women returned to paid work. While some might have been responding to another postwar phenomenon – the destigmatization of divorce and the consequent rise in divorce rates – others were propelled by another surging force in the American economy: the increase in the cost of living, driven by accelerating taxation and inflation. With the Seventies and President Nixon’s closure of the “gold window” to foreign holders of dollars, inflation broke free of its final restraints. The purchasing power of each earner plummeted inversely.

     Employers were understandably indisposed to increase wages as rapidly as inflation was eroding the dollar. If families were to maintain or improve their financial statuses, there was only one possible response: wives had to go to work. This accelerated the increase in prices beyond even what inflation was producing. More dollars chasing the same quantity of goods and services always does.

     There are other influences that deserve study: the sexual revolution and the Pill; the rise of the electronics and computer industries; the promotion of “college for everyone;” the two oil embargoes; the steady demise of family businesses and the ongoing corporatization of the workforce; and so forth. However, inflation and taxation are sufficient to account for much of the pressure that propelled women out of their homes, in a great many cases against their will, to work for wages. Compared to those forces, the intentions of the “women’s liberationists” were of no consequence.

     The Law of Unintended Consequences is as immune to repeal as the laws of physics. While some women experienced “net happiness gains” from pursuing wage labor rather than marriage, motherhood, and domesticity, there were others for whom it proved a bad bargain. The latter category didn’t always recognize the loss until too late in life to correct for it.

     When a family loses some fraction of the participation of its bedrock elements – i.e., the husband and wife – it will necessarily experience a degradation of some of its functions. Such a degradation can’t always be remedied by throwing money at it. This is particularly, painfully evident in the deterioration of actual parenting: the nurturance, education, and moral guidance parents have traditionally provided to their children.

     Child-rearing and guidance, like Nature herself, abhors a vacuum. Those who leaped to fill it proved to be hostile to the family itself.

     Persons with an unholy agenda rushed into the breach. Before women rushed into the workplace, the “educational industry” barely deserved that name. Most grammar and high school teachers were young women, usually unmarried. They had no “aides.” The administration of a school comprised a principal, perhaps a vice-principal, and a secretary in a back office. The classroom was reserved entirely for academic subjects, with perhaps two or three periods of “gym” per student per week.

     The mushrooming of “educationists” correlated almost perfectly with women’s pursuit of wage labor. Parents, feeling themselves hard pressed by economic necessities, were seduced into approving of greatly expanded, largely non-academic agendas for the schools. The schools became flush with money. Education became a target for persons with social, political, or other axes to grind. Ironically, a great many of those proselytizers were women.

     In his novel The Hidden Truth, Hans G. Schantz has delineated some of the more odious consequences:

     “The second reason [for women to be seduced into the wage economy] is to get children out of the potentially antisocial environment of the home and into educational settings where we can be sure they’ll get the right values and learn the right lessons to be happy and productive members of society. Working mothers need to send their children to daycare and after-school care where we can be sure they get exposed to the right lessons, or at least not to bad ideas....

     “They are going to assign homework to their students: enough homework to guarantee that even elementary school students are spending all their spare time doing homework. Their poor parents, eager to see that Junior stays up with the rest of the class, will be spending all their time helping their kids get incrementally more proficient on the tests we have designed. They’ll be too busy doing homework to pick up on any antisocial messages at home....

     “Children will be too busy to learn independence at home, too busy to do chores, to learn how to take care of themselves, to be responsible for their own cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Their parents will have to cater to their little darlings’ every need, and their little darlings will be utterly dependent on their parents. When the kids grow up, they will be used to having someone else take care of them. They will shift that spirit of dependence from their parents to their university professors, and ultimately to their government. The next generation will be psychologically prepared to accept a government that would be intrusive even by today’s relaxed standards – a government that will tell them exactly how to behave and what to think. Not a Big Brother government, but a Mommy-State.

     Good intentions had proved impotent.

     In Shakespeare’s Hamlet Fortinbras is presented as a morally neutral, perhaps even benevolent figure. He’s not in Denmark to cause trouble. When at the close of the play he decides to take its throne, it’s not out of rapacity, or at least not necessarily so. But the sort of third party that usually capitalizes on a wound to an important institution is decidedly not a good guy.

     Let’s look at some of the second-order effects of women in the workplace and who has “done a corner” in them:

  1. Women working alongside men has exacerbated the natural tensions between the sexes, creating rich fodder for militant feminists.
  2. Governments have, as Hans G. Schantz notes above, reaped great increases in tax revenue.
  3. “Educators” whose principal concern is the expansion of their own wealth, power, and prestige have deeply colonized state and local governments.
  4. Persons with sexual, political, and other family-hostile agendas have established a firm foothold in the schools.
  5. Perhaps worst of all: As participation in the Information economy demands a certain level of intellect and education, the women unable to take part in it have largely been the poorly educated and the intellectually substandard: the very communities worst afflicted by the rising cost of living, and worst infested by identity-politics hucksters.

     One could hardly look objectively at those forces and call them good for women, families, or the nation.

     One last irony before I close: an economy advanced enough to make it possible and mildly attractive for women to consider wage labor as an alternative to marriage and homemaking is necessarily a rich economy. The one-breadwinner arrangement will be adequate for the great majority of families. Its people, absent excessive predation by the State, will be prosperous and secure. That is hardly the condition of America today. Our prosperity is a phantasm, propped up by debt and unsustainable entitlement programs. Our jobs are anything but secure, though there has been a degree of turnaround in the past year. And the State, in all its manifestations, remains omnipresent, and ever more voracious for our earnings, our freedoms, and our lives.

     Given all that, I’d hesitate to call “closing the gender gap” as it’s routinely imagined a good thing. I’d argue that we’d have been far better off had we managed to perpetuate the familial and social conditions prevalent in America in the Fifties and early Sixties. Unfortunately our ruling class, had other ideas.

     Thoughts, Gentle Readers?


Linda Fox said...

Those never-married, or married, but without progeny, had always been the few. Most women married, and had children. it wasn't completely unknown for women with school-age or grown children to work.

However, their income was secondary, and - should it prove to threaten the main breadwinner's ability to hold a job, or cause major disruption in the household, the wife generally left that job, and did not return unless circumstances changed.

In the original The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan argued for allowing women that chose to return to work some way to slip into the workplace at something other than a beginner level. For that purpose, she suggested that the work women did do - volunteer, household, and part-time - be judged for its comparability to a job - such as bookkeeping (household budgets), sales (volunteer fundraising) or other relatively similar jobs.

She also argued for part-time and flexible enrollment in colleges and graduate schools that could accommodate women's need for further education while also permitting her to continue her household work and childcare.

Not that radical - but, in fact, for all that Friedan was an old-school Communisst, her ideas were relatively tame - by today's standards.

Not Gloria Steinem - she was determined to burn the traditional system down. Funnily, she married late in her life. I've always thought it was a cynical ploy to marry someone who was in ill health, and collect his social security/retirement when he died. She had said, many times, that she was not prepared for old age financially.

ÆtherCzar said...

Hey Fran, thanks for the signal boost to my techno-thriller, The Hidden Truth. Much of the material of this section was extrapolated from Alex Jones' discussion with Aaron Russo on the Rockefellers. Here's where Russo describes what Rockefeller told him about why his family funded Women's Liberation: YouTube video

Also, the sequel to The Hidden Truth, A Rambling Wreck, will be going on sale Wednesday.

Francis W. Porretto said...

You're quite welcome, Hans. Now let's see what we can do to lower the electric permittivity and magnetic permeability of the vacuum with parts found in an ordinary middle-class home!

Scott said...

A few random points/quibbles --

-- It is my impression that 'in ye olden days', a rather substantial fraction of the population (including women) worked as servants. They largely did not have households of their own, and for the most part had few children. Both the 50's and the modern situation were/are somewhat of an aberration.

-- I completely agree with the tax assessment, and don't think it is appreciated quite enough how important this effect is. Activities tend to move where they are most efficiently undertaken, and that includes taxation. A useful gedanken experiment is to think of how two businesses will react when the cost deductions of one are taken away. It is too easy to think 'it will go out of business because it will not be able to compete', although that is true. Briefly -- its assets will no longer be valuable under the present 'tax umbrella' and will be sold to other businesses where they can be employed more tax-efficiently. Likewise, it's owner will find it most tax advantageous to reduce his own 'costs of employment' of what remains to him -- basically, he will probably wind up employing himself to another firm as an employee, and using his entire income for consumption.

Take away the 'business' label, and replace it with household, and you see what happens -- the current mode of 'income' taxation causes the system overall to take the modern form, driving people to take wages, and to push as many 'costs' as possible under a tax umbrella, usually a business or some other form of tax-privileged structure.

Costly activities, like, I don't know...having and raising children, tend to get 'outsourced', to places like schools and daycares... and in the limit, clean out to people on welfare. And so we have gone from successful families having most of the kids, to everybody having kids, to unsuccessful families having most of the kids. Within a century of the income tax.

Depressing. As much as I hate to say it, I think we really need those 'deductions', or else a completely different way to tax.