Walter E. Williams: Freedom needs to come before equality, or you will get neither
Rick Santorum's speech at the Detroit Economic Club stirred a bit of controversy when he said: "I'm not about equality of result when it comes to income inequality. There is income inequality in America. There always has been, and hopefully — and I do say that — there always will be." That kind of statement, though having merit, should not be made to people who have little or no understanding. Let's look at inequality.
Kay S. Hymowitz's article "Why the Gender Gap Won't Go Away. Ever," in City Journal (Summer 2011), shows that female doctors earn only 64 percent of the income that male doctors earn. What should be done about that? It turns out that only 16 percent of surgeons are women but 50 percent of pediatricians are women. Even though surgeons have many more years of education and training than do pediatricians, should Congress equalize their salaries or make pediatricians become surgeons?
Wage inequality is everywhere. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Asian men and women earn more than white men and women. Female cafeteria attendants earn more than their male counterparts. Females who are younger than 30 and have never been married earn salaries 8 percent higher than males of the same description. Among women who graduated from college during 1992-93, by 2003 more than one-fifth were no longer in the workforce, and another 17 percent were working part time. That's to be compared with only 2 percent of men in either category. Hymowitz cites several studies showing significant career choice and lifestyle differences between men and women that result in income inequality.
There are other inequalities that ought to be addressed. With all of the excitement about New York Knick Jeremy Lin's rising stardom, nobody questions league domination by blacks, who are a mere 13 percent of our population but constitute 80 percent of NBA players and are the highest-paid ones. It's not much better in the NFL, with blacks being 65 percent of its players. Colleges have made diversity their primary calling, but watch any basketball game and you'd be hard-put to find white players in roles other than bench warming. Worse than that, Japanese, Chinese and American Indian players aren't even recruited for bench warming.
There's inequality in most jobs. According to 2010 BLS data, the following jobs contain 1 percent female workers or less: boilermaking, brickmasonry, stonemasonry, septic tank servicing, sewer pipe cleaning and working with reinforcing iron and rebar. Maybe the reason female workers aren't in these occupations is that too many are in other occupations. Females are 97 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers, 80 percent of social workers, 82 percent of librarians and 92 percent of dietitians and nutritionists and registered nurses.
Anyone with one ounce of brains can see the problem and solution. Congress has permitted — and even fostered — a misallocation of people by race, sex and ethnicity. Courts have consistently concluded that "gross" disparities are probative of a pattern and practice of discrimination. So what to do? One remedy that Congress might consider is to require females, who are overrepresented in fields such as preschool and kindergarten teaching, to become boilermakers and brickmasons and mandate that male boilermakers and brickmasons become preschool and kindergarten teachers until both of their percentages are equal to their percentages in the population. You say, "Williams, that would be totalitarianism!" But if Americans accept that Congress can make us buy health insurance whether we want to or not, how much more totalitarian would it be for Congress to allocate jobs in the name of social equality and the good of our nation?
Nobel laureate Milton Friedman said: "A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both." Equality before the general rules of law is the only kind of equality conducive to liberty that can be secured without destroying liberty.
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.
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