Morgan’s is a very materialistic feminism
Random political attacks
The article began, “Today, Labour is holding its very own ‘women’s conference’. This comes on top of having the party having its own pink bus, their own women’s manifesto…Our approach is different. As Conservatives, we don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘women’s issues’.”
I have no particular view on how political parties should organise these things. However, Morgan’s statement is completely incorrect. The Conservative Women’s Organisation is part of the Conservative Party’s structure and has as one of its objectives: “Campaigning on issues of particular concern to women”. It also organises its own conference. Morgan should be aware of this organisation, because she is speaking at one of their conference fringe meetings next week.
Women seen as producers of material goods
Morgan then continued:
“Equalising women’s productivity and employment to the same level as men’s could add almost £600 billion to our economy, clearing a third of our national debt. And if all the women who wanted to work more hours worked just one extra hour each week, it would contribute 80 million more hours a year in productivity.”
Firstly, 80 million hours of extra work does not increase productivity (productivity relates to the amount that is produced per hour, not the number of hours worked – indeed, working extra hours is likely to reduce productivity). But, moreover, what on earth does the statement mean? How can an increase in productivity by one segment of society clear the national debt? What is the mechanism? How does the £600 billion in extra production each and every year relate to a stock of debt of £1.4 trillion?
But, this paragraph, together with the following sentence – “We need to end this crippling waste of talent, encourage women to achieve their potential and, in doing so, maximise economic growth” – also demonstrates the crass materialism of her argument. Free-market supporters are often accused of materialism and putting too great an emphasis on economic growth. It is true that economic growth tends to be the outcome of free markets, but this is not their end.
The true value of choice
The point of free markets is to allow free action in the economic sphere so that people (individually and working together) can achieve their objectives. For some this might be more family life and less work; for others an interest in eating organic produce; some people might want to work for a co-operative (even if their productivity and wages were lower); and so on. All sorts of people – not just women – make choices that reduce their measured productivity, hours worked and wages and so do not maximise measured economic growth.I work for a charity and not a hedge fund; my wife teaches French and decided not to be a lawyer. My wife works shorter hours than me. We both work shorter hours than the Chief Executive of Goldman Sachs. Would Nicky Morgan have a problem with this?
In a free society, labour market outcomes are a product of preferences. Women may well prefer to work more flexible hours, shorter hours, closer to home, in jobs that fit in better with child care, and so on. Some women may wish to give up work altogether for a period of time (perhaps for life). Others might not. But, if women choose to combine family-friendly work with family life, this does not damage the economy or reduce productivity. It is the outcome of people’s own preferences: and, acting in accordance with their preferences, people maximise their welfare. These decisions are often taken despite the fact that the state heavily weights the dice against women choosing to work at home, both by the shape of the tax and benefits system and the existence of state-subsidised childcare.
Gender pay gap myths
There follows a quick flirtation with central planning: “Record numbers of girls are taking A Levels in Science and maths, and my department’s “Your Life” initiative is encouraging more girls to consider careers in STEM fields – skills our economy needs”. As if she knows what skills will be required by an economy that is undergoing rapid change as a result of the development of the sharing economy and population ageing.
Morgan then wades into the gender pay gap. She says:
“I am delighted that the gender pay gap is at its lowest-ever level, and is virtually eliminated for women under 40 working full time. But I want this gap banished to the history books, just as we look upon the days when women couldn’t vote and question why it took us so long.”
The gender pay gap has been eliminated for women under 40 because of increased access to higher education for women and because childless women make pretty much the same choices as single men. However, when families have children, they then make different choices. And, on average, women make different choices from men. Those choices are actually biased towards more paid work and less work in the home by government policy. But, still, women tend to choose different job characteristics (less risk, more convenience, shorter hours, closer to home) than men.
It may be that Nicky Morgan would like women to choose differently – she is clearly not satisfied with the choices that the women who elect her make in their domestic economy. However, to describe the freely made choices of women as being akin to the injustice of women not being allowed to vote is rather sinister.
Everywhere but the living room
Nicky Morgan ends by saying “From classrooms to boardrooms to living rooms across the nation, I want women and girls everywhere to be given the opportunity to fulfil their potential.” This is disingenuous. It is absolutely clear that Nicky Morgan does not want women to be in the living room – it reduces measured economic output.
Furthermore, the only way the gender pay gap can be eliminated is if women choose (as some do) less living room and more boardroom, less convenience and longer travel-to-work times, and so on. And, herein lies the problem. Powerful, well-paid women make particular choices. They believe that the world would be a better place if everybody else made the same choices that they have made.
Perhaps we should be less judgemental. If women disproportionately choose convenience and family life over material things and measured productivity in the exchange-based market economy, then good for them! Neither men nor women are machines for producing goods and services to be sold in the market economy, and they should not be regarded as such by the high and the mighty.
Prof Philip Booth is the IEA’s Editorial and Programme Director. This article was first published on Conservative Home.