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Equal Pay Is Dead, Long Live Equal Pay

The news is everywhere in Rhode Island media that the Rhode Island Senate will not consider the House version of the “equal pay” legislation:

The day began with a pronouncement by the Senate that the “pay equity” bill — which tied the House in knots before a 64-to-9 vote of approval the previous night — was dead on arrival in the Senate, which had passed a much further-reaching bill earlier in the year.

“The Senate prioritized pay equity this session,″ said Senate spokesman Greg Pare. “On April 10, national ‘Equal Pay Day,’ the Senate passed strong legislation to address wage gaps in the workplace. The legislation the House passed last night does not reflect the Senate’s commitment to ensuring equal pay for comparable work and meaningful change for women’s economic security.

“The Senate will not be considering the House bill.”

So, even though the two versions of the bill have substantial overlap, if one chamber doesn’t pass the other chamber’s version, that’s that.  A cynic (which can, with only mild cynicism, be defined as “somebody who has observed the Rhode Island General Assembly for a while”) might wonder how choreographed this performance was.

Prioritizing the issue was an early and somewhat surprising point of emphasis for Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.  This outcome gives him progressive cover, while giving House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello pro-business creds for his first election after nearly being unseated by a conservative challenger, all in the muddy mix of a legislative process that makes it difficult to blame anybody in particular.

Rhode Islanders should welcome the results, though.  The Senate legislation was a radical nightmare that was arguably only in part about reducing a wage gap between men and women, and the notion that discrimination is creating an unfair differential in pay is a myth.  In other words, forcing its mandates on the economy would create a regulatory environment that would be unfair to businesses and to employees whose work would be devalued in order to adjust pay rates that are not based on discrimination as it is.

The inability of the General Assembly’s two chambers to come up with common legislation will now move the issue past the November election, which may very well take some of the hot air out of the narrative’s sails, one way or another.

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“Equal Pay”: From the Radical to the Uselessly Disruptive

Fortuitously, the Providence Journal ran an op-ed by me explaining how insanely radical proposed equal pay legislation actually is:

This legislation must, therefore, be about something other than simple fairness in the workplace. Sure enough, the biggest piece making this legislation so radical is its broad scope — going well beyond the battle of the sexes. Indeed, the “equal pay” umbrella extends to the categories of “race or color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, age, or country of ancestral origin,” covering all “comparable work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.”

Plainly put, this gives the government power to investigate just about any business and dictate changes to its pay policies, because the only pay differences that wouldn’t have legal risks would be those between people of the same race, religion, sex, orientation, gender identity, disability, age, and nationality. For any two employees who aren’t more or less demographically identical, the lower-paid one could initiate a complaint with the state with the same weight as complaints that the employer withheld pay. The law explicitly puts the burden on the employer to explain it and to prove that no other business practice could erase the difference, even if it’s innocent.

Today, the Rhode Island House will consider an amended version of the bill that gives reason to think that some legislators are not quite as crazy as the original bill would require them to be.  House 7427A limits the scope of the bill to race and gender, exempts companies under 18 employees, and reduces employers’ liability in a variety of ways.

The question now is why the legislature is passing anything at all.  Existing law already covers such things, so all this bill will do is create some new regulatory burdens with unproven legal language that may have unintended consequences.

The only explanation is political: that politicians want to be able to say they did something, even if they did nothing good in practical reality.  This gives momentum to the people who are manipulating the cultural narrative while tangling up Rhode Islanders who are doing their best just to support their families and move our society forward.

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Once Again with the Plain Rebuttal to “Equal Pay Day”

Well, as long as people are willing to repeat discredited and obvious nonsense like the “Equal Pay Day” rhetoric, I suppose we’ll have to continue to recite the obvious responses.  Mary Katharine Ham has apparently drawn the short straw this time around:

These differing priorities understandably impact pay. Women are more likely to take a job that pays less to gain flexibility and work-life balance. I’ve done it myself many times.

Yet, as AEI’s Mark Perry points out, there is no widespread recognition of “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” to highlight men’s overrepresentation in very dangerous fields (coal mining, line work, and law enforcement among them), which often pay more to compensate for risk. …

There is no big “Equal Commute Day,” to acknowledge the gender commute gap …

Male college graduates, on average, also entertain employment options further afield from their universities than do women, thereby opening up more and possibly higher-paying opportunities. They also work several hours more per week on average than women.

Maybe I’m just idealizing the past, but it seems like talking points used to go away when they were shown to be utterly without merit.  In today’s polarized society, the strategy seems more to keep pressing on because the risk of losing one’s base is so much more substantial than the risk of never being able to persuade after a loss of credibility.

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Allowing Candor on Tennis Pay Equality

Here’s a confession: One reason I’m looking forward to the end of the legislative session in Rhode Island this year is that I’ll be able to clear out my news feed and stop paying such close attention to issues related to specific bills.  Near the top of the list of topics I’ll be happy not to watch so closely is the matter of “equal pay.”

It’s not that the question isn’t an important one to answer or that it doesn’t raise very interesting philosophical questions; the problem is that so few of the articles or essays that flit across my computer screen address the actual questions, much less the interesting ones.  The progressive assertions and statistics are simply taken at face value.  More than maybe any other issue I’ve followed, this one marches along with a moral certainty that never bothers to wonder why people would be doing things that would be obviously wrong if they were really doing them.

Tennis pro Rafael Nadal stumbled right into the path of this intractable march when he suggested, in response to a direct question, that the pay rates of men and women in professional tennis is “a comparison we shouldn’t even make”:

Female models earn more than male models and nobody says anything. Why? Because they have a larger following. In tennis too, who gathers a larger audience earns more.

Pause for a moment and put aside the identity politics and the ideological war.  When an athlete has a large audience, isn’t it reasonable for that athlete to receive more of the financial rewards?  Isn’t this the same as musicians or other performers?  If we take the identifying quality of sex out of it, nobody would be incensed that stronger, more-aggressive competitors attract larger audiences and more money.  Those who elevate a tangential quality are the ones bringing sex into it.

I haven’t seen any indication that Nadal was saying that the pay difference is just the natural order of the universe and ought to be maintained as a matter of principle.  He was just making a plain statement of fact.  If the audience changes, then the pay should and will.  Anybody who wants to achieve a world in which people are as interested in female tennis as male tennis should work toward that end, but attacking it pay rate first sows division and is unfair to players currently in the game.

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Taxpayers “Share” Their Bicycles in Providence

The mayor’s office tells The Current that a $400,000 TIGER grant of federal taxpayer money from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation enabled Providence’s new bike sharing program:

JUMP, which is owned by the ride sharing company Uber, has bike-share programs in six other U.S. cities. The City of Providence, along with Lifespan, Tufts Health Plan and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, sponsored JUMP’s Providence launch. …

Four hundred JUMP bikes will be available throughout the city in August, said Victor Morente, spokesman for Mayor Elorza’s office. Riders will be able to park and pick up bikes at 46 stations as well as at public bike racks. …

Bikes will be available for rent at $2 for every 30 minutes of riding. Memberships will also be available for $20 per month for 60 minutes of ride time a day. JUMP will offer reduced-cost memberships to people with low incomes.

As always, with such programs, the first question is why some entrepreneur didn’t find it worth the $1,000-per-bike investment to get this project off the ground.  The answer may be that, even at the highest price point ($4 per hour), every single bike will have to be ridden for more than 31 hours to pay for itself, and that’s if we assume no maintenance or replacement costs.  Moreover, the business model must require that some percentage of the bikes not be used at any given time, or else nobody would be willing to rely on their availability.

In short, the use of other people’s money (taxpayers) was probably the only way to overcome doubts about the demonstrated demand.  When the local Walmart will sell an adult bike for $100, most people who want them can find them.  With the subsidy, most of each sale can be profit for as long as the bikes last.

Those profits come at somebody else’s expense.  In San Francisco (with its better, more-predictable weather), JUMP bikes are cannibalizing Uber business.  The company claims to be happy about the exchange, but each lost Uber ride is a driver with no customer.  The subsidy could also block other innovations; an entrepreneur who was working on an app to allow people to share their own bikes (i.e., without the huge up-front investment for any one company) now has to compete with more-expensive, pedal-assisted bikes.

In the effort to make us behave as government wants us to be have, however, sacrificing the livelihoods and opportunities of a few unseen people is a small price to pay.

ADDENDUM (10:13 a.m., 7/21/18):

By the way, anybody who’s still having difficulty understanding how government involvement in the market produces income inequality should consider this to be an example.  The bicycles used for this offering are constructed in a largely automated process (presumably) and “shared” through an app that requires minimal human involvement, so customers’ money is flowing to the top of the income ladder, probably in distant states or countries.  Meanwhile, local Uber and taxi drivers lose customers, as do any small bike-rental shops or other actual Rhode Islanders who might offer some service that this tramples.

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Confusion on “Pay Equity”

It’s difficult not to feel as if you’re missing something while reading Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White’s recent op-ed in the Providence Journal.  On the one hand, she insists that “[e]nsuring pay equity is crucial for organizations to function successfully” and offers some suggestions for legislation currently working through the General Assembly.  On the other hand, she lists ways companies can achieve “pay equity” without “government overreach.”

The impression, overall, is that White is signaling that some tweaks to the legislation could be enough for her organization to sign on as supporters, but that she has to take a tone of opposition for the benefit of her members.

The whole debate, however, has this feel of missing something, at least in Rhode Island.  For starters, the wage gap is a myth.  It isn’t real.  Remove from the equation factors that should legitimately affect pay (like career choice, hours worked, and so on) and it evaporates.  White’s op-ed doesn’t go there, but she does proclaim that “pay equity” is critical for businesses to function.  If that’s the case, then why would they discriminate?

Another consideration that conveniently gets left out of this discussion is that Rhode Island already has laws against sex-based discrimination.  Without actual evidence of a systemic effort to skirt those laws, making them more stringent is a reckless imposition.

Of course, reckless imposition appears to be the real objective, inasmuch as the most significant action of the legislation on the table is to expand existing sex-based-discrimination law to cover just about every identity group.  Why is nobody acknowledging that reality?

Out of homage to political correctness, nobody seems to want to address the lies at the center of this debate.  Consequently, they’re conducting this surreal discussion as if debating how best to patch a roof that isn’t leaking.  Meanwhile, the foundation of our society is eroding and Rhode Island’s economic walls are crumbling — notwithstanding the governor’s frantic efforts to board them up with corrupt hand-outs.

Well might the Providence Chamber’s members be concerned about this issue, not the least because their spokeswoman is inevitably setting them up by failing to insisting that the state government legislate from within reality.

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The Inequality Narrative

Not to pick on Ted Nesi, because he’s only trying to promote his work using a click-bait political narrative, but I had to ask him what the insinuation was when he tweeted that “just 5 of RI’s 27 best-funded politicians are women.”  Do people who attempt to buy Rhode Island politicians put sexism before corruption?  Or do fewer women run for office?  Or are the specific women who are currently politicians in Rhode Island not as effective at or interested in fundraising?

Nevermind.  Let’s all just assume sexism.

The problem is that such statements are part of what turns straight reporting of the news into another brick in the wall of a political narrative serving one side — in this case, the glass-ceiling-breaking Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (who will enter office with a large percentage of the population thinking she’s the archetype of corruption and thinking more of the cliché to “break glass in case of emergency”).  The entire inequality narrative, as Thomas Sowell argues, ought to be retired before it does anymore divisive harm:

People like Hillary Clinton can simply grab a statistic about male–female income differences and run with it, since her purpose is not truth but votes. The real question, however, is whether, or to what extent, those income differences are due to employers paying women and men different wages for doing the very same jobs, for the very same amount of time.

We do not need to guess about such things. Many studies have been done over many years — and they repeatedly show that women and men who work the very same hours in the very same jobs at the very same levels of skill and experience do not have the pay gaps that people like Hillary Clinton loudly denounce.

As far back as 1971, single women in their thirties who had worked continuously since high school earned slightly more than men of the same description. As far back as 1969, academic women who had never married earned more than academic men who had never married.

For the foreseeable future, I’m afraid, “equality” for women will continue to mean that women must have all the same positive outcomes as men, no matter what decisions they make.  If that doesn’t sound like “equality” to you, clearly you need to be reeducated.

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Take Hodges Badge Departure as Another Warning Sign

As Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo spins Rhode Island’s economic numbers and the news media touts her “wooing” of blockchain companies, an article  from the Newport Daily News a couple of weeks ago hasn’t gotten much attention:

Hodges Badge Co. Inc. has made the “difficult decision” to close its Portsmouth plant this November and consolidate production at its Washington, Missouri, facility, according to a company statement.

“Hodges Badge Company Inc. is a 98-year-old family-owned company and we consider each one of our employees as part of our extended family,” according to the statement attributed to Rick Hodges, the company president and CEO. “We greatly appreciate being part of the Portsmouth community and are truly grateful to all the employees who contributed to our success over the past several decades. This is a necessary and critical economic decision that we do not take lightly, and we will be working with each of our employees to provide compensation packages and on-site outplacement services.”

The facility in Portsmouth opened in 1974 and employs around 92 people.  Rhode Island just won’t allow the company to justify keeping those jobs here.

To be sure, that’s not only a tax and regulation issue.  For Hodges Badge, energy played a big role, too:

Despite other business reforms aimed at reducing electricity costs, the plant still consumed 451,000 kilowatts of power for all of 2008 at a cost of $91,000, according to a Daily News article in July 2009. That was twice as much as the company paid to power its Missouri plant.

“I live here and I love it here, but how long can you realistically sustain that?” Rick Hodges said at that time.

Imagine how the current political landscape looks from that perspective.  The governor is touting more crony wind deals; NIMBYism is hindering an effort to increase power production in the state; and schemes to make energy more expensive through carbon taxing are a regular feature of every legislative session and may explode into law any year.

Rick Hodges was vocally against the toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge, and it can’t have been lost on him that tolls are proliferating in the state and could return at any time.  Add in the recent mandatory-sick-leave law and the push for extremely radical “equal pay” legislation.  At some point, business owners must tire of always feeling vulnerable.  Any given legislative session could be the end of their operations for some money grab or progressive identity politics impulse.

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Another Left-Wing Threat to Rhode Island Businesses

Don’t miss my essay on so-called “equal pay” legislation in the Providence Journal this week:

The corruption is twofold. First, many political leaders understand the danger to business, yet they may advance the legislation anyway — fearful of being tagged as “anti-woman” from petulant progressives. Worse, to remain in the good graces of the political elite, many prominent insider business groups, who pretend they represent the overall business community, are providing cover for lawmakers, making believe that their negotiated watered-down version is somehow acceptable to other employers across the state. It is not. This is exactly what happened last year with the free-paid-time-off legislation. And this repeated corruption is exactly why Rhode Island suffers one of the worst business climates in the country.

We are also fed the bogus argument that other states have passed similar laws, so Rhode Island must follow suit to remain competitive. False. To gain a competitive advantage, Rhode Island employers should have more freedom than their counterparts to hire workers on mutually agreeable terms, rather than have their hands tied with more government-imposed red-tape.

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Selling Cars with Classism in a Dress

If the Super Bowl commercial for Audi cars caught your attention (in a good or bad way), be sure to read Jack Baruth’s  frame-by-frame analysis of the commercial:

After watching the one-minute advertisement carefully, however, I understood feminism, or equal pay, is the last thing Audi wants you to take away from it. The message is far subtler, and more powerful, than the dull recitation of the pseudo-progressive catechism droning on in the background. This spot is visual — and as you’ll see below, you can’t understand it until you watch it and see what it’s really telling you.

Let me tell you up front: chances are you won’t like what Audi has to say.

Basically, the commercial is about wealthy whites dominating working-class whites in all ways, including their virtue signaling. So, it’s pretty much an articulation of liberalism in a sixty seconds.

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Tax Cuts and Extra Revenue

We’re still in the period of anecdote, when it comes to assessing the effects of the federal tax cut on the economy, but Investor’s Business Daily suggests that we’re seeing early indications of a tax cut’s ability to generate revenue that takes a bit off its projected cost:

The Congressional Budget Office says that federal revenues in January added up to $362 billion. That’s an increase of $18 billion— or 5.2% — from the year before. As a result, the government ran a surplus of $51 billion that month, which is equal to the previous January. …

Individual income and payroll taxes, it says, rose by $68 billion. “That change largely reflects increases in wages and salaries,” the CBO says. …

What’s more, the fact that employment gains continue to be strong means more people will be earning taxable wage income. It also means fewer people collecting government benefits, which will mean less government spending than would otherwise be the case.

The most shocking thing is that we’re debating the cost of the legislation.  Here, we see more people finding work and getting off of welfare.  Those sorts of positive outcomes are supposed to be what welfare programs are about, and it turns out that economic growth accomplishes them.

So to accurately assess pro-growth policy, one must first adjust the static “cost” to account for increased revenue and then assess the benefits to individuals and our society against the remaining reduction in government revenue.  Naturally, I’m biased, but it seems to me that a fair assessment will show that the U.S. and most of the states (especially high-tax ones, like Rhode Island) have a long, long way to go before cutting taxes is anything less than a no-brainer.

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Universal Basic Income and Our Aspirations

Once upon a time, folks actually hoped that a universal basic education plus a prosperity-driven increase in free time would draw people toward intellectual pursuits and self improvement.  I’m sure there’s data on such things, but for my purposes, here, let’s just speculate that most folks’ general sense would be that it hasn’t quite worked that way.

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Dan Nidess asks why we would expect a universal basic income to have a different effect.  Indeed, he suggests that the policy “addresses the material needs of citizens while undermining their aspirations”:

At the heart of a functioning democratic society is a social contract built on the independence and equality of individuals. Casually accepting the mass unemployment of a large part of the country and viewing those people as burdens would undermine this social contract, as millions of Americans become dependent on the government and the taxpaying elite. It would also create a structural division of society that would destroy any pretense of equality.

UBI supporters would counter that their system would free people to pursue self-improvement and to take risks. America’s experience over the past couple of decades suggests that the opposite is more likely. Labor Department data show that at the end of June the U.S. had 6.2 million vacant jobs. Millions of skilled manufacturing and cybersecurity jobs will go unfilled in the coming years.

Notably, Nidess uses the term “productive class,” which I’ve been using for years in attempting to describe what populations have been leaving Rhode Island.  Basically, the Ocean State has been attracting the poor and (largely) holding on to the wealthy while driving out those who are looking for some way to transform their smarts, brawn, and effort into wealth.

Put in those terms, it’s clear that Nidess fears the UBI would bring about a national version of what I’ve called the “government plantation” or “company state,” whereby the government draws in dependents in order to provide services billed to somebody else.  Whatever arguments and motivations may underly such policies, they certainly don’t have the feel of being healthy for our society.

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Insult to Injury When Town Government “Settles”

Tiverton goes through this every few years, but it never gets easier to take.

This latest time around, a local police lieutenant, Timothy Panell, was (let’s limit it to) “accused” of leading his shift in a regular “quiet time,” during which, “allegedly,” his car could often be found at his house.  The many charges brought against him, as described in the latest Newport Daily News article on the matter, were “obtaining money under false pretenses and filing false overtime slips.”

As I pointed out on Tiverton Fact Check back in 2014, before the investigation, overtime regularly made Panell the second-highest-paid employee in town, “earning” well over $100,000.  So, here’s the insult to injury from the Newport Daily News:

Because [the 47-year-old has been permitted simply to retire], he is also eligible for payment for unused vacation time, unused sick time and unused personal days. The unused vacation time totals $5,266, unused sick time totals $15,784 and unused personal days total $752, according to Town Administrator Paul McGreevy.

The town will continue to pay for his Blue Cross Blue Shield Healthmate Coast to Coast health insurance at a monthly cost of $1,908, McGreevy said [until he is 65]. The contract states that should a retiree get a job that has equal or better health coverage, they must inform the town so it can stop the coverage.

I think local elected officials need to take a look at the definition of “settled.”  Maybe the health insurance would have been a step too far for the accused, but could the Town Council really not insist that it would not settle if it meant a cop accused of fraudulently filing for overtime and taking money under false pretenses walked away with a parting check for $21,802 based on “unused” time off?  Seriously, how in the world does our electoral system stick us with “leaders” like this?

In case anybody familiar with the area wants to know, the Town Council members who voted to “settle” — defined, apparently, as “abuse taxpayers in order to make an uncomfortable issue go away” — were:

  • Council President Joan Chabot
  • John Edwards the Fifth (son of Democrat Representative John Edwards the Fourth)
  • Randy Lebeau
  • Christine Ryan
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