Most people don’t give that much thought to political philosophy, so legislation like that submitted by Democrat State Representatives Deborah Ruggiero and Susan Donovan to mandate equal pay for men and women (and across other demographic distinctions) doesn’t set off the alarms that it should. People may feel vaguely that it’s overreach, but vague feelings often aren’t sufficient to overcome targeted advocacy. Consider some details that Matt Sheley provides in his Newport Daily News article on the subject:
The bill (H7427) in the House of Representatives would give more teeth to existing pay and gender laws, they said. For example, they said it would be illegal to pay anyone less than a white man is paid without clearly documenting a noteworthy difference in skills. …
“It is illegal in Rhode Island to pay women, minorities and even men less for the same work, but this bill takes it a few steps further,” Ruggiero told The Daily News. “Compensation should be based on ability, not gender or other factors, and the business leaders I’ve spoken with don’t want their wives, daughters and sisters getting paid less for the same work.”
“Clearly documenting” means not only that the government would be imposing more compliance costs, making it more difficult for people to grow small businesses, it means not only that the risks and complications of running a business will increase, but it also means that the government will have full authority to judge our decisions as individuals and businesses. It’s one thing for government to make X illegal and then to judge whether a person has done X; it’s quite another for the government to get to judge whether a person has sufficient reason for doing it.
Note, as well, that Ruggiero claims (it appears) that every businessperson whom she knows has told her that they don’t want discrimination. If that’s the case, then why do we need laws? At the very least, that experience suggests that women are not so lacking in opportunity that the government must curtail our freedom. The anecdotes in the article offered as justification are either old or arguable. (Maybe there really is justification for paying somebody who has just transitioned from the non-profit sector to the for-profit sector less money, at least at first. After all, there has to be some reason a woman making that transition felt desperate to take the first offer she received.)
Moreover, the implicit belief underlying this sort of legislation is that we’re all bad people in need of instruction from our betters. That is a massive point to concede and pushes the door wide open for even more abuse when people who happen to have gotten a few thousand people to fill in a circle next to their names on a ballot decide that the rest of us are not living up to their moral expectations.