07 June 2007

Tax men

Alberto Alesina and Andrea Ichino, in the pages of the Financial Times, make a surprising but sensible social-democrat-ish recommendation: tax men more than women. Really.
It would achieve similar goals to affirmative action policies, quotas or subsidised childcare and could substitute for those policies. It would also make gender discrimination more costly for employers and would be fair because it would compensate women for bearing the brunt of maternity and for the fact that the possibility of having children can negatively affect their career prospects.
There's some crunchy economics thinking about the elasticity of the labour supply et cetera in there, if you enjoy that sort of thing.

I'm inclined to like ideas that create new government-defined market incentives, rather than direct regulation, so this is a seductive idea for me. And if it will create affirmative action type effects for women, why not for other groups? How about lower taxes for American Blacks?

Of course, who decides who is Black?

Update: Bloody hell, since I first saw this item, it went behind a subscription wall. Sorry, folks.


Anonymous said...

Sooooooo are women that can't have children defined as men, then, and does that mean we qualify for male payscales and other societal/economic benefits normally reserved for the flat-chested penis-holders?

Jusssssssst askin.

(this is xposted to the lj feed - wasn't sure if you had a two-way on that)

- a.s. koi

Jonathan Korman said...

does that mean we qualify for male payscales and other societal/economic benefits

Well, you know, if you ask feminists like me, women fertile and infertile both qualify as having equal benefits to men. Call us crazy.

And if you ask feminists like me, we also notice that things don't work that way right now.

Anonymous said...

The proposal as stated above doesn't sound to me like it promotes any kind of equality. In fact, quite the opposite.

Lydia said...

The problem with affirmative action, though, is that it also causes resentment and further class issues. In particular, it has a sick social effect leading to a crazy assumption that, say, a black who gets into college is less intelligent than a white who does. People don't really understand it or what it's intended to do.

For instance, just the other day I heard two middle-aged upper-middle-class white men in my expensive antiquarian bookstore complaining about how their white daughters couldn't get into school because minorities pushed them out. And not because the minorities were more qualified, was the gist of it. Or just refer to the comment right above this one.

So, I tend to think this might cause more problems than it's worth.

Jonathan Korman said...

Well, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “caused” a lot of resentment, too. That didn't make it a bad idea. Any action to address economic disparities that is strong enough to be effective will generate resentment. So the problem doesn't really lie with the policy, necessarily.

The underlying question is whether or not we actually want to intervene to address these disparities. If not, then we need to make one of two basic arguments: these disparities are either unavoidable, or avoidable but morally acceptable. I don't buy either argument.

If we accept the necessity and possibility of intervention, then the next question is what will be the most fair and effective intervention.

FWIW, I think that affirmative action in college admissions is an example that can fairly be criticized for being a crude instrument for improving social class mobility for people of color. Bigotry in college admissions offices is not a huge barrier for PoCs' educational attainment today; problems in primary and secondary schools are much more significant ... though also much more complex and expensive to try to address. And admissions AA further tangles up the unwholesome, messy relationship between social class and education in America. So I'm eager to replace that instrument with a better one.

But complaining about admissions AA is hollow without the offer of a better alternative. And I feel confident that there are going to be middle aged white guys who resent any alternatives we suggest.