9 Mar 2011

Some thoughts on women

Yeah, I'm late for International Women's Day, but EVERY day is women's day at aguanomics!

I have a few opinions:
  • Women are awesome. I love them for saving me from myself, for being so lovely.
  • Most "gender" aspects of international aid (and water) are too PC to be locally useful.
  • Men are more extreme than women on both tails (see this and this). That means that men do more brilliant things and more stupid things. That's why men tend to be leaders and serial killers, inventors and couch potatoes. (This is what Larry Summers was getting at when he got in trouble at Harvard, so fire me.) A world without men would have fewer wars but fewer innovations. A world without women probably wouldn't exist, because men would forget to take care of the kids, meals and living out of tiger range. There are trade-offs in this world of no free lunch.
  • The gender-gap in wages is probably due to women's propensity to quit work (for kids or other "non-GDP" activities).
  • In Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), Thorstein Veblen writes: "The earliest form of ownership is an ownership of the women by the able-bodied men of the community." I prefer this interpretation to Rousseau's. In 1755, he said "The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said "This is mine," and found people na├»ve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society." Possession of women surely predated possession of land, and many societies still practice forms of possession. It's quite an accomplishment, in terms of social evolution, for women to have equal legal, social and financial rights.
  • I support a gender quota for the legislature (NOT the executive). More below...
Written in June 2007 for my first blog ("Another Brilliant Idea")

I am a fan of free-markets, and the key idea in free markets is competition. Although some claim that politics should be left to "free competition" (eg, "may the best man [sic] win"), I think a little regulation can make results better. My idea is to reserve half of all representative seats in the legislature for women. Here's why I think this is important:

1) After an election, the representative votes on many things. Because election winners represent ALL constituents (even those who voted against) and because laws apply to all citizens (even those whose representative voted against), there is a common problem with laws that don't fit the constituents' goals. (This situation is very different from the situation in a market, where I can buy peanut butter and you can buy nutella and both of us are happy. Politics is different.)

2) Men are more likely to be elected -- for many reasons. Women comprise about 17 percent of representatives in both the House and Senate; they comprise about 23 percent of state legislators.

3) Men do not represent women's issues as well as women do. Chattopadhyay and Duflo have a great paper on an experiment reserving offices to women in India. They conclude: women invest more in infrastructure that is directly relevant to the needs of rural women (water, fuel, and roads), while men invest more in education. Women are more likely to participate in the policy-making process if the leader of their village council is a woman.

If we take 1, 2 and 4 together, we can see that legislatures dominated by men will vote on things that matter more to men. Because of representative politics, these votes and laws will apply to ill-represented women.

A few examples: Abortion laws, etc are debated by men; this is a battle for women alone to fight -- even though it is probably a health issue that should not be decided by politics.

When a man runs against a woman for office, he may favor guns, she may favor butter. If guns trump butter (as 9/11, war on terror, etc trumps health care), then he will be elected. If two men competed for the man's seat and two women competed for the woman's seat, the debates would be just as fierce, but the result would be a male representative for "male" issues and a female representative for "female" issues. With politics and laws, you need to have everyone represented!

This is easy to implement: 1 senator of each gender from each US state; double the size of congressional districts and elect one representative from each gender.

For those who then ask about quotas for race, economic status, religion, etc: The case for these discriminations is far weaker; it is of secondary importance anyway.

In case you are curious, some statistics about women in the legislature worldwide.

Addendum: The IMF has an article on gender budgeting that is not as radical as this proposal. Somewhat lamely, the author (a woman) worries that greater political voice for women will slow growth through budget expansion, and that gender initiatives need "broad political support". If this means support from males, I think it unlikely.

Addendum (Jul 15): MR reports that testosterone drives competition. Shocking evidence in favor of this idea...

Addendum (Aug 3): The IMF's Finance and Development magazine has two articles on women's power. The first notes that women generally account for less than 20 percent of political representatives. The second discusses "gender budgeting" as a means of directing resources to things women care about.