Steven Horwitz makes a good case for the idea that gender discrimination says less about wage inequalities between men and women than some people are lead to believe. In his written follow-up (defense) of his claims in the video Horwitz re-states the argument (emphasis original), ” [T]here are a lot reasons and pretty good evidence to suggest that when we control for human capital, compensating differentials and the like, most of the gender wage gap disappears.”
As Nancy Carter’s and Christine Silva’s piece in the The Washington Post reminds us (as does Horwitz), though, gender discrimination still exists and it still negatively effects women at the workplace. The authors write,
Women who initiated such conversations and changed jobs post MBA experienced slower compensation growth than the women who stayed put. For men, on the other hand, it paid off to change jobs and negotiate for higher salaries—they earned more than men who stayed did. And we saw that as both men’s and women’s careers progress, the gender gap in level and pay gets even wider.
What I think discussion should focus on is,
- How alertness, discussion, research, and education can positively influence wage inequality (and, not just between men and women, but any discrimination on a basis other than capability),
- How, if these problems are valued as such by individuals in a society, the market process can find solutions, or even has a tendency to discouraging discrimination.
I think the latter approach (and, I think that (1) is integrated in (2)) is the most significant, since nobody wants to hear about how well the market does now. People recognize a problem and they want a solution. A real defense of markets is one which shows how the market process is superior to alternative forms of dealing with the issue of workplace inequality.
To preempt arguments along the lines of “individuals have the right to discriminate as they wish,” I agree that this is true. This does not mean that workplace inequality is not an issue which many people value as a problem, which means that whatever rights an individual may have to discrimination does not counter the fact that there is a social movement away from discrimination. Nor does the alleged right of discrimination say anything about what is fair (right) and what is not (wrong) — we can disagree on morality, but at the end of the day you are not going to persuade someone who seriously considers discrimination a problem that it is not.