On this week’s episode, Christina Sandefur joins to discuss big government and how certain proposals that seek to replace the individual as the decisionmaker are detrimental to women, including employment quotas, minimum wage increases, and mandatory paid leave.
Christina Sandefur is Executive Vice President at the Goldwater Institute where she develops policies and litigates cases advancing healthcare freedom, free enterprise, private property rights, free speech, and taxpayer rights. She is the co-author of the book Cornerstone of Liberty: Private Property Rights in 21st Century America (2016). Christina is a frequent guest on national television and radio programs, has provided expert legal testimony to various legislative committees, and is a frequent speaker at conferences.
And welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you’re allowed to think for yourself. I’m your host, Beverly Hallberg. And on today’s episode, we’re discussing big government and how many of the proposals that replaced the individual as the decision-maker hurt women. We’ll delve into employment quotas, minimum wage increases, mandatory paid leave, among others.
And joining us to discuss this as Christina Sandefur. She is the executive vice president at the Goldwater Institute where she develops policies and litigate cases, advancing healthcare freedom, free enterprise, private property rights, free speech, and taxpayer rights. She is the coauthor of the book, Cornerstone of Liberty: Private Property Rights in the 21st Century America, and she is a frequent guest on national television and radio programs. Christina, it is a pleasure to have you on She Thinks today.
Hey, thanks so much for having me.
And I think before we jump into just some of the specific proposals and policies that you and I both agree hurt women when big government takes control, I want to just start with just a broader picture of why government is making these types of decisions on wages, on paid leave. I think many people would hear about these things and say, “Well, these are benefits I may want. I may want to work for an employer who offers really good maternity leave,” for example, but why has it become a problem when it’s not the employer deciding for the employees, but it’s government mandating it for the employees? So when did the change begin and why do you think this is especially burdensome for women?
Sure. I think the problem is that a lot of folks equate something that they personally want with something that everyone should want. And I think that’s what’s going on here. The problem is that government should treat women, frankly, government should treat everybody as individuals, not as part of some sort of collective. That is one of the beauties of the American experiment and of the American dream is that people are born in our country or they come to our country seeking to make a life for themselves, and that life is whatever life you want it to be. And that’s obviously true of women as well, and so much so today with all of the freedom and the innovation that we have to really be able to forge our own paths like never before. Top-down laws don’t do that.
So, you mentioned some of these things that might sound good to some of your listeners even, “Hey, I would really like to have extended paid leave or be paid a certain amount of money even.” The problem is when that negotiation isn’t left to the employer and the employee to work out and government forces it, it’s really ignoring individuality.
So the truth of the matter is that some women want a career. Some women want children. Some women want both. And studies tend to show that, overall, women prefer more flexibility in their jobs. That is due in a large part to the fact that they are typically the ones that are taking primary care of the children, but that’s not always the case. Some might prefer benefits and others might prefer higher pay. Some people really value the fact that they can work on their own time, whenever they want on their own hours, and they may be willing to sacrifice better benefits for that or other things because of the fact that they’re able to make that choice.
And so, by imposing some sort of top-down rule on employers and telling them, “No, these are the terms on which you can hire women,” so whether it’s quotas, how many women should fill certain jobs or how much they should be paid or how they should work, what governments are doing is ignoring individual preferences and they’re making it impossible for individuals to get the jobs that they want.
And frankly, what it also does is it treats women like victims, right? I mean, it tells us as women, and frankly, I take extreme offense to this, it tells us that we’re not capable of negotiating the terms of our employment or making our own decisions, or if perhaps we have made decisions that are either non-traditional or don’t fit in with what this law is telling us that we should do or want, that somehow we are wrong.
And so, in essence, it really treats women as if they have some sort of handicap just because they’re female and they’re not able to make these decisions for themselves. And I think the residual effects of that, they bleed into society. And it’s interesting and kind of ironic because these laws are really sold to us as things that are going to protect women, but what they actually end up doing is treating us differently, treating us as if we’re not capable of standing up for ourselves. And I think that that has effects of gender discrimination that are hopefully unintentional, but can really bleed into private life as well.
And what’s so interesting is that this has already happened in the United States before. In fact, the modern feminist movement was really born out of a reaction to laws just like these, laws that were aimed at protecting women, but were just a top-down approach to how women should live their lives. And of course, 19th and 20th century feminists really didn’t like that, for good reason. And if you look back at the 20th century in the United States, states and even the federal government and courts at all levels held women to certain standards and prevented them from being able to do things that they might want to do that were a little out of the ordinary.
So, many states made it illegal actually for me to do my job. They prohibited as a matter of law women from practicing law. And the United States Supreme Court actually said that was okay. A woman sued, she took it all the way up to the Supreme Court in the late 1800s, and the Supreme Court said, “You know what? Our government and state governments have made the decision that women are really supposed to be paying attention to their family and taking care of their kids and their husbands. And so the idea that a woman might want a distinct and independent career from that is just repugnant,” they actually use the term repugnant, “and to the family. And so no, it’s okay for states to tell women that this is their role.”
The same happened with maximum work law hours. So there were a lot of states that would say, “Well, women can’t work overtime.” And again, that was upheld because, well, they have to go home and be with their families, or they’re weaker, and so they might not be able to focus on work for as long as men. Some laws told women that they couldn’t have certain types of jobs. Like they couldn’t work in bars or be bartenders unless those bars were owned by their husbands or their fathers. And of course there were all sorts of laws that prevented women from signing contracts or owning their own property or doing things like that without their husband’s permission. Believe it or not, as late as 1968, over half of the states still had laws that excluded women from doing some type of work.
So of course, again, modern feminism was sort of born out of reaction to that. The National Women’s Party, which was originally formed to fight for women’s suffrage, actually shifted over to try to fight some of these state laws and to say, “No, look, women should be able to decide for themselves.” Although it’s very popular at the time for women to be more family focused or maybe the one who stays at home and takes care of the kids, not every woman wants that, and frankly, not every woman can do that because, especially when we were fighting world wars and men were going off to war and women needed to make an earning for themselves or the country needed women to go to work, that’s what they were doing.
And so, the notion was, again, Big Brother, get out of the way. Don’t tell women what’s right for them, let women decide on their own. So it’s ironic that we’ve learned those lessons. Fortunately, we’ve largely done away with a legal system that treats women as lesser than men, and yet now, many big government types are advocating for its return really, just in different forms.
Well, let’s get into that victim status a little bit because there are plenty of people out there, including women, who think that there is still discrimination. So you talked about some of the discrimination even into the late ’60s, we’ve seen the popular show, Mad Men, where women aren’t treated the same as men, especially in the workplace. It often is women who are saying, “Look, we aren’t getting paid the same,” and IWF often talks about that being a myth, the myth of the wage gap, but it’s women who are saying, or many women, modern day feminists or so-called feminists who think that government needs to step in to make things fair. So what is your argument? Would you say that we’ve reached a place in time where women do have the same rights as men when it comes to employment?
Sure. Well, first of all, although I think it’s always important to remain vigilant and there are certainly instances of private gender discrimination, there are instances of racial discrimination, this country isn’t perfect because people aren’t perfect and people sometimes do bad things, and I think it’s extremely important to stand up to that. However, to me, the best way to stand up to any sort of private type of discrimination is to prove that person wrong, right? I mean, this is a lesson that I remember my mother instilling in me when I was young. And she said, “If somebody tells you that you can’t do something, just prove them wrong.”
Now, sometimes that is more easier said than done, but when you turn around and say, “Gosh, I think I’m not being treated fairly, or I don’t think that I have the same opportunities, not because of the law, but just because of some perceived discrimination,” so I need the government to then come in and force somebody to accept me or force somebody to let me do a job. Again, I can understand why somebody might say that, but the affects are just the opposite and they’re extremely detrimental.
The truth is that women enjoy more equality under the law today in the United States than women at any other time in history anywhere in the world. And because of not only our system of the rule of law that protects those rights, but also our system of free market capitalism that allows people to go out and make something of themselves and make products that actually help people, women have more opportunities than ever before. And that was not something that was created by law, except of course a legal system that protects the rule of law and protects people’s rights to decide for themselves.
But if you think about it, capitalism has really empowered women more than any law ever could. Back in the day, women had to spend most of their day doing housework, right? In fact, I think that maybe about 50 or 60 years ago, women would spend one entire day a week just washing clothes. And of course now, it’s a couple of hours if even that, and of course those chores are sometimes shared between a woman and her husband or her roommate or her partner or children sometimes, right? And it’s not necessarily just seen as women’s work.
And that is because of the innovations of capitalism. That’s because somebody realized that, gosh, women have other things that they’d like to do with their day and it’s not really fair to say that they need to spend an entire day out of their week doing housework. And they would be freed up to have more time to go out and do whatever it is that they want to do to make their lives full if we had some kind of machine that would allow them to do that.
And of course, in a system of capitalism, you can’t force somebody to give you their money. You have to persuade them to do that by creating something that they want. So that incentive caused people to innovate and to create things like washing machines and dishwashers, and all of the contraptions that we have today that save everybody time and make their lives more efficient. But the effect that that’s had on women in taking those, what were seen as traditionally women’s jobs, and making them easier to do and making them easier to offload has just had such a liberating effect.
So, I would say that, look, there are people out there who have prejudice, of course. That’s always going to be the case. Government can’t create social equality. Government can create equality under the law, and it should, and women are entitled to that, and again, we largely have it, but unfairness is always going to exist in nature and private life, and it’s not government’s role to fix these things, but frankly, government can’t fix them for everyone precisely because of the fact that there is no collective women’s viewpoint.
So when government tries to undo one or two instances of private discrimination in private life, what it ends up doing is subjecting a whole host of women to something that they don’t want. And so the best way to undo any sort of unfair prejudices or stigmas is for government to give people the absolute freedom to do what it is that they want to do with their lives and to make something of their lives.
And Christina, I completely agree with you. I can say from my own personal experience that I’m very fortunate to be born in America where I can start a business. As a female business owner, I face no hurdles because I’m a woman. And I’m also very thankful that it’s during this era because technology, the ability to have my business and everybody who works for me teleworking has been hugely instrumental and beneficial. And so I wanted to talk about how big government is trying to regulate workers in this arena and what is known as the gig economy. Why do you think that some of the policies that we see in the gig economy and what government’s trying to do on the state or on the federal level is harming women even more so than men?
Sure. Yeah, well, we’ve seen a number of proposals over the years, and of course, some states actually adopting these proposals that seek to change the nature of the gig economy. Of course, the most famous in recent months is California’s Assembly Bill 5, or what is called AB5. It’s a complicated law that is evolving based on some litigation that our friends at the Pacific Legal Foundation have brought that Goldwater is actually participating in, but essentially, the law says that employers have to hire workers as employees rather than just freelancers in many circumstances.
So that means people like you’re talking about, right, Uber drivers, or musicians, or photographers, or journalists, graphic designers, people that go into a certain type of work because they get to make their own hours and they get to choose when and how to work, the law is making it harder to let those people create the type of employment that makes the most sense to them.
Now, again, at first blush, like you were saying earlier, some people say, “Well, great, if you’re an employee rather than a freelancer, then that means that you get certain benefits,” right? You’re entitled to certain types of health insurance and it means you get a certain guaranteed pay because maybe you’ll be on salary versus just hourly. Well, that may be something that some people want, and that’s fine, and there are plenty of jobs out there where people can enter into that type of situation, but of course businesses have to be able to stay afloat. And the truth of the matter is, is that the more that government tries to craft the employment situation that it thinks should exist, the harder it is for businesses to actually employ people and employ them in the way that they want to be employed.
So, it’s really expensive to employ a full-time employee versus say a freelancer or a contractor, right? I mean, in my job, I’m in management, I have to do that. It’s extremely expensive to pay for health insurance and to pay for other benefits, and of course, to have somebody who’s salaried. And so for every full-time employee I have, that could have been three different or four different contractors that I could have hired. And maybe there are people out there that all they want is a contract job because maybe they have somebody else in their family who is working full-time and who’s able to get the health insurance benefits, or maybe they have different types of benefits that they like that they don’t need the sort of Cadillac type of insurance or benefits that are being offered by certain employers.
Those jobs don’t exist for those people anymore. It makes it extremely expensive for businesses to be able to hire them. And as much as we’d all like to be paid more and we’d all like to be able to probably have more benefits and things like that, there are always trade-offs, and you don’t make anybody better off by making their jobs illegal or harder to do. And that’s exactly what laws like California’s AB5 are doing.
Now, how does this affect women specifically? Well, again, we talked a little bit about this earlier. Most studies show that women tend to prefer flexible employment opportunities. So we’ve seen the number of women-owned businesses just take off and grow astronomically in the past 50 years. I think it’s grown by something like 3000% since the 1970s. And women, as you mentioned, are increasingly choosing to work in the gig economy because they, for whatever reason, whether it be childcare or some other reasons, they prefer flexibility. And so they’re willing to trade what might be a salaried position or certain benefits for the ability to be able to create their own work day and create their own work hours.
And so, the harder you make it, the more expensive you make that for employers, the fewer jobs like that that are out there. And there have been surveys done of women who are working in the gig economy. And interestingly enough, you talk about how some women say that they want things like minimum wages or mandatory paid leave or certain benefits. The women who are in the gig economy who are surveyed about their work situations, they largely say that they feel empowered, that they feel like they’re paid equally for equal work, and they are happy with the situation that they’re in.
So again, we have a situation where you’ve got the preferences of maybe not even the majority, but maybe just a vocal minority thinking that their preferences should be the law and should be how everybody is treated. And it’s just not a workable situation for many businesses, and it’s just not a workable situation for many women. And there are so many businesses out there that would have to hire fewer women or we just have to go out of business altogether the more that these laws are imposed.
In fact, we were talking about paid leave as another one that you hear a lot of people talk about, that businesses should give women a certain amount of time, or men, but typically, it would apply to women, right? A certain amount of time off to deal with childcare when they have new babies. And even Planned Parenthood, interestingly enough, which is an organization that’s obviously largely formulated in existence to provide for women’s healthcare, a lot of those locations don’t even provide paid leave, extended paid leave for women on maternity leave because they can’t afford it. And if they had to do that for everybody who worked for them, then they would have to hire fewer people, which means hiring fewer women, and they would have to provide fewer services, and of course their services largely serve women.
So that’s just one of many examples, but it just shows you that an organization even like Planned Parenthood, which is typically seen as more of a left-leaning organization, is not even practicing what a lot of big government folks or folks on the left are preaching.
Well, one of the words that you’ve used throughout this is the word choice and women having the ability to choose where they want to work, how they want to work, but what would you say to somebody who says, “I don’t have that choice. I’m a single mom, I’m having to work a minimum wage paying job because I don’t have a degree. And for me, having a mandatory minimum wage increase helps me tremendously. So I just don’t have the choice other women have.” So what would you say to a woman in that situation who is a strong advocate for getting higher wages through government forcing their employer to raise their wages?
Well, what I would say is unfortunately we don’t live in a world where scarcity is a fable. Scarcity is a truism, right? So again, we would all love to live in a world where everyone could have every single thing that they wanted just the way that they wanted or even needed it. And the truth of the matter is that that’s just not the case.
And so again, when you have a situation where somebody, and there are many people, especially, gosh, especially today in today’s economy, which is not what it was at the beginning of the year, you have people who are out of work entirely and who are desperately seeking any kind of income source because the jobs just aren’t there to be had because we’re not in a good economy. When you put restrictions on employers and tell them, “Well, now you’ve got to pay somebody double what you were paying them before,” again, money doesn’t just grow on trees and businesses only have so much money and they need to be able to make money to survive. And if you’re making it more expensive for a business to hire say that woman that you were speaking of, what the business is going to have to do is just let her go.
On the margin, there will probably be some people who are able to stay employed and might make a little bit more, but even those people, now, suddenly, everything that they want to need is going to be more expensive. Because think about how minimum wage laws affect businesses like grocery stores, right? Somebody has to eat that cost. If you’re making it more expensive to hire the person who’s working at the checkout counter or greeting you when you walk in the store, then the business has to recuperate that cost or it’s going to go out of business. Well, it can do that by passing it onto the consumer by making all of the goods more expensive, right?
And so now, that person who might’ve gotten a small pay bump at her minimum wage job, now, when she goes to the store to buy groceries for her children, they’re going to be more expensive. And so, did she really gain that much by getting a little bit more in her paycheck when now everything that she needs to purchase is more expensive?
And the problem is, when politicians come to you with solutions and they say, “People deserve to be paid more than we want to pay people more,” and of course everyone would love to be able to do that, but no politician can make that happen magically. That’s the law of economics. That’s just the law of scarcity and of reality. We can’t just wave a magic wand and make things happen.
So you’re absolutely right that there are people out there for whatever reason, it might be no fault of their own, that just have fewer opportunities than other women. And that’s nature and that is sometimes the reality of the situation, but when faced with would you rather have a job that can help you feed your family or would you rather government just make it too expensive for you to be employed at all, I think when faced with that choice, most women would choose the former. And of course, the more disposable income that people have, the more charity and the more charitable that people can and the more that they can focus on taking care of their communities in the way that is needed.
Because again, government, even if it’s trying to do its best, doesn’t know what every individual wants or needs, but I know what my neighbors need. You might know what the women at your church need or the women in your social groups or things like that. And we are better suited to be able to help our neighbors. And plus, it’s a better society when we have more time and more means to be charitable so that we can help people with what they need. So again, government sort of deprives us of the ability to be able to do that by imposing these one size fits all laws.
And final question I have for you, the big question, which is, why would you say quotas, employment quotas harm women?
Yeah. That’s a really great one. We’ve seen, again, California, now, I’m in Arizona, so we like to pick on our neighbors to the West, but they deserve it oftentimes, but California has also instituted a policy where they say that businesses that are public, meaning they’re publicly traded businesses, have to hire a certain amount of women to be on their boards. And of course, this is a proposal that we’ve seen in many other states and sometimes it’s on boards and sometimes it’s just employment in general.
Now, in some ways, this is unnecessary because, as I said, the number of women-owed businesses has increased. Fortune 500 has more female CEOs now than ever before. I think Bose just appointed its first female CEO. So women are making tremendous gains in business leadership.
Now, maybe that’s not happening fast enough to some people’s likings, but again, if we look at women’s revealed preferences, the reason for that again is because, in many ways, a lot of women just aren’t looking for those jobs or they want jobs that are more flexible. And so women are telling us that they’re not, on a whole, they’re not looking for or not applying for those types of jobs.
When you tell a business that it has to have a certain amount of women working at its business, first of all, there may not be enough women out there that actually want those jobs or a qualified those jobs. And again, as I mentioned before, this sort of perpetuates then that sort of stereotype or that prejudice. Because now, I walk into a business, I walk into my job, and instead of people just thinking that I deserve to be there because I was the most qualified candidate, now, my coworkers are thinking, “Wow, is she just here because the boss had to hire four women, and so she’s one of those hires. And perhaps she wouldn’t be as good as her male counterpart, the person that the boss actually would have hired had he not had to fill a quota.”
And so again, it sort of treats women as victims, as if they’re incapable of earning those positions for themselves. And that, again, perpetuates discrimination, in my mind, systemically and so much more than getting rid of restrictions, than breaking down barriers to work, than getting rid of things that stand in women’s way like restrictions on how employers and employees can interact, like state laws that tell people that they have to get licenses to do everything from putting a bunch of flowers together in an arrangement as a florist, to blow drying somebody’s hair.
The fewer unnecessary government restrictions that we have, the more likely it is that women are going to end up in the positions that they want to be in. And any residual prejudices or discriminations that may exist are going to just become fewer and far between, as we’ve seen happen historically as we’ve gotten rid of laws like that.
And I think the moral of the stories we’re hearing of all these different examples that you’re bringing up is that when government comes and says that they have a solution to what they purport is discrimination, it often harms the individual and the group of people that it’s saying is being discriminated against. So good intentions often lead to harmful consequences when government is behind it. So, Christina, thank you so much for breaking it down so well and for joining us on She Thinks today.
Thanks so much for having me.
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