Sunday, 28 February 2016

If You Are a Free Market Economist, Are You a Feminist?

by Alex Sligo-Young

Efficiency is a big subject of modern political rhetoric. When a politician mentions this term they are typically referencing the idea of economic efficiency, that they believe to be derived from the operation of the free market. Essentially they are advocating an agenda that includes the privatisation of nationalised markets, the removal of trade restrictions and the deregulation of industry. In short, this is believed to allow profit incentives to work effectively resulting in a satisfactory allocation of resources and ultimately the production of more GDP with the same amount of resources. Although there are several large assumptions that this kind of theory rests on I will not be addressing them in the following article. Instead I will consider how a shift in societal values and norms would allow a far more dramatic increase in productivity for the UK. In particular I will be addressing the issue of gender roles in the modern society and how they restrict the economy.

The graph above demonstrates how girls have consistently out performed boys in their GCSEs since 1989, with the gap showing no signs of closing. In the GCSE results from 2014 girls were 8.8 percentage points ahead of boys in terms of their results. This discrepancy also continues to university where 55% of full time undergraduates are female. So why is there a gender pay gap if this is true? Of course it would be easy for me to simplify an incredibly complex social issue in order to write a good article but I will try to avoid that. Notable reasons that the government’s national archive has noted include the difference in subjects studied at A-level and at University. The most popular subject for boys at A-level is Maths while English is most popular with girls. Perhaps this is a possible explanation as maths related subjects are associated with higher economic rewards in the work place.

However, I believe that it is far more than just the selection of subjects at school that stops women from actualising their full potential. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie postulates that in times of old when strength was valued as the most important attribute it was reasonable for men to be the leaders, but no more. In the modern economy creativity and original thought are economically rewarded qualities that are not confined to a single gender. Hence, it seems ridiculous for women to be confined to a more maternal role while men are still considered to be the ‘hunter-gatherers’, providing for their family because of an archaic tradition. One poignant depiction of the clash between gender based expectation and economic logic is presented in the series Cuckoo that is currently on BBC3. In this series Lorna the archetypal mother figure subverts the expectation of her character by demanding that her aptly named husband ‘Chief Ken’ (as he is called by their intellectually stunted lodger Dale) takes paternity leave as she has the possibility of a new job promotion. In the rest of this episode the writers explore Ken’s reaction to this demand and how he has trouble accepting it, as he fears it may emasculate him. Ngozi Adichie describes this kind of expectation as the ‘small, hard cage’ of masculinity that boys are put in. 

Although many feminists may perceive this expectation as a shackle that stops them from achieving in the workplace I believe they ignore the other half of the equation. In taking someone prisoner in this manner the gaud also becomes chained to the prisoner, restricting the liberty of both individuals for a sense of justice but not for the benefit of the guard, prisoner or economy. If you are a firm believer in efficiency but still acknowledge the necessity for the tradition of marriage (a position generically adopted by The Conservative Party) then it seems illogical to sentence the more educated gender to a domestic role while ‘nice but dim Tim’ gets on with running the economy.

In conclusion it seems to me that policy makers should not be as preoccupied as they are with getting junior doctors to work for less but should look at changing social norms for the economic betterment of the UK. The restrictions placed upon the economy through ascribed gender norms appear to limit the productivity of the UK by stopping talented female workers from accessing the upper echelons of corporate power, resulting in the misuse of the countries capital stock. From this it is possible to perceive that it is not just governmental barriers that stop markets from working effectively but also tradition. Therefore, the emancipation of both male and females from this restraints would allow a more flexible and more efficient market where the most productive spouse works resulting in both an economic benefit for the couple as well as the economy.

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