Wednesday, December 3, 2014

False flags

Frances Woolley has a nice post about retirement and women's rights:

Yes, there are older female academics who will enjoy greater financial security as a result being able to work past 65. But let's think not about anecdotes - the stories of particular men and particular women. Overall, how many of the beneficiaries from the end of mandatory retirement are men, and how many are women? Who bears the costs of the transition?

Two thirds of university teachers between 65 and 69 are men (p. 22 here), as are three quarters of those over the age of 70. This is not simply a reflection of an academy that, 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, when these folks were hired, favoured men over women. Let's rewind five years, to when the people who are now 65 to 69 were 60 to 64. This is more or less the same group of people, just at two different points in time.

In 2005-6, just before the standard retirement age ended, 65 percent of academics aged 60 to 64 were male (p. 22 here).

In 2010-11, when that same cohort of people were 65-69, 68 percent of those working as university teachers were male. There is hardly any hiring of individuals into university teaching in that age group. The only plausible explanation of the three percentage point increase in the proportion of men in the academia is that the more women than men retired in that cohort.
In other words, while there might be other reasons to end mandatory retirement, it is pretty clear that it did very little to increase the participation of women in the academy.  Furthermore, since it is very costly (professors at the end of their careers make a lot in Canada), it may well outcompete alternatives like a massive pay equity program. 

You see this sort of principal a lot when people don't want to admit the actual reasons that they are doing something.  Or, even worse, when they are pretending to be on the side of the people who will lose the most from the policy.

My current favorite example is the opposition to gas and congestion taxes under the rubric that they hurt the poor the most.  That can only be true in a very narrow sense.  First of all, the poorest of people don't actually own cars (which are expensive).  Second, subsidizing car commuting makes it more difficult to put in alternative systems like public transit -- as this approach both makes driving easier and starves government of revenue.  Who benefits the most from public transit?  I'll give you a hint -- it's not the people with brand new SUVs. 

Furthermore, the real test of a false flag is when people resist alternative ways to help the populations who are under discussion.  For example, do the people who are against mandatory retirement also want to ensure strict gender equality in pay?  What about paying for long maternity leaves to make it easier for women to retire at 65 with full pensions? 

Similarly, why can't we increase the gas tax and then give money to poor people (who could spend it on gas or something else)?  Heck, to be logically consistent, the tax that would hurt the poor the least would be a wealth tax.  Why not do that instead of a gas tax? 

Now this is not to say that these policies may not be okay on the merits without the false flags.  The policy alternatives that I pointed out may have other good reasons to be rejected.  But the failure to even engage these adjacent arguments is a pretty good evidence that the main priority is not the concern for the group in question but rather worry that the policy argument is weak on the merits.

And we should be less forgiving of that. 

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