When the process is the punishment

It’s about time that we Brits adopted an entirely sensible piece of American law. In their Constitution they not only insist upon a fair trial they also insist upon a speedy one. The actual enactment of that promise is left to State law, but at least some of them insist that a trial must start within 30 days of charges being laid. The defendant may apply to extend that period but the prosecution may not:

While their colleagues covered events like the London 2012 Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Andy Murray’s Wimbledon win and the birth of Prince George, the four Sun men stayed at home, on bail, suspended from their jobs, trying to maintain their mental and physical health.

Murderers, rapists and terrorists can expect to wait no more than a year to be tried once they have been arrested, but the four journalists were left in purgatory for three times as long.

Leave aside whatever one might think of this particular case, the law surrounding it or the verdict. And concentrate just on the idea that these men had some 10% of their working lives taken from them before being found not guilty. There won’t be any compensation for this either. And that’s turning the process of prosecution into something much more akin to the punishment itself, rather than what it’s supposed to be, the finding and nailing of those guilty enough to be punished.

What should create fear in the rest of us is that given the volume of laws that weight upon us we’re all in theory capable of being prosecuted for something or other. And our vindication by a good and sensible jury will be as nothing if the punishment is the process of getting the case in front of a jury in the first place.

So, yes, we should institute that American idea. Justice delayed is justice denied and so we should have a (short) time limit in which the prosecution must put up or shut up.

Flexible work hours may be the key to solving wage gaps

A paper from the American Economic Review thinks it has some more insight into the cause of the gender wage gap. It’s not sexism, employer discrimination, or really even children. It’s the flexibility (or lack there of) of work hours.

The converging roles of men and women are among the grandest advances in society and the economy in the last century. These aspects of the grand gender convergence are figurative chapters in a history of gender roles. But what must the “last” chapter contain for there to be equality in the labor market? The answer may come as a surprise. The solution does not (necessarily) have to involve government intervention and it need not make men more responsible in the home (although that wouldn’t hurt). But it must involve changes in the labor market, especially how jobs are structured and remunerated to enhance temporal flexibility. The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and might vanish altogether if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who labored long hours and worked particular hours. Such change has taken off in various sectors, such as technology, science, and health, but is less apparent in the corporate, financial, and legal worlds. [Emphasis mine.]

The data from this paper is fascinating, and challenges quite a few pre-conceived notions we have about women in the work place. For example, we often think of jobs in the sciences, medicine and maths as being most off-limits to women, but in fact, women make up roughly half of today’s medical graduate enrolments, and actually women lead men in study areas including biological sciences, optometry, and pharmacy.

What’s even more interesting is that the gender pay gap is at its lowest in the tech and science industries. The gap begins to widen when you look at the health industry, and it spikes when you look at the business industry.

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The paper, “A Grand Gender Convergence: Its Last Chapter” argues that this is because the tech and science industries are more suited to flexible work hours, presumably because the quality of one’s work output is based on results; whereas the business industry demands the constant slog of long work hours and ‘face-time’ – things which their clients have come to expect, and things that can be much harder for women to do if they are trying to manage both a family and a job at the same time. Claudia Goldin, author of the report, notes “a flexible schedule often comes at a high price, particularly in the corporate, financial, and legal worlds…there will always be 24/7 positions with on-call, all-the-time employees and managers, including many CEOs, trial lawyers, merger-and-acquisition bankers, surgeons, and the US Secretary of State. But, that said, the list of positions that can be changed is considerable.”

Workplace culture has been changing for years– jeans, pets, and company-sponsored Red Bull fridges are becoming widely established. A move towards flexible hours is becoming more relevant too, especially in some of the most innovative industries. Perhaps our best bet to solving wage gap issues is to encourage employers to adopt more flexibility (for both men and women) in the many industries that could suit, and even benefit, from it.

 

Another little proof that Gary Becker was right

Gary Becker made the point that discrimination (on race, sex etc grounds) was expensive to the person doing the discriminating. If you won’t hire people because of their sex or gender, say, then you will be missing out on people of that race or gender who have the talents you’re looking for. The implication of this is that then others can profit from picking up that cheap talent.

We see a nice example of this in the obituary pages today:

As D J Freeman grew, it pioneered the promotion of women; in the 1980s when only 5 per cent of the partners in many City firms were women, in D J Freeman the figure was 40 per cent. The firm also introduced part-time partnerships and offered maternity leave.

This was both a matter of conviction, shaped by Freeman’s formidable wife Iris (née Alberge), a former child psychologist who retrained as an employment law solicitor so that she could work alongside her husband (and later wrote a biography of Lord Denning); but it was also a hard-headed recognition that a medium-sized firm needed to compete for talent, and women represented the largest single pool of untapped talent.

Steve Shirley (Dame Stephanie more formally) did this at about the same time by hiring married women, with children, programmers for her firm FI Group. And more recent research shows that the British football leagues were prone to this before the Bosman ruling in the 1990s.

What we find really interesting about this is the following: if such discrimination exists then it is possible for others to profit from it. Becker is pointing out that this will reduce said discrimination. But we can go one step further. In order to believe that such discrimination exists then you also need to believe that it is possible to profit from it.

So, how many do believe that in the modern UK it is possible to make, super, extra, profits by specifically looking to hire women and or ethnic minorities? If the answer is “no” then that’s the same as stating the belief that there’s no systematic discriomination, isn’t it? If yes, then when are you hiring in order to profit from and then reduce said discrimination?

Believe it or not, people actually like smoking and eating fatty food

Public information campaigns and nutritional labelling are good at informing people about what’s healthy and what isn’t, but don’t seem to have much impact on what they actually eat. That’s what a comprehensive review of 121 ‘healthy eating’ policies found, and I think it should make us rethink more heavy-handed policies to do with unhealthy food, tobacco and alcohol.

There are benefits as well as costs to every activity that public health groups want to discourage. We know there are benefits because people do them freely. But we know there are costs as well, like living a shorter and less healthy life.

The liberal view is that each person’s cost-benefit calculation is different, because they enjoy and dislike things differently. In this view there’s no case for stopping people from doing things unless they don’t actually have the information they need to make a judgement. We should want to make people’s lives better as they themselves understand ‘better’, not according to a single measure we’ve decided on, like lifespan.

So telling people that sugar makes them fatter may be a good policy, if they didn’t already know that. And policies that do that do seem to make people more informed. But what’s interesting is the impact they have on people’s diets – usually not much, and sometimes an unexpected one.

For example, a 2008 study found that people who used nutrition labels had big increases in fiber and iron intake, but no change to their total fat, saturated fat or cholesterol intake. The UK’s ‘five a day’ campaign about fruit and veg was very successful at getting people to think about eating more fruit and veg, but increased people’s intake by an average of 0.3 portions a day (which was not viewed as being a very good improvement). 44 studies of similar campaigns in the US and EU have shown about the same size effect.

To some people that might make it look like we need to do more. To me it looks as if people view the costs of changing their diet to something less enjoyable or convenient as being quite important, and are willing to forgo some level of health to avoid that.

Maybe this tells us something about cigarette regulation too – there is some evidence that smokers actually overestimate the risk of smoking and some that they underestimate it. If they do overestimate the risks, we’re ‘informing’ people so much that it’s become misleading.

It would be fair to respond to this that people have no real way of doing a proper cost-benefit analysis about eating sugary foods or smoking, but because the state can’t measure the benefits – that is, the pleasure – it is just as limited.

The fact that people do change their habits about iron and fibre, but not fats, suggests that they aren’t ignorant, they just don’t want to eat less fat! If that’s the case and we’re working to improve people’s lives on their terms, there is no case at all for more heavy-handed policies like taxes, ingredients restrictions and advertising bans.

No, John is not responsible for gender gaps

Gender baiting has launched again in the United States, but this time it’s personal. Quite literally – the oppressors’ names are John.

From The New York Times:

Fewer large companies are run by women than by men named John, a sure indicator that the glass ceiling remains firmly in place in corporate America.

Among chief executives of S.&P. 1500 firms, for each woman, there are four men named John, Robert, William or James. We’re calling this ratio the Glass Ceiling Index, and an index value above one means that Jims, Bobs, Jacks and Bills — combined — outnumber the total number of women, including every women’s name, from Abby to Zara. Thus we score chief executive officers of large firms as having an index score of 4.0.

The NYT didn’t stop there; the article goes on to use its new Glass Ceiling Index to compare political successes, too:

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I have to hand it to the NYT - this is an excellent propaganda piece. Determining the success and advancement of women in their careers to how those numbers compare to men named John, Robert, James, and William gives you some pretty damning results.

Left-leaner’s will find any opportunity they can to blame the sexism and discrimination that is still rooted on our society on employers and business culture; that way they can legislate quotas and pay structures across the board, and at least create the illusion, through force, that equality exists.

But evidence, even from the NYT’s own sources, suggests that employers are not the problem.

The NYT’s report was “inspired by a recent Ernst & Young report, which computed analogous numbers for board directors…for every one woman, there were 1.03 Jameses, Roberts, Johns and Williams — combined — serving on the boards of S.&P. 1500 companies.”

Lets look at that report a bit closer. It is the case that the number of male directors at S&P 1500 companies is hugely disproportionate to the number of female directors (84%/16%), but there is also evidence that the tide is changing. The graph below details that while far more men hold directorships, they also tend to be significantly older in age; 49% of female directors at these companies are under the age of 60 (compared to only 33%) of men, and 31% of male directors are over the age of 68 (compared to only 11% of women).

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Like many other occupations, a lot of perceived gender gaps are going through transitional periods; as women become more educated than men, we start to see changes in occupation breakdowns (but it’s not in the interest of gender-baiters to report it).

My colleague Ben has recently blogged on a paper that found if you control for a person’s background and length of time in the work force, “being female increases the chance of becoming CEO. Hence, the unconditional gender pay gap and job-rank differences are primarily attributable to female executives exiting at higher rates than men in an occupation where survival is rewarded with promotion and higher compensation.”

It’s not employers and it’s not corporate culture that’s holding women back; the reality is that women are making different choices than men. Many of them have to do with family planning, but many of them come down to different goals and ambitions.

Examples include both political and career ambitions. Women and men “win elections at equal rates, raise comparable amounts of money, and receive similar media attention” yet very few women are wanting or willing to run for pubic office. Research conducted in 2012 found that millennial women “just aren’t very interested in being the top executives of high-profile companies.” Of all the women aged 22-33 polled, only 15% actively wanted to lead a large, prominent business one day.

The NYT can use the Johns and Jameses of the world to paint political and market systems as sexist all they want, but their provocative Index completely misses the point. Women are choosing not to take their careers as far as they can go. And that’s okay – if that choice makes them happy and gives them opportunity to peruse other meaningful things. But the real glass ceiling for women is being held up society at large, which often compels women from a young age to make different decisions than men.

Are women being educated about their career options properly? Do they feel supported to have kids (or not have kids) on their own terms? These are the issues that are really holding women back. If we actually want to address gender gaps in the work place, let’s let John get on with his job while we tackle our deeply entrenched, and often bias, cultural norms.