There’s choice and then there’s force. Only one is good.

We can’t say that we’re against paternity leave here as the current UK rules on such stem directly from the writings of one of us here on this very blog. We can however say that we’re very much in favour of choice as a basic feature of the society we live in and against compulsion. Which is what makes this piece in The Guardian so concerning:

Force men to take paternity leave. It will make the world a better place

It should be said that the article itself never does say force. That’s rather the invention of the Guardian subs there. Although we should also point out that many of the things that paternity leave are said to promote that are lauded remain, hmm, unproven, shall we say.

However, this is a nice example of what differentiates us classical liberals from the more modern form of liberal. We’re all for the world becoming a better place. Except we insist that it is the exercise of choice by consenting adults which makes the world a better place. Not the imposition of behaviour upon people that does so.

So, we’re entirely happy with the idea that new fathers take time off with their child. With whatever domestic arrangements anyone wants to make over such matters, including such interesting rarities as the stay at home Dad. You wish to, great, have at it!

What we’re not happy with and resolutely oppose is any idea that such behaviour must be imposed upon any individual.

After all, no one does insist that a new mother must take all of the maternity leave to which she is entitled, do they? That goose and gander thing does rather come into play here……

Erm, this one is interesting

So Prof. Tim Besley of the London School of Economics, former All Souls Prize Fellow, ex-member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, the UK’s third most respected economist, and all-round impressive smart guy, has a new paper with Marta Reynal-Querol at the Universtat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona.

I mention these credentials to emphasise how respected and mainstream these guys are before I mention the finding of their paper, entitled “The Logic of Hereditary Rule: Theory and Evidence” (pdf, seems to be quite an early working paper), which is that hereditary rule/monarchy outperforms democracy but only when the hereditary ruler is subject to few constraints on their power.

Hereditary leadership has been an important feature of the political landscape throughout history. This paper argues that it can play a role in improving economic performance when it improves intertemporal incentives. We use a sample of leaders between 1848 and 2004 to show that economic growth is higher in polities with hereditary leaders but only when executive constraints are weak.

This finding is mirrored in policy outcomes which affect growth. There is also evidence that dynasties end when the economic performance of leaders is poor suggesting that hereditary rule is tolerated only where there are policy benefits. Finally, we focus on the case of monarchy where we find, using the gender of first-born children as instrument for monarchic succession, that monarchs increase growth.

That is: hereditary monarchs with lots of legal power choose better policy than other systems do, including democracies, non-hereditary dictators, and weak hereditary monarchs, and this is reflected in higher growth.

The size of the coefficient suggests that, in a country with weak executive constraints, going from a non-hereditary leader to an hereditary leader, increases the annual average economic growth of the country by 1.03 percentage points per year.

That’s a really really big difference.

Of course, they’re not saying they actually favour hereditary monarchy!

Although we have tried to understand the logic of hereditary rule, we do not regard the findings of the paper as supporting the institutions of hereditary rule. There are many arguments against, going back at least to Paine (1776), about the inherent injustice in such systems. Moreover, the fact that many polities around the world have put an end to hereditary rule and establish strong executive constraints is no accident since this is arguably a much more robust way to control leaders than relying on the chance that succession incentives will safe-guard the public interest.

It depends what you want government to do. If it’s just there to guarantee a basic framework for society then as long as it worked, some sort of non-democratic system might be OK. Our having a stake in the electoral process hardly guarantees good governance (perhaps the opposite).

But lots of people value democracy not just because they think it gives us good policy: being part of a community; as an expression of human equality; an important type of positive freedom. These pragmatic arguments for and against different governance systems are not going to fully convince those types (and that’s fair enough).

Of course the bigger issue is that the paper could easily be proved wrong in the review process, that’s the point of interesting conjectures in working papers. And there’s a whole lot of other literature out there, some of which goes against Besley and Reyna-Querol’s work. But I tend to think that monarchy vs democracy is an empirical question. Whatever makes us freer, happier, richer is best.

We’re rather confused about these anti-discrimination laws

No, not about the idea that people shouldn’t discriminate except where it is rational to do so. If that’s the way that people want to be then so be it. Rather, we’re confused about the fact that people keep calling for laws on this basis.

Note that this nothing at all to do with things like Jim Crow: that was a series of laws to force people to discriminate. Or, if you prefer, it’s everything to do with Jim Crow: for as Gary Becker pointed out the reason for those laws was the thought that in the absence of them then people would not discriminate in the manner that the racists thought everyone should. Showing that left alone people might well be able to rub along quite happily, even if not perfectly.

But we go a bit further than that in these cases of gay wedding cake refuseniks and the like. There’s at least two possible reactions to that sort of discrimination. The first is obviously the law. But we’re rather large believers in the idea that markets (and yes, social pressure and reaction is a market in this sense) are rather more powerful. To refuse to serve a potential customer because of race, gender, sexuality or any other such irrelevance is of course to be displaying a socially (in this society, the one we’re in, in general) undesirable prejudice. And the question then becomes, well, what should be done about it?

Well, if it actually is a socially not desired prejudice being declared then we’d expect there to be some social and or economic consequences of it being expressed. People not using that supplier for example even if without any direct boycott being organised. That supplier going bankrupt as a result of not gaining custom perhaps.

Let us be serious for a moment: any pub which displayed the notorious no dogs…(insert prejudices of choice here) sign would be out of business within weeks. It’s therefore not obvious that we actually need a law stopping people from posting such signs.

Another way of looking at the same point is that a society where it’s possible to gain majority support for laws banning such signs is fairly obviously a society in which social and business pressures would stop people from displaying that sort of prejudice anyway. So we’re left really rather wondering what is the point of the laws in the first place.

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.

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 15.10.51

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.