Missing Link Friday – 15 April 2011

In this week’s Missing Link Friday: a British conservative blames women for inequality, Australia’s PM celebrates the dignity of work, Americans argue about health care spending, and the Freakonomics blog reveals the damaging environmental impact of medical marijuana.

Is feminism to blame for increasing inequality?

British Conservative Party politician, David Willetts recently told journalists that feminism had trumped egalitarianism. Women were now taking university places that might otherwise have gone to ambitious working class men. At Topsoil, Beth is alarmed:

Willetts’ remarks are hate speech. It’s serious. A cabinet minister is telling us that women’s slightly improved position is the cause of men’s joblessness or low wages. Don’t think that this has no effect. Don’t think that there are no angry, disenfranchised men reading this article in the Mail or the Telegraph who resent their powerlessness, who are looking for explanations, who have wives, daughters, female co-workers.

At Hoyden about town Blue Milk half agrees with Willetts but goes on to say: "Feminism might have contributed to income inequality over the last couple of decades but how the world responded to rising income inequality isn’t the fault of feminism."

Get a job

"That old chestnut the welfare cheat has returned to distract the gullible", writes Trevor Cook. Julia Gillard’s speech on The Dignity of Work attracted the attention of Australian bloggers this week. Mark Bahnisch at Larvatus Prodeo wasn’t impressed:

There’s nothing in Gillard’s rhetoric that suggests any concern whatever with the quality of work, or its content, or a recognition that “dignity” actually entails autonomy and meaning, not just a hard grind for its own sake. When has a Labor PM been so unable to articulate any positive content to national aspirations? We work, we work ourselves out, we have kids, we drop dead, and the cycle starts all over again. It’s an empty Calvinism and nothing else.

Self-described Marxist Horror Writer, Benjamin Solah writes: "If Gillard wants to attack bludgers that are a drain on our economy, why isn’t she launching an attack on the boardrooms of Australia’s biggest corporations?"

At Grog’s Gamut, Greg Jericho responds to headlines like ‘Julia Gillard declares war on the idle’ and ‘Pull your weight, PM tells jobless’:

Wow. Talk about ball-bustingly evil. She must have been going in hard and with intent to wound and kill.

Except, actually she didn’t.

According to Greg, Gillard’s speech wasn’t a betrayal of the legacy of Ben Chifley, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating , instead it was "Labor to the core".

Health care and conditionality

The idea that income support should be conditional on activities like job search and training is familiar enough, but how about introducing the idea of reciprocal obligation into health care? At Big Think David Berreby writes:

Last week, the Associated Press reported that Arizona’s Governor, Jan Brewer, has proposed requiring that patients who are overweight, diabetic or smokers be required to follow a plan to improve their health—and those who failed to meet their targets have to pay an extra $50 a year. In 2007, West Virginia tried an even more draconian plan: It redefined many important Medicaid services (like getting more than four prescriptions a month, treatment for drug addiction, and quit-smoking programs) as part of a special "enhanced" package. This "enhanced" Medicaid would only be available to people who signed commitments to do things like control their weight and keep medical appointments. (So if you’re a drug addict who can’t keep appointments, this plan’s answer is to take away access to addiction treatment. That’ll teach you!)

At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen wonders why we’re quarantining people’s entitlements to a limited range of health services. He suggests that seniors should be allowed to convert part of their Medicare entitlement into cash:

When people turn a certain age, allow them to trade in the current benefits package for a minimalistic package (set broken limbs and offer lots of potent painkillers), plus some of the rest in cash, doled out over the years if need be. For some people, medical tourism will fill the gap.

With US Republicans like Paul Ryan arguing for deep cuts to Medicare (a program that provides health insurance coverage to people over 65) Matt Yglesias wonders where the savings might go:

Cutting it to increase Social Security benefits (much of which might get plowed back into buying health care services, but then again might not), or to create high-quality universal preschool, or just to shower the poor with dollar bills sounds fine to me.

But Ryan wants to cut Medicare to fund tax cuts for rich Americans. Matt’s not so keen on that idea.


The Action for Happiness movement launched in the UK this week. It’s web site was so popular it crashed almost immediately. At the RSA, Matthew Taylor cites a Gallup poll on the importance of fulfilling work for happiness:

Their research puts fulfilling work at the top of the agenda and they say the UK isn’t too good at it. In comparison to the US, for example, only 42% of UK employees say their employer treats them more like a partner than a boss, whereas in the US it’s 59%. This has a big impact. 63% of people who Gallup describes as having ’thriving’ lives say they have a good work environment but only 52% of those in poor work environments.

Also on the subject of happiness, Will Wilkinson writes about the importance of autonomy:

Why haven’t Americans become much happier even though they became much richer? I really think there’s something to the idea that the way we’ve lived and worked as we’ve become richer hasn’t had much payoff in an increased sense of autonomy. There’s a left-wing version of this argument that stresses a sort of enslavement by false consumer desire, an imagined loss of worker’s rights, and so forth. There’s something to this. But I’m stewing up version of the argument that stresses barriers to self-employment, the debt loads and like-it-or-not rootedness encouraged by the American cult of homeownership, that sort of thing.

At Crooked Timber, John Quiggin wonders why researchers don’t pay more attention to the economic of unhappiness. After all, "there’s so much more data."

Other interesting stuff

What happens when toddlers get to experiment with democracy? At the Monkey Cage Erik Voeten reports the results of some surprising research.

What do you if you like winning but your disability makes it difficult to master Super Mario Galaxy? Carl Thompson enlists the help of a friend to build an "ingenious contraption" for the Nintendo Wii. He may be "cripple in a wheelchair with bad hands" but he can now whip your ass.

It might be green but it’s not environmentally friendly. According to a recent study, indoor marijuana cultivation is responsible for a around 3 per cent of California’s electricity use. "Processed marijuana results in 3000-times its weight in CO2 emissions."

What responsibility do journalists have to tell the truth? At the Failed Estate, Mr Denmore writes: "nothing, beyond the conscience of the individual journalist, stands in front of the media’s increasingly unethical pursuit of profit and the truth." With so few media outlets employing journalists, "it is a very brave reporter who stands on principle when they see the pursuit of the truth getting in the way of commercial imperatives."

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Nicholas Gruen
13 years ago

I agree with Hoyden ” “Feminism might have contributed to income inequality over the last couple of decades but how the world responded to rising income inequality isn’t the fault of feminism.”

So what we’ve got from David Willets is lazy rubbish. But to call it ‘hate speech’ is outrageous. The phenomenon he’s pointing out is probably a serious issue, even if the way he’s done it is thoroughly off. But to mention it is ‘hate speech’. I invoke a kind of Godwin’s law – Nazi’s may not have been mentioned, but it’s time to put the glasses down and move on when that kind of rhetoric gets dragged out.


[…] Don Arthur’s Missing Link. […]

Peter Whiteford
Peter Whiteford
13 years ago

Mr Willets is not up with the latest Australian research by Siobhan Austen and Gerry Redmond:” This preliminary paper uses cross-sectional data to examine the relationship between the growth in earnings inequality among men and women, and changes in family income inequality in Australia between 1982 and 2007-08. Although male earnings inequality increased substantially across this period, change in family income inequality was less significant. Our analysis shows that women’s earnings played a role in moderating the effects of rising male earnings inequality on the inequality of family income. This effect increased between 1982 and 2007-08, reflecting a pattern of change in women’s employment across households with low and high male earnings.”


An I would have thought that the main contributor to the rise in entrenched joblessness in the UK was the economic and social policies of the Thatcher Government.

13 years ago

“And Blue Milk is right about women not taking jobs from men.”

I’d want to see the real statistics for this — this is because:

1) I can’t help but notice more women doing some of the crappy jobs that men have traditionally done, especially road/council workers (okay, I admit, they’re not the biggest group!)
2) In universities, there is a slow increase in the number of females in some tradionally male areas (e.g., engineering), areas which were once split now often have women in the majority (e.g., medicine), and others areas which were once split have women in the great majority (e.g., biochemistry). I don’t think there are any areas that have traditionally been male dominated that have become more polarized. This (and the next point) is one reason why 60% of graduates are now female, which is a big reversal from a few decades ago.
3) Some areas that have traditionally been done by females are getting even more females in them (e.g., teaching)

I can’t help but think that if this trend continues, it is going to cause a lot of social problems unless the social constraint where women tend to marry up and men tend to marry down changes a fair bit.

Also off topic, but after reading the Blue Milk article, I have to say I really hate the term “unpaid work”. It’s as if everything you do that isn’t entirely selfish is work and that it should be measured and paid for somehow. I’m not saying looking after children (etc.) is not valuable, but somehow or other calling it “work” in the same manner as “I work 8 hours a day in big company” does tend to depersonalize the types of social interactions that people have (and have had for most of human history).

13 years ago

Spot on Nicholas. You can challenge the intellectual depth of Willet’s claims, but hate speech?

Conrad, there is the work you do and the subset that is the work you sell. The problem is not calling it work, the problem is the attempt to put a price on everything as a justification for more redistribution.

“There hasn’t just been an increase in male earnings inequality due to hourly pay, there’s been an increase in inequality due to hours of work. Increases in female labour market participation have concealed this.”

Perhaps men, on average, are a bit stupid for the modern world. I prefer to have women work for me as men tend to be more pig-headed and so don’t learn as well, but perhaps that reflects problems on my side.

paul walter
paul walter
13 years ago

Yes, I’d say the antics the meltdown of 2007 and the T party Lockout of the budget in the US recently have a lot more to do with “inequality” than feminism and working women trying to score their share of the cake.

13 years ago

T party Lockout of the budget in the US recently

Whatever that is.

I agree that calling those comments hate speech, much less implying that they might incite someone to beat their wife or daughter. OTOH it is good to see that Beth has mastered the art of tabloid journalism…if you can’t beat them…