President-Elect Obama wants to make good on his promise to create 2.5 million jobs by investing heavily in infrastructure, including retooling public buildings to make them more “green.” Unsurprisingly, those in the construction industry cheered this news: after all, they stand to gain directly from this government largesse.
But not everyone is applauding the plan. In an oped in the New York Times, feminist author Linda Hirshman notes that the jobs created by the Obama plan are in sectors dominated by men. Women, who account for nearly half of the labor force, hold only 9 percent of jobs in construction and 12 percent in engineering, which will be the big beneficiaries of the Obama stimulus.
Hirshman offers a solution: an expanded stimulus program with a focus on building “the most important infrastructure — human capital.” Women hold the overwhelming majority of position in social work, child care, education, and libraries — and Hirshman asks that the new administration “create jobs for them, too.”
It’s worth noting that when feminists argue for government interference to benefit women specifically — for example, through new regulations that would use government force to boost women’s earnings to address the so-called wage gap — they tend to emphasize that everyone benefits when women earn more. They argue that women are supporting families, are vital to the economy, etc. — all arguments which also be used to defend a program that primarily benefits men. And while Hirshman’s piece draws on the ideal of fairness, it’s hard to imagine she’d be penning the same piece if the initial Obama plan had been a jobs program for preschool teachers, and it had been the male-dominated construction field left out.
However, Hirshman does make an important point. If the government is going to get in the business of creating jobs, then which type of jobs should it create? Supporters of public-works infrastructure projects can make a case that those jobs benefit the broader society and therefore provide for the “general welfare” in a way that other sectors don’t. But as Hirshman’s piece shows, cases can be made on behalf of other professions.
What Hirshman fails to recognize is that no government jobs program is going to end up being “fair.” Some will be rewarded, and some will be left out.
A few months ago, we were appalled as the government pumped money into the banking sector, benefiting over-paid, bonus-receiving executives who had helped create our current financial mess. Many lamented the arbitrariness of government decisions to save one financial institution, while letting another fail. We are regularly scandalized by the pork-projects stuffed into appropriations (or just about any) bill that passes Congress. People wonder why federal money is going to support this local museum and bike trail and not the other thousands that exist throughout the country. In truth, there’s no good reason why. None of these decisions are truly fair and all tend to be the result of politics at its worst.
The public is currently gripped by stories of over-the-top corruption and political quid pro quos in Obama’s hometown. It’s shocking to learn of such gross misuse of political power for person gain. Those newly cynical may be on the watch for more subtle versions of the same political payback.
Those truly concerned about cleaning up politics and promoting “fairness” should focus on ending government’s inappropriate intrusion into so many sectors of our lives. Trying, as Hirshman suggests, to broaden any particular package to make it more equitable to this group or that is an endless proposition. While some groups may have a temporary victory, ultimately we all lose by perpetuating this process.
– Carrie Lukas is the vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Forum, the author of the Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism. and an NRO contributor.