Thursday, May 31, 2012

Equal vs. fair, and why it matters.


“That’s not FAIR!”  A common childhood refrain, said by many a sibling, older and younger, around the world.

When we are children, we want things to be ‘fair,’ but what we really mean is we want things to be EQUAL.  Same amount of candy, of computer or TV time, same curfew, same same same.
And having things be equal is a very childish thing to want.  If a child doesn’t deserve things to be ‘equal,’ then they shouldn’t be.

A naughty child shouldn’t get the same amounts of treats as a good child.  A child that has homework that needs to be finished should get more computer time than a child that only wants to play games.  A child that has a new episode of their favorite show on should get to watch the TV over a child who’s shows are in reruns.  A child that has earned their parent’s trust should be able to stay out later than a wild child who gets in trouble all the time.

And the cries of ‘Not fair!” abound when this is the case.  But is it not fair, or not equal?

“We demand equal pay for equal work!”  A common refrain from women’s rights activists.  And yes, assuming that the work actually is equal, I am all for it.  The usual statistic that is thrown around it .75 cents to the dollar, that a woman makes compared to a man.  I see three logical fallacies with this.  1.  If this were actually the case, why are businesses even hiring men at all?  If I were running a business, and  I could get my labor at 25% off, there is no way in hell I would ever hire another man again! 2.  That statistic is not comparing apples to apples, or even apples to oranges.  In fact, it’s more like apples to dump trucks.  Yes, on the whole, women make less money than men.  However, when that statistic was taken, as a general rule, women were in lower paying jobs than men.  For example, women were in jobs such as secretaries and nurses, teachers and bookkeepers, while men were more likely to be in jobs like office manager, doctor, principal, or CPA.  When you compare like jobs to like jobs, you come up with a much better disparity of about .95 cents to the dollar, which is explained in the third fallacy.  3.  Equal pay for equal work is great, but it’s not equal work.  Imagine you had two employees, and both were up for a raise.  One had missed only a couple of days for sickness, and the standard two weeks for vacation.  The other had also missed the two weeks for vacation, but had taken three months off due to illness.  Which would be more deserving of the raise? 

If you said the one with the least amount of time gone, congratulations, consider yourself sued, because the second employee was a female who gave birth.  Now, this is not to disparage on women for giving birth, obviously, I am one, and can see the gut reaction wanting to say that oh, they both worked the same amount, just because she gave birth shouldn’t disqualify her, and having a child is a wonderful, fabulous thing.  But here’s the thing.  She did work less.  When she came back from maternity leave, she probably had to practically learn her job over again.  The company may even have changed things around completely in her absence, while the other employee dutifully came in and kept up with the changes.  (Again, I want to make it clear that giving birth and spending time with a new child is a wonderful thing.)  So yes, the employees have technically been there the same amount of time.  But I think the employee that didn’t take three months off should be the one to get the raise.

This is where the difference between fair and equal comes into stark contrast.  The ‘Equal pay for Equal work’ crowd apparently don’t even understand the meaning of their own rhetoric.  “It’s not fair,” they cry, “For a man to get more pay for the same work.”  Except it’s not equal work, and the lower average pay is a FAIR amount.

 We live in a world where there is constantly calling: not fair!  But what they really are saying is: Not equal!

FAIR=/=EQUAL.  They are not mutually exclusive, but in most cases, the circumstances surrounding the situation dictates a FAIR solution, and not an EQUAL one. 

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